White Shadows Review: A Haunting Dystopian Adventure
White Shadows is a fascinating title. Not only is it the first game developed by Monokel, but it’s also a stark and nuanced look at society. While it takes place in a world of humanoid animals, it’s very clear they serve as proxies for us. Much like in the literary classic Animal Farm, it’s clear the message here may not be one that’s uplifting, but instead a message full of hard truths. Nevertheless, White Shadows takes place in a stunningly cinematic dystopian world, and it managed to get its hooks in me despite the short runtime. Keep reading this White Shadows review to see if this puzzle platformer is right for you.
White and Black All Over
The best two words to describe the style of White Shadows are dark and lush. There’s shadow everywhere, broken up by industrial lighting and gigantic banners. And while it’s not explained until very late in the game, there’s a very good reason for the visual contrast prevalent in the game. At first, White Shadows tells us that all animals are created equal, but it quickly becomes apparent that doesn’t apply to ravens. They’re harangued as carrion birds, plague bearers, and as a whipping boy for all the wrongs of this world. This is a game about light and dark, good and evil, and how they intersect in provocative ways.
An Unlikely Heroine
Our hero is simply referred to as Ravengirl. She comes onto the scene descending from what appears to be a gigantic cuckoo clock. She’s constantly trying to move forward, motivated by some unspoken purpose, which wouldn’t be a problem if the game’s entire world wasn’t trying to criminalize and murder her. Thus, she’ll have to move with stealth and speed, solving puzzles and performing acrobatic feats to survive.
Early in the game, I had a hard time with the puzzles. And I mean really early. Part of the reason was that the entirety of the 3D environment is condensed to a 2D field you can interact with. Combined with the intentionally poor lighting, it was tricky figuring out where I could and couldn’t go at first. Luckily, the farther I got, the more the puzzles became second nature, and I started to enjoy them. There are also some very tricky stealth sections, where Ravengirl must avoid fatal beams of light. This struck me as horribly ironic, since the game bombards you with propaganda, showing how “light is life” and encouraging every creature to regularly get their ration of batteries to keep the dark at bay.
Though the game doesn’t technically feature bosses, there’s one section in an area called Funworld. It has you surviving as a metallic wolf tries to smash and cut you to ribbons. There’s also a part that has Ravengirl leaping from trains and jumping over hazards, and one late-game area that has you jump and duck through all sorts of tricky traps. Altogether, the rhythm and variety of the game was both breakneck and refreshing.
Another thing that helped the game feel less overwhelming was the frequent checkpoints. You can repeatedly fail without worrying about losing too much progress, which is nice. Cause more than once I accidentally led poor Ravengirl to her death, getting ground to crimson bits or smashed flat by the weight of metal doors. And there are some really sneaky sections that feature a lot of trial and error, so get used to watching our heroine meet an untimely demise.
Race to the Finish
The game is split into four chapters plus the finale, though they’re so organically strung together, it almost could have taken place as one giant chapter instead. Once you reach your rhythm with the game, you can beat White Shadows in less than 3 hours. That said, there’s decent incentive to come back to the game in the form of some hidden Steam achievements. You also just might want to marvel at the aesthetic of the game all over again.
Hard to Unsee
Visually, White Shadows is both beautiful and disturbing. Many of the visuals present in the game remind me of the horrors of the Holocaust. That’s not a comparison I make lightly, but it feels very true. You’ll watch animals forced into slave labor, marched to their deaths, and stripped of their identity. One incredibly dark section forces Ravengirl to access a tunnel mouth by pulling a corpse out of it first. This is not a cheerful game, yet there’s still a spark of hope that pushes you forwards. And honestly, it’s so easy to marvel at the sheer scale of this dystopian world. Musically the game is understated, using several classic tunes to set the mood. There’s the likes of Flight of the Bumblebee, Ride of the Valkyries, and more. While I might have hoped for some original tracks, what’s here works well. And the audio fits the action admirably, with the terrified squeals of pigs, drone of loudspeakers, and more grounding you in this uncomfortable world.
Tight Wire Act
I had very few issues with the game, but here are a few that held it back somewhat. One is how the game will often drag the camera away unexpectedly, or take control from you without warning. I’m also not a fan of death by fall damage, and it’s present here. Early in the game, I can’t count how many times I died because of it. It made me wish that the umbrella and wings you get later in the game were usable from the start, making the difficulty curve feel a bit more balanced. Luckily none of these issues were serious enough to make me loathe my time with the title.
A Worthy First Attempt
I really didn’t know what to expect from White Shadows, but I’m glad I had the chance to cover it. It’s a very ambitious first effort by Monokel, and it doesn’t pull any punches. While the difficulty of the game was a bit top-heavy, I still enjoyed my time with it. If you enjoy puzzle platformers and don’t mind some truly haunting imagery, I’d definitely give it a shot. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to see if there’s another ending I have yet to unlock after unintentionally becoming the “destroyer of worlds”…
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (reviewed), PS5, Xbox Series X|S; Publisher: Thunderful Publishing, Mixtvision; Developer: Monokel; Players: 1; Released: December 7, 2021; MSRP: $19.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.