Nowadays, the videogame market abounds with story-driven games. Especially common on the indie scene, these games usually come in the form of first-person, dialogue-filled walking simulators. “movie-like” games aren’t a new trend in the industry as we had games like this decades ago, games like Dragon’s Lair, Flashback, Another World… Video games have always strived to be like movies to some degree. Comments like, “Look at the graphics on this game! It’s got four megabits of memory” or “This game features a thousand polygons per frame, it almost looks like a movie” etc. were commonplace back then and parroted by videogame magazines and players alike. Well, we got our wish it seems as videogames more and more look and feel like movies. Enter White Shadows, the first game by indie developer Monokel. White Shadows borrows its aesthetic and gameplay mechanics from games like Limbo and Inside, relying on silent film storytelling, platforming, and some puzzles. However, White Shadows is more of a sensory experience than what you’ll find in Limbo.
“Don’t be a burden, kill yourself today.” With this sentence, the demo version of the game ends. I couldn’t find this same sentence in the final game, but I feel it gives us a good idea of what the story is about. In a dystopian not-so-distant future, people… I mean, animals are forced to live underground. With no sunlight to be found anymore, the animals rely on electricity to have some manner of light. As is the norm in any society, everyone has their place in the social pyramid, with birds being the exception or so it seems… As a young raven girl who managed to escape being battery fuel, you must navigate a monochrome junkyard and
help her reunite her people to save the world survive.
There’s no dialogue in the game. Text appears only in the form of political propaganda written on billboards or as you’d see in a silent film, although these texts are sparse. White Shadows‘ story unfolds with the use of its visuals and sounds. It’s a tale that’s mostly felt than understood; this is White Shadow’s biggest strength and also its weakness: I feel that the game relies too heavily on its imagery to present the story. I normally like this manner of silent and ambiguous story-telling. It spares you from walls of text and dialogue choices that amount to nothing in many cases, but White Shadows could certainly use a bit more exposition.
White Shadows uses only two buttons and the left analog stick for movement. One button for jumping and the other for interacting with things found in the game; there are no prompts, glowing signals, QTEs, etc. That doesn’t mean it’s a hard game, quite the opposite: Unlike Limbo, the puzzles aren’t designed to block your path but to provide some manner of gameplay as most of the time you’ll be walking from a side to another while getting dragged into tubes. If it wasn’t for the slow pace and dark nature of White Shadows, I’d think this was a Sonic spinoff. Jokes aside, as I said at the beginning of this review, White Shadows is a story-driven game. That means that it’s much more focused on absorbing the player with its heavy atmosphere than providing a traditional “gamey” game.
The black and white graphics combined with the overall oppressive atmosphere and brutal imagery should give White Shadows a dreadful and generally unpleasant feel. The problem is that the game uses a cartoonish style to depict its characters; the scene with the suicidal pigs looks like something out of a Looney Tunes episode. Regardless, the overall beauty and scale of the game is something Monokel should be proud of. Much of the appeal of White Shadows lies in its emblematic scenes which are incorporated masterfully throughout the game.
The audio in White Shadows is comprised mostly of famous classical pieces. Surfing atop a high-speed train while Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries plays is an exhilarating feeling. Other famous composers are also featured, but Ride of the Valkyries is by far the most played piece throughout the game. The sound effects and audio design also contribute a lot to the experience.
Much like the films and games from which it takes inspiration, White Shadows is a game that beyond entertaining the player but also aims to make one think and feel. The game lasts for, give or take, around two hours. Its short duration, affordable price point, and low difficulty makes White Shadows accessible for anyone. For those in doubt, there’s a demo available on Steam.
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