Few games start with such a daunting message “This game contains depictions of racism, suicide, violence towards women and children, animal cruelty, forced labor and xenophobia which may be difficult to handle for some”. White Shadows dares tread where few have so directly gone before. Slated as an “interactive narrative” game by new developer Monokel, just how does this debut title for the studio hold up as it tackles such immensely heavy and important themes?
A Bit Too on the Beak
You begin your journey as a raven girl. An odd-looking human-animal hybrid. You inhabit a world dominated by lies of the ruling class Wolf-men, who have turned the worker class Pig-men against the “Plague Bird”. It is all quite Orwellian in nature, bringing a very Animal Farm vibe to things. During your two-hour adventure, you’ll engage in light puzzle solving, occasionally clunky platforming, and quite often attempts at disturbing you that mostly fell flat for me.
The game has a striking grey-tone look, and though controls never shift from a 2D plane the camera is used to great effect to highlight the utter misery this world forever bathed in darkness forces its inhabitants to endure. You’ll find out why “Light is Life” and what these Brightglow Batteries are all about as you run to the right, and occasionally change things up and run to the left. The game goes for a Limbo or Inside vibe, and the art direction is an excellent mix of haunting and unsettling.
As this is such a short title I won’t go too deep into the story, but on the whole, I did find the opening title warning didn’t end up matching how things hit overall for me. I am a lover of history, and the majority of themes in this title are sadly not that shocking compared to the real horrors inflicted upon people every moment of every day throughout recorded times. This feels like a title that would wake up a 14-year-old to just how rough the world is and has always been, and maybe that was their intended audience.
Perilous Platforming Pitfalls
Narrative issues aside my main problem with the game is the controls. They’re not terrible, but they are extremely limited in a way that led to me feeling like the game was far longer than the 90 minutes it took me to beat it. You can run left or right. You can jump with A, and you can grab/use things with X. That is it until a few later sections lightly change things up. It truly is an “interactive narrative” as the developers claimed, and if the narrative had grabbed me harder it would have been good enough.
Audio-wise the game is constantly grating. I imagine the intent was to make the player feel unease, which I certainly did. Unfortunately, I also started to get a headache during certain sections and ended up lowering the volume in my headset to barely a whisper until the high-pitched cacophony finally ended. The soundtrack is mostly renditions of classical tunes and it works well with the tone of everything.
I did run into a few bugs where scripted events did not occur when they were supposed to. Thankfully the game has a rather robust checkpoint system that allows you to hop into any major point of each chapter. Performance though on my Series X was absolutely atrocious. The framerate drops were constant and severe which was baffling as this is not a game that should be taxing for the system at all. Hopefully, they can fix up the performance with post-release patches because as of launch it struggles mightily to keep a solid framerate.
White Shadows is $20 US at the time of launch, and if its style and themes speak to you it’s worth a purchase. The platforming is mediocre, the performance is terrible, but there is heart here. If you know someone in their teens and you hope to show them the dangers of abuse, racism, and xenophobia this game could potentially be a solid learning tool to help them down a better path. I look forward to what Monokel has in store for us with their next title as there is clear talent on this team, and they are not afraid to tackle some very delicate topics.