Representing sensitive issues through video games is always a difficult task, and some games don’t always get it right. Fortunately, there are some games that have gotten it right such as Chicory: A Colorful Tale. White Shadows is the ambitious debut game from Monokel and chose to take a risk with its storytelling. While it doesn’t always nail every beat, they have done a great job of bringing such a unique world to life.
“All animals are equal, except birds.”
White Shadows begins with a blatant warning: “This game contains depictions of racism, suicide, violence towards women and children, animal cruelty, forced labor and xenophobia”. So, right off the bat, you have an idea of what you are getting into. However, that said, the game isn’t particularly overt in these depictions. It’s not especially violent, and most of the story is actually laid out in the background, rather than being at the forefront of the narrative. The world itself is beautifully realised in this dystopian industrial city as you play through the levels as a little Raven girl. Unfortunately, your kind is not welcome here.
Throughout the city, there are signs proclaiming that “all animals are equal, except birds”. Therefore, from the start, the message of the game is clear. You are, for all intents and purposes, the down-trodden of society. Wherever you go, you are reminded that you are “less” than the other animals. The reason why is revealed later in the game, but this, in itself, is a further example of societal prejudice.
I’m not sure about the other warnings from that opening disclaimer, but the themes of racism and societal divide are clearly on show. It makes for quite a powerful, poignant and relevant tale in the current landscape of our own society.
“While the narrative is laid out in the background, it felt like the gameplay suffered because of it.”
The presentation of White Shadows is beautiful. The highly stylised graphics make for a spectacle to behold and you will often find your eyes drifting around, taking it all in. The world is packed, and for a 2D platformer, it’s amazing how much depth the creators have managed to seed into the game.
While the narrative is laid out in the background, it felt like the gameplay suffered because of it. The platforming elements are incredibly basic, with your standard jumping from one ledge to another. Furthermore, the puzzles are few and far between, and rather easy; none of them offered any real challenge. Of course, it could be argued that this makes the game accessible, but for me, this made it less enjoyable. Some more depth to the puzzle elements would have really helped elevate this game to greatness.
It feels almost like an oscar-winning animation at times, that you just happen to need a controller for. The animation, the sound design and the environments are all superb, but the gameplay itself certainly offers nothing new.
“All in all, White Shadows is a game worthy of your time.”
As previously mentioned, White Shadows opens with a very subtle form of narrative. You can make out what is happening by taking in the signs and the sights around you. But then, for some reason, the penultimate chapter basically just force-feeds you all this information in a strange flashback-style scene. This chapter really felt out of place to me. All the subtlety of storytelling before it was just thrown out of the window in favour of just telling you straight up what has happened.
It’s a shame as the first sections were rather clever in their method of world-building. I feel like the game could have run for a few more chapters and carried on with its subtle storytelling to fill in the blanks, but instead, we have this over-simplified ending to an otherwise carefully constructed narrative.
All in all, White Shadows is a game worthy of your time. It tackles some important issues of the present day, with heavy themes of racism and the suppression of lower classes. It does have its issues, but it’s a good game to check out on the next-gen consoles.
White Shadows is available now on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S and PC via Steam.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PlayStation 5, code was provided by the Publisher.