There is no denying the similarities between White Shadows, developed by Monokel and published by Thunderful, and Limbo. Both games feature dark and shadowy environments, sometimes depicting extreme acts of violence with distributing imagery, complete with puzzle platforming gameplay. Although there is a lot in common, White Shadows has plenty of elements that separate it from Playdead’s 2010 original.
Taking control of Ravengirl, a young lady wearing a raven mask, it is your job to survive through each deadly encounter with hopes of escaping a brutally violent factory and cityscape composed of stunning architectural structures. The biggest strength are these amazing set pieces, often times serving no purpose other than being a big thing in the background that adds to the dreary tone. With no UI to impede the vast environments, White Shadows features some amazing visual story telling. There are no lines of spoken dialog and the game is better for it. In fact, the game never explains how the Ravengirl got there, why she needs to escape, why hauntingly gross pig people are trying to mutilate her, and why everything is covered in a foggy darkness. Not knowing this details makes the game better, stranger, and way more memorable.
Limbo’s puzzle platforming was mostly based around trial and error, focusing a little more on the puzzle side. White Shadows, on the other hand, is built more around reaction based timing. Instead of taking time to figure about how to push that box onto that platform, Ravengirl’s survival is more about knowing when to jump, when to move, and reading tells. There are still environmental puzzles but they are the minority in comparison to the reaction based events. Personally, I found this approach to be more enjoyable as the game is never overly difficult despite a few challenging spots. I mean, as long as there have been games, there have been box pushing puzzles so I doubt this over used troupe with one day go away, but it is kept to a minimum here.
The striking monochrome art style is another stand out feature. When paired with the sweeping architecture and morbid machinery, White Shadows is something to see even though there isn’t much to see. The advertisements for light, as if it was a soft drink ad, also provides insight into this macabre world. If the pig creatures were not distributing enough, then perhaps you’ll get a kick out of the sound speakers in the shape of lips, or perhaps leading a group of baby chicks to their death by grinder and machine gun. There is some messed up stuff here. So much so that the game opens with a warning of violence and disconcerting images.
While the black and white visuals are easily the highlighting feature, it wouldn’t make as much of an impact if the classical musical tunes where not present. These recognizable symphonies from classic composers are used sparingly but to great effect, furthering the morbidity of select encounters. It is an interesting and creative choice that works a lot better than it might sound on paper.
As atmospheric, memorable, and creative as White Shadows is, it is marred by some annoying game breaking glitches. On a few occasions, I would die and the game would respawn me dead, as if the Xbox Series X loaded too fast, putting the game’s scripted events off schedule. I also got stuck on a platform, also requiring a restart at a previous checkpoint about ten minutes back. For a game that has some visual polish, it is a shame it cannot be said from a technical stand point. However, if there is one aspect I really want to applaud, it is the game’s length. A casual playthrough will take a little over two hours. This might sound short but the quest ended just as I was starting to wonder if the dark presentation was about to overstay its welcome. Ravengirl also grows in time, gaining new ability. At one point, the player even plays as a different character. I don’t wish to spoil these elements here but there a little more than the occasional jumping and switch pulling.
If you enjoyed Limbo and have been waiting for a spiritual successor, this is it. The visual storytelling and never-too-difficult gameplay hits a sweet spot of pacing, balancing, and overall memorability. Although you might run into a few horrible glitches, White Shadows is one of those games that you should play not necessary for the gameplay, but for the atmosphere, something very few games take as seriously as this.
Don’t Forget About: Inside, made by the same team that created Limbo
Also Play: the Shadow of the Colossus enhanced edition of PS4
Wait For It: a sequel to Journey