Tone is often interchangeable with atmosphere, at least when it comes to the realm of the videogame. It’s here where art direction, presentation, music, sound design, and gameplay come together to form a specific feel or underlying throughline. For White Shadows the tone often errs on the side of uneasy, stark, and foreboding. Bolstered by some spectacular art direction and cinematography, the black and white world in which it depicts is at once strange and uneasy.
Tonally White Shadows has the air of depressing dystopia, a world in which brutality lies beneath a very thin layer of beauty. Through music, through the interplay between light and shadow, and through the precise camera movements that separate the many puzzle-platforming sections, White Shadows is mesmerising.
It’s also ambiguous, at least until the latter moments when the world’s history is laid bare in a somewhat out of place but impressive nonetheless storybook sequence.
Bolstered by some spectacular art direction and cinematography, the black and white world in which it depicts is at once strange and uneasy.
Which is worth bringing up because before you embark on your journey as the small Ravengirl looking to escape the mysterious city in which she lives, developer Monokel prefaces the experience with a warning. A word about the scenes you’re about to see depicting truly disturbing things.
Now, being ambiguous or artistic in its approach, this actually means playing White Shadows will conjure a sense of nightmarish unease. Something akin to playing through Little Nightmares II, a title which it shares a lot in common. Allusion as opposed to outright depiction, which makes the warning upfront a little strange in that narrative specificity is mostly kept to minor background detail.
Speaking of background detail, the intricate dystopian city depicted mostly through lavishly detailed backdrops and side-scrolling transitional flourishes is truly wonderful. Especially in relation to architectural complexity, where you get a real sense that what you’re seeing is a very real place. The musical cues are all handled brilliantly too, which ties into the cinematic ambition on display.
White Shadows sells the locale and then some, and that sense of immersion and scope adds immeasurably to the darker and more sinister stuff on display. The way the camera zooms and pans and even uses things like suspended train carriages and other elements to inject momentary suspense and wonder, is commendable.
That said, the actual puzzles and platforming feels in service of an abstract cinematic journey, as opposed to being an integral part thereof. Puzzles are fairly rudimentary, drawing on staples of puzzle-platformers past, with very little in the way of anything new or revolutionary. Not that a solid platformer needs to be anything of the sort, again, there’s a disconnect here between the world and puzzles. Which unfortunately affects any sort of kinship formed between the player and the mysterious protagonist.
White Shadows sells the locale and then some, and that sense of immersion and scope adds immeasurably to the darker and more sinister stuff on display.
When viewed through a cinematic lens, White Shadows becomes an easy experience to recommend. The wonderful art direction, cinematography, animation (for the most part) and other elements do come together to create a cohesive and visually surprising journey. There’s variety here, quite a bit of it considering the very short runtime. So even though it doesn’t quite emerge, fully formed, from the shadows of Limbo, Abe’s Odyssey, or Another World, White Shadows certainly makes its mark. However fleeting that might be.