Developer: Compulsion Games
Platform: PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, Windows
Price: Steam: £11.99 (Collector’s Edition £14.99); XBLA: $14.99; PS3: £8.75 (£6.13 with PS+); PS4 (reviewed): £9.33 (£6.53 with PS+ was Free as part of IGC in November 2013)
Genre: Puzzle Platformer
Contrast is a platforming and puzzle game by Canadian developers Compulsion Games created for Windows, PS3, PS4, and Xbox 360.
It was one of the very first games offered in PlayStation Plus for PS4 during its initial launch window. It’s noir-style and imaginative 2D/3D gameplay make it an original experience but is it worth your time or is it just a shadow of a video game?
This review is for the PS4 version.
The story focuses on the life of a little girl called Didi and you play as her “imaginary” friend Dawn, a mute woman who acts upon behalf of the little girl and essentially guides her through this whole adventure. Didi has a troublesome life; her mother is a singer at the local blues club and works nights, often leaving her by herself and her father, whom is separated from them, is a down-on-his-luck businessman, desperately trying to make it big with often unsuccessful plans and falling in deep with the loan sharks.
The story is told as you play the game, you experience shadow-puppet-like cut scenes projected onto walls or in certain areas that expand upon the story. Often by completing the puzzles you progress the narrative.
Didi’s father is back in town with a new idea to get rich – a circus. He has been gathering acts on his travels to open a big top in town and draw in the crowds with his main attraction, a famous illusionist The Amazing Vincenzo. The illusionist initially washes his hands of the idea, being the arrogant performer he is. Without his main attraction Didi’s father has no circus, meaning he can’t pay the sharks and will ultimately lead to a watery, concrete-shoe demise.
Didi, who often sneaks out at night with Dawn once her mother has gone to work, witnesses the plight of her father one night and decides to help him from the shadows (both figuratively and literally). She helps him get Vincenzo for the circus, amongst many other things to help her struggling father and ultimately reunite the broken family.
The story is simple and revolves around this one little family and their problems. It’s not a grand epic and is relatively simple in execution. Voice acting is consistent but don’t expect too many twists and turns in the plot, it’s very straightforward. I enjoyed its simplicity and it does the job.
Story – 0.5/1
As mentioned, you play as Dawn and she exists in the realm of shadows, which is basically a warped version of what appears to be an uninhabited 1920 Parisian-style town. I say uninhabited but the denizens of the town appear as shadows to you.
Dawn’s abilities are standard platformer: moving and jumping but her main ability is becoming a shadow. When near a strong light source she can become a silhouette and navigate across the 2D surfaces of walls.
I, personally, haven’t played a game before that uses this shadow mechanic and I found it to be quite refreshing if not a little frustrating at times.
The majority of the game is spent in your typical 3D-roaming-of-an-environment kind of way but you’ll often have to shift in and out of walls and surfaces to complete the many puzzles and overcome the obstacles in your path.
The puzzles are very cleverly crafted, using the position of light sources to turn simple objects into all manner of challenges for Dawn. For example, one of the very first obstacles is a bicycle: its shadow cast on a wall turns its wheels and pedals into a moving platform where your timing is crucial to make the jump. So you could say this game contains all your typical platforming obstacles but are found solely as shadows on a wall.
Some puzzles, you have to place the light source yourself. I thought it was a very clever way of making the player do the work and set up their own path. For example, later in the game you find yourself in a museum and you have to move a light and alight it with several of the exhibits to cast a scalable shadow on the wall behind them to reach high platform previously inaccessible.
I spoke of frustration and this comes in the form of the controls. For me, personally, I felt control over Dawn felt a bit light, a bit too floaty. She felt like she had no weight, so when jumping and navigating she would often move too far, leading to many unnecessary falls/deaths. Her jump was constant with that if she were on the moon and left me very frustrated during some of the later platforming levels where things got a little tricky.
I understand this isn’t exactly a game ground in reality but in a game with platforms and jumps it’s nice to have a character that doesn’t feel like she’s full of helium. This was the first game I properly played with the DualShock 4 so maybe the me not being used to the newly-shaped analogues played a part in this?
There’s a nice variety of shadow “puzzles” which get you thinking and a clever mix of 2D and 3D interactions. The controls needed some polish but other than that it was a genuinely entertaining experience.
Gameplay – 0.75/1
The game looks nice and has a great series of effects, the shadows of the characters are well animated and the environment feels a little creepy at times.
The only two 3D character models in the game are Dawn and Didi and both have been crafted well to the slightly cartoonish style of the game, reminds me a little of the stop-motion movie Coraline.
The game includes 20’s-style Jazz/Blues music, traditionally associated with the noir genre and it helps reinforce the moody setting of the game.
As mentioned earlier this review is for the PS4 version of this game and for a “next-gen” build it doesn’t look overly so. I’m not saying the game looks bad, in no way, the style is constant throughout, it’s lit well, textures are sharp and very detailed in places like on posters and environments all look good but for a PS4 game it sure looks like a PS3 game.
The solid frame rate and high resolution is a testament to the new Sony hardware but it definitely feels like a third-party multi-platform title (which it is) and not built to take full advantage of that shiny new processor/RAM combo. Like I said, the game looks fine, just don’t expect a “next-gen visuals” if you decided to play this on PS4.
Presentation – 0.75/1
Contrast can be completed in just over two hours. I completed it in two sittings.
The game is very linear and there’s not much exploration involved as the streets you navigate through are blocked off, keeping you on the path the story lays down before you.
There are collectables scattered through the game in the form of little trinkets, letters, newspaper clippings and finally Luminaries. The trinkets and letters can be found almost anywhere although usually inside the several buildings you go through, they’re not hard to miss as they glow, I collected almost all of them in one play-through, only needing to chapter select back once to claim a missed letter. These items divulge more of the characters’ back story through short text descriptions or newspaper articles, padding out the fiction a little more.
The Luminaries are more story-orientated collectables, they’re small orbs of light which are often found slightly off the beaten path, up on ledges or just out of sight, requiring a little bit of exploration but really not that much at all. These orbs of light are used to power up electrical switches to progress the game.
I managed to complete the story, collect all the items and unlock all trophies within the two sittings I played it in. Bear in mind that when I play games I explore every nook and cranny, leaving no stone unturned before I move on into the next room/area, it’s my play style so maybe others would enjoy playing it more than once but in my opinion I felt no need to replay it. I don’t mean this in a bad way, I just felt that once sufficed.
Replay Value – 0.25/1
Despite its slippery controls and lack of reason to replay other than missed collectables I did actually enjoy the ride that is Contrast. The story is decent and is executed in such a way through gameplay that you feel you’re playing the story, which is the hallmark of any decent video game. The obstacles and environments changed regularly enough to keep me interested, especially around the later levels when you explore the circus.
One thing I really did enjoy however is the many, many movie and pop-culture references found hidden throughout the game. As a massive Sci-Fi nerd it was a real treat to find hidden props from famous TV shows/movies in the backgrounds or in the display cases at the museum. I won’t spoil what they are but expect references from Star Wars, Star Trek and my favourite and most obvious reference in the game, Doctor Who.
Easter eggs aside, the game is good but short but perhaps that’s a good thing as I think six hours upwards of this game would make it a drag. Short and sweet I guess would fit well.
Contrast reminds a little of Valve’s Portal, in terms of giving you a game with a central mechanic and a small playground to use it in. Perhaps in the future we’ll see a sequel set in a larger world?
Enjoyment – 0.75/1
In Conclusion –
Story – 0.5
Gameplay – 0.75
Presentation – 0.75
Replay Value – 0.25
Enjoyment – 0.75
Overall Contrast is a nice game but feels more like testing the water than an actual “proper” game. It felt more like a demo in terms of length but its heart is in the right place and I applaud this first game from Compulsion. I hope this is the foundation to a larger game in the future or perhaps an expanded franchise.
After all, there’s a whole world of shadows out there.