Contradiction: Spot The Liar! PC Review
Based on pure fact alone, I don’t think I should like Contradiction, but I really do! This is proof positive that games can be better than just the sum of their parts. 15 minutes in, my initial impression was that this is just a cheaply made FMV attempt that fell out of the mid-90s. There were even moments I felt what I was playing was created by unearthly beings – who believe they’ve learned what a game is supposed to be, but crucially have failed to grasp any of the basics. As a result, Contradiction is a product that should not work, somehow mysteriously works fantastically well in many areas, yet fails in a few others.
Somewhere and somehow, over the course of my time with the game, something clicked, and I began to understand what I was playing. I learned Contradiction can be a magical thing, you just have to embrace it – or better yet, let it envelop you. If you let all its innate weirdness into your heart, you should have a good time. At least I think you should – maybe I am too far gone to even be writing this!
If you’ve ever sat through a few hours of daytime TV, you probably stumbled into watching a few episodes of Murder She Wrote, along with many other crime shows that now seem to air every weekday on some channel. This is a good starting point to figure out what Contradiction is all about. It is very much a “whodunnit” murder mystery – one of those weird made for TV-alike ones that can only possibly be figured out by one person working alone. In this case, that person is Frederick Jenks. It’s not a name that may flow from the tongue like Jessica Fletcher, but it could be worse. It is Jenks’ task to find out why a young girl named Kate Vine was drowned in the seemingly sparsely populated UK village of Edenton.
The intro to the game is basically one big info dump that will make your head spin. I watched it twice to make sure I got what was happening, but was still a bit confused. Thankfully, as you play the game, and slowly meet up with the people of the village, this info is retold, and delivered much more slowly and succinctly. As you go, it all comes together into a grand multilayered story, one that I personally found compelling. It is not the most interesting tale ever told, but how it’s presented made me keep playing to see more.
As the game is presented in snazzy HD-FMV, the simple act of walking around the fictional village simply to see what there is to see is interesting in itself. Whilst not wandering, the main gameplay on show is of the detective kind. You are either hunting for objects or questioning people. You soon learn the people of Edenton can be randomly nonsensically coy about a number of facts, seemingly for the sole reason of making you work to find out the truth. This means gameplay is akin to a mix of Papers, Please and Phoenix Wright. The core game has you looking at pieces of evidence, presenting them to people, and trying to find discrepancies between them. You do so by questioning people, asking for their opinion on objects you find, or seeking their thoughts on supposed facts another person gave you. If you remember back to great adventure games of old, where you would always try to combine two items, just to see the silly bit of text you get, Contradiction plays around with this too in its own unique way. The main task is still to catch people in a lie, but you can have fun doing so.
A little problem here is that finding the contradiction is not always the most fun part of the game. Asking the questions and getting the answers is the good bit, but then digging through virtual notes to root out the lies from the facts is not as compelling as it could be. When it works, it works well, and you feel smart. However, like a lot of adventure games, Contradiction has its own internal logic that might be at odds with your own. If you see a contradiction, or at least think you see one, and put that forth as an answer, it could very well be wrong. This means that instead of using my own (limited) grey matter, I found myself trying to get into the headspace of the developer, and figure out what they were thinking when they wrote the game. Some of the contradictions to unearth are a bit too obtuse, whilst others are a bit too easy to notice. There rarely is a happy medium between the two.
So yeah, the core gameplay of Contradiction sometimes works, but it all to often falls on its own ass. But there are other reasons as to why I found myself enjoying this game…
The aforementioned Jenks is the core reason why I found myself thoroughly enjoying Contradiction. Initially, I had no idea what to make of him. His inner monologues make him seem like a self-serious individual, but once he speaks aloud his eccentric nature comes clear, gracing gamers with mannerisms akin to Richard O’Brien as he led contestants around the Crystal Maze. He is also a man that looks like Professor Layton made manifest, and for some reason I adore him. He is a total oddball, yet everyone around him is seemingly oblivious to it. However, without him the game would not work. His weirdness, coupled with copious amounts of overacting help to glue the game together – at least for me.
Of course there is more to the game than just one man. There is Simon and Emma who are interviewed regularly. Simon is a bit off-kilter himself, but not at Jenks’ level – no one could be at Jenks’ level. He is thetan level 9000. Emma initially seems to be one of the calmer people on screen – happy to answer most questions without having a urge to break into interpretive dance if your back is turned. Not everything is right with Emma though, as her story takes some turns as the game goes on. Then there is barmaid Rebecca, another one of the calmer personalities. She knows a bit about drugs. However, she pales beside James. Nothing phases James, as he “knows” much more about drugs. Without giving too much more of the story away, there are other people to meet too, including Ryan. His actor acts so hard you’ll feel him wanting to come out of the screen at you. Another man you meet later on is an older gentleman, who could make a charging bull run away with his gaze and gravelly toned voice. I am truly scared of this gentleman, but I also wanted to hug him so much for the effort he put in.
None of the characters are very complex, and storytelling may not be very subtle – there is a group called ATLAS led by people called Rand for feck sake – but everyone seems believable in their intentions, which is what really matters. Many FMV games of the 90s onward had problems hiring actors who thought they could make a cheap buck with an easy gig, and as a result their performances were uncaring and sounded wooden. Contradiction completely sidesteps such issues as it cast a collection of people who care, and seemed to enjoy working on the game.
Also, the actress playing Emma is Irish. Having fellow Irish people in a game makes it instantly better than one sans Irish involvement. Note to developers, put more of us in games!
I should note, that even though I relished experiencing the story, there is more than a handful of things to dislike about Contradiction – almost all are technical issues. One of the biggest is the interface as a whole, it is a bit cumbersome, and quite unintuitive. It really should not be this confusing, as it is only a 4 button game (plus navigation with the arrow keys), and that’s not much to get confused about. However, there were times I had no idea what I should do in certain areas. Additionally, the game seems incapable of remembering any rebinds you perform between sessions. Worse, the game does not accept mouse input at all, and using a controller made the game unresponsive for me multiple times. Jumping between controller to keyboard is as wise as pissing in the wind. Every time I wanted to save the game I prayed I would not hit the wrong button to close the whole application before saving my progress. UI should not be panic inducing, and sadly this one feels like one big mess. At least a basic quick-travel system is in place to make it easier to move around the village, but that may be the sole interface plus point to mention.
There are a few other issues to speak about. The camerawork on show is great, with many well framed shots. There was definitely some high-spec equipment used on the game. Sadly, not as much thought was put into the audio. If the characters are sitting down in a room, then everything sounds great. However, in the few walk and talk sections the game has, along with any full body shots with two or more characters on screen, audio can turn both echoey and muffled. As someone who has just recently bought a Blue Yeti Microphone, and is trying to learn to get the best out of it to make content for this very site, I can sympathise. Audio is hard to master when stationary, so introducing movement, multiple people, and trying to disguise on-screen microphones must be a nightmare.
It has its fair share of near ruinous issues, but Contradiction is a game that somehow works even though you expect it not to. It is entertaining, but I feel most will enjoy it in a different way than its creators may have intended people to. That is not to say this is a game to laugh at, far from it in fact. I respect how campy and weird the game has chosen to be. Not many go this route, as they could not pull it off, but Contradiction passes this test with aplomb. Her Story taught me FMV can be very interesting, in a quite profound way. Contradiction may not instill similar feelings, and it may border on being more ridiculous than profound, but it is a game with huge heart. I feel like I adore every single person who worked on it, even though I do not think everything they attempted worked.
If I were to compare it to another game, it would be Deadly Premonition. It shares nothing of the gameplay, but like that effort I was won over to its way of thinking by the time I saw the end-credits. Even with this comparison, I truly think Contradiction is analogous to nothing else out there. It is a unique mismatch of ideas, and that is what makes it so uniquely appealing, and very much worth giving a go.