Contrast PC Review
Even though this is a review of the PC version of Contrast, there is no doubt in my mind that the game has been inevitably put in the spotlight, thanks to its inclusion as a free game in Sony’s PlayStation Plus for PlayStation 4. It probably wouldn’t have been a big deal if it was originally planned to be featured, but when such a huge game as Drive Club is pulled out of the free games list, then a smaller game is obviously going to get some shifty looks as it tries to replace something that was, as the industry calls it, a AAA experience.
Contrast is a puzzle platformer with a story about a young girl named Didi, who is in the middle of family struggles as her mother and father have fallen out and her dad hasn’t been home for a while. It’s a tale that, while the setting makes it a little out of touch, is a story that I’m sure will connect with a lot of people who have experienced parental breakups at a young age and wanted to do their best to bring their parents back together. It approaches the theme with a very mature attitude that makes the tale more believable. It also helps that Didi is a very charming girl – she’s not annoying – making her come across as a person who you want to help.
On boot up of the game you’re met with a wonderful jazz cabaret song sung by Didi’s mother. This is an early indication of what to expect from Contrast. It’s a title that manages to capture the essence of 1920s Paris through its gorgeous film noir visuals and fantastic soundtrack, which is helped by the voice of Laura Ellis, a singer who has crafted a vintage singing style that fits perfectly into the era and theme of Contrast. The power of the game’s art style is one of its shining features, using the Unreal Engine 3 to full effect to bring some beautiful lit streets and moody lighting. Throughout the short adventure (close to three hours) the look and sound of Contrast is what will stick with you the most when the story comes to its finale.
Players take control of silent protagonist Dawn, an acrobatic female who is invisible to the world that Didi lives in. Only Didi can see Dawn, while Dawn can only see Didi, as the rest of the world’s habitants are displayed as shadows on walls around the environment to signal they are in another dimension. Shadows play a big role in the gameplay of Contrast; they are the building blocks for all the puzzles. Dawn possess a special power that allows her to blend into the shadow realm to become a 2D essence and use the shadows projected on the walls as platforms to reach a destination or to overcome a puzzle. You can only jump into the shadow realm, which is done by a click of a button, when a shadow is being projected onto the surface. If there’s no shadow, then Dawn cannot enter, as there is nothing for her to walk on.
Puzzles start off fairly simple, such as using shadows as bridges to cross gaps or as blocks to reach higher surfaces. Later on, the game introduces moveable light sources where the player needs to move them around to find the correctly projected shadow. These are the better parts of Contrast, as they open up the linear puzzles by offering the player a way to manipulate the outcome, so the solution isn’t always clear when you enter a new puzzle room. That’s not to say that the game doesn’t manipulate shadows in clever ways. One area of Act II has Dawn jumping into a silhouette puppet show, in which she must take on the role of the princess and save her knight in shining armour by progressing through the stage-show’s silhouette take on forests and mountains, offering a very small 2D platforming section and showing the potential that this mechanic can be twisted into.
That’s one of my negatives towards Contrast, the shadow mechanics aren’t used to their fullest potential. The game is also extremely linear, you’re always being carted around by Didi; you follow her everywhere she goes, moving to one area that you need to overcome, then watching her merrily skip along with you in tow. It’s a shame the game forces you this way, as having more open areas in this wonderfully modelled city would alleviate the obvious solutions to the puzzles. Even when the game throws in crates and balls to make puzzles more complicated, it’s not something you haven’t seen before in similar games. Even the shadow idea is close to the Wii game Lost in Shadow.
The game is also clumsy with controls and hit detection. The jumping feels off – awkward, as it isn’t very fluid or precise. I had to reload a save point twice during my time with Contrast due to the hit detection. The first was because I got stuck behind an obstacle when I was forced out of the shadow world. This happens when you have no shadow area to walk on or an obstacle pushes you out of the shadow realm and back into proper world. The other time was, again, getting stuck on a prop in the environment, only this time because I fell off it while jumping on top, getting me stuck behind a wall and the prop. The same goes with the collisions for the balls and crates used in puzzles. It’s easy to misplace these due to weird collisions between the environments in the shadow realm that causes them to release the object back into the proper world in unfavourable situations, such as hanging slightly over an empty space with a drop that leads to Dawn’s death, making it hard for her to pick the ball/crate back up and continuing on.
Coming away from Contrast after some thought – it’s come to me that this is a game that I enjoyed more for its theme. I stuck with the game for its amazing setting, lovely soundtrack and to see the end of the story, rather than staying for its 3D-to-2D shifting gameplay. The shortness of the game means that the puzzle mechanics are never given the time to fully grow. Mix this up with some questionable glitches and you’re left with a game that isn’t as well constructed as one would like.
Contrast is a curious, fair attempt at a puzzle platformer with some neat ideas that make it somewhat enjoyable, but is a slightly frustrating experience that in the end won’t be remembered for its gameplay, but more for its world, visuals and sound.