GAME NAME: Contrast
DEVELOPER(S): Compulsion Games
PUBLISHER(S): Focus Home Interactive
PLATFORM(S): PSN, XBL, PC
GENRE(S): Puzzle, Platformer
RELEASE DATE(S): November 15, 2013
We would like to thank Compulsion Games and Focus Home Interactive for giving us the opportunity to review Contrast!
Contrast, Compulsion Games’ premiere title about light, shadow, love, and loss has received plenty of attention for being a PS+ launch title for the Playstation 4. It’s a charming, ambitious game that is very easy to love and almost impossible to hate, and its approach to puzzle solving is one of the most unique I’ve seen in recent memory. Even with all of its misgivings, I’m okay with forgiving it, because it still manages to be an enjoyable, albeit less than ideal experience.
Meet Didi, an intrepid and good-hearted (albeit rascally) eight year-old who wants nothing more than for those she loves to be happy. This is her story, but she does not face it alone. The player finds themselves in the shoes of Dawn. Dawn, an acrobatic and mysterious young woman, is Didi’s best friend, companion, and hero. She has the ability to travel freely between the realms of light and shadow, and she uses this ability to fulfill the wishes of her young counterpart.
Much like the realms they inhabit, Dawn and Didi compliment and contrast each other perfectly. Whereas Dawn is silent, enigmatic, and unseen, Didi is sincere, outspoken, and all too eager to make herself known. Two well thought out leading ladies is certainly a refreshing and welcome change. They are the game’s most tangible characters, as the others, appear only as shadows, who, though brilliantly voice acted and full of personality, seem nonexistent.
Dawn passes unseen through their world, listening in on conversations and, like all friendly ghosts, sets off to solve their problems on her own, much to the delight of her child counterpart. The 1920’s Parisian setting is charming and jam-packed with period detail, and the sepia tinged art style is certainly alluring. Larger than life shadows beckon you down desolate alleyways. The overall visual experience, however, can be likened to visiting long lost relatives in teensy-tiny towns smack-dab in the middle of nowhere: Once its quaint, antiquated sense of wonder wears off, you realize how deserted, lonely, and drab it really is. Contrast is visually pleasing, but it fails to be the kind of remarkable you would expect of a new generation launch title.
The core mechanics behind puzzle solving are your standard platforming fare, and are theoretically easy enough for players of any skill level. In practice, Dawn is weightless, making precision platforming more of a challenge than it should be, and little variation between puzzle solving segments results in a predictable and lackluster experience. It’s monotonous. It’s time consuming. It’s washing dishes after Thanksgiving with your entire extended family. In summation, it’s a chore. This feeling is amplified by the lack of any sense of achievement. There is no clear motivation behind, well, anything beyond Didi telling us to do it. In fact, throughout most of the game, Dawn feels like less of a character and more like a handy tool or gadget yielded by Didi, and when she gets the job done, she’s tucked away until she’s needed again, without so much as a “thank you.”
On that note, the player feels like an outsider in almost every sense. The world we see through Dawn’s eyes is not her own, and the narrative maintains its distance from her. We get only glimpses of who or what she is, and her occasional innuendos to the player don’t do much to elaborate, either. There is a distance between the player and the rest of the game world, which is unfortunately noticeable in every aspect of it. The story of a broken and lost family, struggling to keep everything is touching, but there’s a certain connection that is broken, something that turns the heartwarming story of Contrast from something being experienced to something being witnessed. Despite its greatest efforts, a variable is missing.
Contrast has potential to be a fantastic game, but it lacks the polish necessary to be one. In its few short hours, it manages to master style but fails to deliver on substance. Perhaps it was a lack of time or budget, but Contrast doesn’t feel “bad” so much as it feels “incomplete”, and I desperately wish I could say it was whole.
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