Contrast is a curious kettle of fish. On paper, the idea that a character can morph into the shadows and use them to traverse an environment sounds like a novel and intriguing concept. In practice however, the games execution leaves a lot to be desired.
By no means a bad game, Contrast is not a great game. At best it’s an interesting diversion from other puzzle solving games that have become the staple diet of Xbox and PS3 gamers. At worst, Contrast is a frustrating endeavor with about as much atmosphere as a party on the moon.
The premise of the game is that you play Dawn, an imaginary acrobat who has the power to shift into the shadow world and manipulate objects in this world as though they were real. Stuck on a ledge? Use the extended silhouettes of nearby people to walk across the chasm. For reasons left unexplained Dawn is mute and throughout the whole 4 to 5 hour game she doesn’t utter a word. Not a peep. In this puzzle based platformer, the dialogue is left to Dawn’s companion, Didi, a cute and over-chatty little girl who is trying to reunite her estranged parents.
Set in an alternative 1920’s Paris and presented in a distinct noir style, Contrast sees you following Didi around like a silent spectre, helping her solve environment problems, unlocking areas and overcoming obstacles. The game, produced by Compulsion Games, focuses on Dawn’s ability to shift between the physical 3D world and 2D shadows. Over the course of Dawn and Didi’s adventure you manipulate light sources in the 3D world in order to create shadow paths. These paths allow you to gain access to new areas with “collectibles” that give you an insight into the game’s characters, and the world in which they live.
On paper at least, it’s a curious and intriguing concept. However, while playing Contrast I couldn’t help feel that the game lacked the polish of a finished product; the idiosyncratic noir art style (washed out colours, stark black and whites and effective use of shadows) was undermined by the sheer emptiness of the locations. As you follow Didi down a Parisian street you can’t help but wonder ‘where the hell is everybody?’ The fact that Dawn does not speak at all is somewhat unnerving and, after a while, listening to Didi’s incessant monologues begins to jar.
The game’s mechanics could also have benefited from a little TLC. Often hotspots fail to respond to your button presses unless you’re standing in exactly the right place. Dawn’s movements hark back to the very early days of Tomb Raider when Lara Croft walked like Frankenstein’s monster with a pony tail. Dawn’s jump mechanics are far too jerky and imprecise and often you find yourself fighting the game rather than trying to work out the next brain tickler.
One of the games highlights has to be Didi’s mothers singing. The first time you see her silhouette in a club and you hear her sing, you’re instantly reminded of Roger Rabbit’s wife in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Despite all of Contrasts shortcomings, the sound tracks are excellent. Exactly what we’d expect to hear in early 20th century Parisian nightclubs. Unfortunately there are not enough of these songs to make up for the games other failings. This might have something to do with budgets which, again, leads you to the notion that Contrast was rushed out without being completely ready.
As I said before Contrast is not a bad game. It’s just not a very good one. We have to take our collective hats off to developers who attempt to reinvigorate a genre by introducing novel ideas. It’s a shame these ideas are not executed with the polish and refinements that we’ve come to expect.
Perhaps the games potential will be realised if Contrast gets the greenlight for a Contrast 2. Perhaps. By all means give Contrast a shot. If only for its imaginative and unique gameplay mechanics. But manage your expectations.
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