Developer: Compulsion Games
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release date: November 15th, 2013
Available on: Playstation 3, Playstation 4, PC, Xbox 360
Reviewer’s note: I played the Playstation 4 version of the game. There may be minor differences between the versions.
With Driveclub getting the delay until early 2014 there was a bit of a rush to stick in a new second game to round out the Playstation Plus benefits. The game ended up being Contrast, a puzzle-platformer that blends 2D and 3D elements. It has creative use of light and shadow but does the game manage to hold up?
Contrast puts you in the role of Dawn, a shadow shifter who is friends with a child named Didi. Didi happens to be the only person who can see Dawn, so everyone else just assumes that Dawn is her imaginary friend. Didi’s family has problems. Her mom is about to lose Didi and doesn’t have the money to pay the bills, and her dad can’t hold a steady job and keeps trying to come up with various schemes to make a quick buck. After an investment with some gangsters goes poorly, Didi’s father Johnny is stuck trying to set up a carnival as a last ditch plan to get some money. This game’s story is almost entirely about Didi and her family and besides Didi herself, no one really talks to or even acknowledges the silent Dawn. As such, you feel like you’re not really involved in the story and that you’re just a viewer along to see what happens next. The last act of the game tries to go into Dawn’s origins a little, but it’s never really explained and doesn’t amount to much. I do like how all characters (Except Didi) only appear as shadows on the wall. It fits with the game’s theme, allows a bit of creativity with the cut scenes, and is pretty stylish.
The game itself is a bit of a hybrid of a 3D and 2D platformer. You’ll wander the game world and do some puzzle solving in 3D, while the meat of the platforming happens in 2D. At any time Dawn can jump into a lit wall and become a shadow, using other shadows as platforms and walls. You can also pick up crates in the 3D world and bring them into the 2D one with you, allowing you to get them to different platforms or use them there. Finally Dawn has a dash ability. In both the 3D and 2D worlds you can use it to further your jumps. In the 3D worlds you also use it to burst through barriers to reach the other side, while in the 2D you can use it to pass through thin shadows. The game eventually starts to fall into a pattern. You’ll always know when it’s time to platform as the lights will light up a wall. Sometimes in the 3D areas you’ll be rearranging lights and objects to get the shadows just right so you can jump on them or carry a box through them. Most of the puzzles involve just rearranging the lights or objects in front of the lights. The platforming never really goes too deep either, not requiring use of much more than your jumps and dashes.
Each level requires you to find a certain amount of glowing lights so you can turn on objects or open doors. You never need to find all of them, it’s usually about half, but the exploration in finding them usually takes up a good portion of the game. Similarly there’s also collectables that show more of the world around you that you can find. They’re interesting but not mandatory. The most interesting is when you find clips and parts of scenes that begin to play out near you. You can then jump into the scenes and platform on the people inside of them. You need to be able to predict the actions they’re going to take and use this to further yourself to your goal, usually a light or an exit. If you pay attention to the scenes it’s often not too difficult, but sometimes it’s really annoying. One scene has a woman pick up a cigar. If you had no clue the cigar was there, its shadow is blended in with the table, good luck hopping on before she picks it up.
There’s one thing that needs to be mentioned about Contrast and that’s how horrendously glitchy I found the game to be. I felt like I could barely take a couple of steps without running into some glitch or another. Ever put a crate down on an uneven surface? Dawn will get stuck in the default arms outstretched position and vibrate violently until you can manage to find the correct direction to dash in to unstick her. Sometimes the game lets you shift into objects that you shouldn’t be able to shift into, causing you to get ejected and stuck into a table or a chair or in some weird corner that Dawn can’t get out of. Once I shifted into a wall and the camera violently swung off the map for no reason, leaving me staring at the endless void under it. Sometimes even when you shift to the surface you want you end up in an impossibly small area that Dawn shouldn’t be able to fit into, again leaving her in the arms outstretched pose until the game boots her out of the wall. It feels like the game could have used an extra month or two in development to just iron these out.
Still, glitches aside, Contrast isn’t a bad game. It’s a bit on the short side and there are times I feel like it could have done more with its concept, but by no means is it bad. If you’re getting it free as part of Ps+ then I highly recommend you give it the 5 or so hours it’ll take to beat. If not, then I can still easily see it being worth $15 and still leaving you pretty satisfied.