Contrast is a game about the interplay between light and dark, and the effects they have on physical space. But it’s also a game about time; time which developer Compulsion Games truly needed. A few more months and this whole experience could have been hammered into fine shape – refined until it was something truly special. Instead, laid out in black and white, Contrast is a game of smart ideas and touching moments that fail to live up to its potential due to a frustrating lack of polish and what feels like rushed delivery.
You begin with no knowledge of whats happening, then slowly by way of a young girl named Didi, learn that your name is Dawn and you have the ability to shift into shadows. Jarringly, from this point on the story is presented to you from Didi’s point of view. While its an interesting idea to tell the narrative in this way, it ultimately ends up not being very effective.
You learn that Didi’s parents are separated at the beginning of the game, and as the story progresses, the pieces fall into place and explain why. The idea works well enough, having the story told through Didi’s point of view, but considering the tone and atmosphere of the game, it could’ve been executed a bit better. Also, Dawn’s story isn’t given adequate closure. The game sets up a chain of events that reveal Dawn’s true identity, that never really lead anywhere.
Even though the story doesn’t engage, Contrast manages to capture the playing side of things a little better. You control Dawn in a 3D 1920′s noir-styled world. During the areas where you use your shadow powers, the game turns into a puzzle/platfomer that has you manipulating light sources. This manipulation allows you to use the shadows of illuminated environments to get to new areas, like a higher floor or the other side of a chasm. It works well and remains fresh throughout the game, making me wish they would’ve included more of these sections.
Although the game understand light and shadow, it has trouble with physics. Controls can feel floaty, adding unnecessary frustrations to puzzles that require sharp timing. The game is also riddled with bugs, so much so that I had to restart a whole section just because one bug wouldn’t let me come out of shadow form. These problems show how rushed the game was, and they should’ve been fixed before launch.
Where Contrast truly shines, is its visuals. It’s not beautifully realistic like bid-budget AAA titles, but confidently carries its own sense of stylized artistry. It wraps the story in a bluesy, burlesque vibe, and the art style grew on me more as the game progressed. It is sad that rest of the game couldn’t match the quality of its unique design though. It makes the game’s short comings seem that much more glaring.
Compulsion Games has also supplied Contrast with a beautiful soundtrack to match the visual flair. Channeling the jazzy tones most noir films use, works from beginning to end. You’ll never grow tired of that smooth saxophone or those snazzy beats. Voice actors also play their part well. Some of the dialogue feels forced and out of place, but it doesn’t affect otherwise convincing deliveries.
As much as Contrast excels in tone and atmosphere, its story falls flat in equal measures. I would love to see Dawn return in a future game, but one that’s fixed all the issues that have bogged her first adventure down. For now though, Contrast is a brief and frustrating journey that’s rarely enjoyable.
*Contrast was reviewed with a PlayStation Network download code provided by Focus Home Interactive.*