One of the most prominent legacies of the current console generation will be the emergence of the independent title. Once the domain of the PC market these games are often lovingly crafted and demonstrate true innovation that you just don’t see in your normal big budget console game. Titles like Journey, Limbo Thomas Was Alone and Braid have shown you can capture the hearts of console gamers with a mature story and some innovative mechanics.
Compulsion Games have finally lifted the curtain on their début performance with puzzle platformer Contrast, a game that attempts to step out of (or is that into) the shadows and continue the Indie emergence lasts well into the next generation.
Contrast see’s you step into the role of acrobat Dawn as you team up with your only friend Didi to reunite Didi’s functionally broken family. the catch is no-one can see Dawn and Dawn can only see Didi everyone else is only visible by the shadows they cast across the environment. It’s these shadows that play a major part in Dawn and Didi’s adventures as Dawn has the ability to shift from the games 3D plain and traverse the 2D shadow world to navigate obstacles.
The shifts into the 2D world are akin to the aforementioned Limbo in their look but the way you have to interact and shift between the two plains does throw up some interesting gameplay. However as well as the mechanic is realised it isn’t without some very fundamental problems.
For a game where the main character is an acrobat Dawns movements really do lack any feeling of precision and finesse, if anything it’s as if her shoes have been dipped in butter and she’s been overindulging in helium. While it’s not game breaking it can often be a source of frustration when navigating the more complex puzzles.
Unfortunately the problems don’t stop there, you’ll often find yourself hung up on objects in the environment or even stuck inside them at times. The game isn’t much help when it comes to showing what you need to do next, often you’ll find yourself scratching your head at just how the game expects you to solve a puzzle in order to progress. This takes away the sense of achievement when you do complete them and replaces it with a feeling of “thank god for that”.
As you’d expect from a studio led by former Arkane Studios (Bioshock 2, Dishonored) executive producer Guillaume Provost the presentation of Contrast is beautiful with splashes of noir and art deco upon its cabaret and Moulin Rouge inspired canvas.
One particular highlight is the games sound design, the voice acting and musical score are delightful and really capture the 20’s/30’s era the game is inspired by. Coupled with a story that touches on themes rarely addressed in gaming, Contrast’s presentation is second to none it’s just a shame the relatively short experience is spoilt by some less polished mechanics.
Contrast is certainly an interesting title however it won’t be for everyone due to it’s flaws. It’s emotionally engaging story is better than most out there but whether you stick it out till the end will be dependant of how tolerant you are of these misgivings.
The game succeeds at so much which certainly makes it worth trying, but unfortunately falls down at it’s core gameplay, which is such a shame as it’s presentation is truly delightful and unique. Those who do stick through its short length will be rewarded with an experience that stays with you after you switch off.
The fact that Contrast is available free as a PS4 launch title for Playstation Plus subscribers makes it worth a look at the very least for those picking up a shiny new Sony machine, for those on other platforms though be prepared for some dark times.
Format: Xbox 360/PS3/PC/PS4
Release date: Out Now (PS4 at launch)
Developer: Compulsion Games
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Full disclosure: TSC were provided with a digital copy of Contrast by the developer. The game was reviewed on a Xbox 360 over the course of 3 days.