Developer(s) – Compulsion Games
Publisher(s) – Focus Home Interactive
PEGI – 12
Released around the same time as both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and acting as launch titles for both systems as well as being ported to their predecessors, Contrast is an independently developed 3D platformer with a heavy emphasis on puzzle-solving and item collecting, which also makes use of some fairly unique mechanics in terms of gameplay. Whilst I was impressed to some extent, especially, to begin with, I found the overall experience far too fleeting for me to able to mention it in the same breath as many of the great games in the genre that have clearly inspired its creation.
Graphics – 7/10
The game itself is set in a time reminiscent of the early 1900s, giving it a very strong film noir feel to it. It’s dark, gritty, and seamlessly sets the scene for how exactly both the game and the story play out. Characters throughout the game, with the exception of three, are also represented as shadows of themselves, which also adds a very nice touch to both the visuals and the game’s general atmosphere. By contrast, however (hence the name), the use of lighting in the game also plays a much more pivotal role than in the average game in terms of settings it’s tone.
Gameplay – 8/10
The main element that sets this game apart from every other game of its kind is that there is a mechanic which requires the player character to move in and out of the shadow in order the either solve puzzles, reach otherwise unreachable areas or find hidden secrets within the game such as the collectible orbs or the Extra Life Easter egg in the first half of the game. The experience is challenging as well as satisfying for how short a time it lasts and will require players to think on their feet. In particular, the puzzle in the Excelsior Hotel during the first half of the game can be fairly grueling, I found.
Controls – 8/10
At first, the controls can take a little bit of getting used to. It plays more or less identical to Blood Omen 2, where they feel quite stiff, and the camera must be moved in other to make the player character rotate, which in turn, reminds me of how 3D platformers first played out on the original PlayStation when moving around felt more like a hindrance than an innovation; examples of which being Blasto, Croc: Legend of the Gobbos and even the original Tomb Raider. It’s just as well that there isn’t any combat element to it, as it would have been more difficult to handle without making use of a targeting system. Blood Omen 2 handled it surprisingly well, but even if this game had been made to last longer than it did, it wouldn’t have needed an element of combat given the right amount of intricate puzzles.
Lifespan – 1/10
As mentioned, I don’t believe the game lasts anywhere near as long as it had the potential to, clocking in at around 2 and a half hours. There has been a multitude of 3D platformers that have come and gone that have been made to last many times more than that; Super Mario 64, Jak & Daxter, and Ratchet & Clank to name but a few. It could be argued that a primary reason for this would be that the developers may have been on a budget since the game was independently developed, but games have been made to last even for an unlimited amount of time after having a small amount of money attached to its development; Don’t Starve for example.
Storyline – 6/10
The story of Contrast follows a young girl named Didi, and her imaginary friend (the playable character) Dawn. Didi sneaks out of bed one night against her mother Kat’s wishes, to watch her mother perform as a cabaret singer at her local club, the Ghost Note. What follows is an unfolding of events chronicling the turbulent situation between Didi’s mother and father, and the serious financial and desperate situation Didi’s father Johnny has dropped himself in involving gangsters, ongoing debts, and involvement with the mysterious and popular show business magician, Vincenzo. I found that the first part of the game was portrayed as extremely suspenseful and dramatic, but I felt as if it lost momentum during the second half, and it seemed to be much more tame and unfitting of its atmosphere, and for the most part, didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I was satisfied with the ending, but the events immediately leading up to it made me lose the initial interest I had in the plot.
Originality – 6.5/10
The shadow shifting mechanics in Contrast made for a somewhat standout experience, and puzzle-solving is on a much more prominent level than in other 3D platformers, but for me, the short lifespan was far too much of a negative factor for me to able to label it as one of the greats. When Super Mario 64 was released, it set a trend, which this game breaks; could be a reason why it stands out, but it does so for the wrong reason in my opinion.
Overall, Contrast; whilst an extremely short-lived gaming experience, does have its good moments and serves to maintain interest relatively well throughout. The story isn’t the most well thought out within gaming, but its graphics and gameplay make it worth at most one playthrough.