Contrast was, by all preview accounts, promising. The game garnered a little buzz at every show it took part in, and it's small budget coupled with intriguing mechanics made it an indie hopeful.
This game, set in a whimsical take on the 1920s, splits the 3D space with a 2D world of shadows. Players take on the role of Dawn, a character able to swap between planes, in order to move through the small storyline, solve puzzles and collect objects.
Below the mechanics and style is a story about a young girl caught between lovers past and present. It's heavy with implications of murder, beatings and sex, but those themes are rarely overtly stated.
Players watch the world of adults play out as shadows on walls, and they do so from the perspective of a young girl.
Sounds solid, right? Unfortunately, Contrast is flimsy more than strong, and the whole game teeters between original, fun and broken throughout play.
On Paper, This is Great
The notion of playing with shadows in between 3D and 2D worlds actually sounds really intriguing. We've dabbled in this before, particularly with a small Wii game from Hudson Soft called Lost in Shadow. The play between light sources in the physical world and the shadows they cast is interesting.
In motion during Contrast, this mechanic can be quite enjoyable when it works. You'll move a light around a room in order to cast shadows perfectly along a wall. From there, you'll merge into the wall as only a shadow and use your newly created platforms to get from place to place.
When Compulsion Games, the developer of this little title, creates mini dialogues and plays out of shadows on the wall, Dawn has to pay attention, time her jumps with the motions of the characters casting shadows and bridge gaps. These segments, peppered throughout the game at a decent interval, are when Contrast is at its absolute best.
You'll be asked to move boxes to switches in order to activate phases of puzzles while traversing an environment through shadows. Thanks to the stiff and almost broken nature of the game, we'll get to that in a second, these puzzles are extremely tiresome. Unlike the dialogue scenes I mentioned above, they come far too often and make up the bulk of exploration in this game.
The idea of shadow play in traversal is wonderful. It really is. But mixing it with 3D exploration, thanks mostly to what I'll hit on next, is awful.
Like Playing with Animatronics
Have you ever been to Disney World? Think back to those old animatronics that made up the cast of characters on different rides and in different attractions. The old Carousel of Progress, perhaps, or Pirates of the Caribbean.
Those aging robots stood in one place, ran out scripted movements and looked completely stiff and unnatural. They were the best at the time, sure, but one had to maintain an intense suspension of disbelief in order to buy into the illusion.
Contrast's animations all look like animatronics from Disney World. It's like playing a game modeled off of the Hall of Presidents.
That stiffness drifts into the actual movement of characters in the game. Not so much on the 2D shadow plane, which is mostly decent, but the 3D traversal. It's stiff, Dawn floats and her jumps are wildly imprecise.
Any veil of illusion you had going into Contrast lifts the moment you start walking around. It feels very much like a cheap game, and that absolutely hurts its potential.
Those floaty controls, awkward movements and glitchy stiffness when interacting with objects make the 3D puzzle segments of this game downright grueling.
When slogging through a title is made worse thanks to simply controlling characters, we have a major problem. For all of Contrast's inventive potential, the nitty gritty nature of moving hurts it the most.
The cheap feeling of the effort and downright tiresome nature of moving about makes it hard to recommend Contrast as worth your money.
The story and style of the world are enough to make Contrast interesting. When the shadow play is at its best, the game really does present a special set of mechanics worth exploring.
However, the cheap feeling of the effort and downright tiresome nature of moving about makes it hard to recommend Contrast as worth your money.
PS Plus subscribers can get the title for free right now on the PlayStation 4. That's how I wound up playing this. Given that I spent no money on it, I don't exactly feel burned. If it has your attention on the PC or PlayStation 3 platforms, wait for a sale.
Contrast has heart, I'll give it that. It's just sort of a slog to find it.
We downloaded Contrast for free on the PlayStation 4, thanks to PlayStation Plus. We completed the game before starting this review.