Style, we all love it. I’m not talking about that super uniformed style that Abercrombie & Fitch would have you chasing after with abs, blank faces, greasy strange haircuts and all the rest. No I’m talking true individuality by choosing to have a vision and follow it, regardless of the wider world and its onlooking sea of judges. The gaming world is one of the best examples in where this kind of style thrives, after all who is going to be more accepting of future greatness, no matter how odd, than a group of self-confessed nerds who tend to, rather laudably, pick brains and substance over anything else?
Contrast is one of these ideas dedicated to a unique style, with bold ideas and true substance. From its gorgeous artistic edge, to its beautiful and heady soundtrack filled with period jazz that’ll set your senses on fire. As you can guess, I loved it. It’s not perfect though, as with anything new, it has a few stumbling blocks along the way but at its core it’s something great.
The story throws you into the high heels of Dawn, a young woman with some sharp detective skills, the ability to flip into shadows on the wall and with little to vocalise. As the only friend of Didi, a young girl going through a pretty rough childhood, Dawn is going to do anything she can to help change the life of this poor girl as they both travel through her dream world of nightmares that have happened, are yet to occur or might have been. This may sound a little vague, but the beauty of Contrast is in just how well it tells the story of Dawn and Didi, you’ll start with barely no information and move on to learn more about the duo and the more you put in, the more you get out as so much back story is revealed rather elegantly through collectables. From payslip to lets of eviction, signed photographs and children’s drawings, Contrast slowly unravels the tale of a broken home but without choosing to bludgeon you over the head with its morals and it works for this truly heartfelt tale.
The twist of course, in this tale of woe, is that the only two characters you’ll see anything of are the dynamic duo of Dawn and Didi, as the rest of the game’s cast are merely shadows on the walls which subtly works to this theme that Didi is a stranger in her own life, merely going through the motions of a life she wants to be better, not just for herself but for her whole family. The beautiful and seductive singer she calls mum and the down on his luck business man, in way too deep with the wrong guys whom she can always call dad.
Graphically Contrast looks sharp, with a smooth cell shaded look, not that far from other series that pioneered it such as Borderlands, but with a more restrained feel. The world, filled with Parisian streets torn straight from a Claude Izner novel, is full of vibrant colours, and shadows dancing on the walls but unfortunately it begins to come unstuck for similar reasons. You see, with the rest of the cast remaining nothing more than victims of shadow puppetry, the city is left derelict and empty which while still looking lovely can on occasion feel somewhat lifeless as you wander every back street and main street alone. Exploration can become a bit of a sticking point also, as the camera controls are often somewhat uneven and move at such a speed you’ll find yourself in need of some travel sickness tablets, which is a shame in a game that urges you to wander around the world and learn all you can.
At its heart, Contrast is a nice blend of platforming and puzzles, being able to switch into the shadows is a refreshing mechanic that offers you a unique way to play with the light in order to traverse spaces that the 3D world just cannot handle. There’s a fun mixture of time based puzzles and light manipulation tasks which may seem glaringly obvious on occasion, but often offer you some unexpected rewards. The first hurdle involved placing spotlights onto a stage, highlighting the musicians at play so I could clamber up their silhouettes to reach the rafters. Simple enough, but I was surprised out how much fun I could have, hearing each instrument kick in, building a truly beautiful track up from the ground piece by piece. As I said before, style at work. True style.
Again though, as high as Contrast can rise itself up to, there’s always a technical error ready to bring it crashing back down to earth. While playing in the shadows, changing from 2D to 3D at your heart’s content, you’ll find yourself getting stuck. Perhaps even for just a moment, but enough to drag you out of the narrative and spoil the mood that has bubbled over so gracefully.
Things get worse when you eventually earn the ability to bring items into the shadows with you, more often than not when returning from that dark space Dawn would freeze in place, only able to free herself after an intense button mashing session or a simple perspective flip once more, if you’re lucky.
So where does that leave Contrast in the end? Well, despite its technical problems which draw away from its overall experience, there’s still a great game hiding underneath. Sure, it’s not as polished as you would hope, but with some stunning visuals, a glorious soundtrack and a truly immersive narrative with some heart, Contrast is a game worth playing, with enough unique ideas and twists to keep you entertained.
Here’s hoping we see a next-gen sequel!