Contrast Review - Child of Two Worlds

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My world is shattered, broken into tiny pieces and yet they are too large for me to put back together. The people around me are shadows, black against the walls of my shattered world. Am I sad? No, I’ve accepted this place that has become my home. Don’t worry though, I have my imaginary friend to help me clamor through this strange place. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Well, fortunately I am not actually in this world, although my imaginary friend is real, (Does that even make sense?) the rest of that stuff is pretty much Contrast in a nutshell.

Released first on PC and now as a launch title for PS4, Contrast is a indie developed platform puzzle game with a unique setting and story. It is worth mentioning off the bat that the game is free right now for all PlayStation Plus members, and while it may not be worth buying immediately for full price, the game still has a lot of redeeming qualities that make it worth your time.

Story and Setting
The storyline of Contrast takes place in a vaudeville like settings that looks like something straight out of a Tim Burton movie, or perhaps a Mime’s worst nightmare. The art of the world is greatly realized, with promotional posters lining the walls of movie theaters and neon lights casting an artificial glow over the environments you find yourself. in. The subtle use of color and overall dreary look make the world feel alive even though your only one of two people actually occupying it.

You play as Dawn, the imaginary friend of a little girl named Didi who is going through some rough family troubles. Her mom is a voluptuous cabaret singer at a local bar called the Ghost Note. whose silhouette is rivaled only by that of Jessica Rabbit. Her dad is an ambitious man with big ideas, but poor execution. He owes a lot of money to some bad people, and when things got rough, his wife kicked him out. Now he’s trying to win her back and rebuild his family. Didi is affected by what’s happening around her, but not in the way you would expect. For example, her mother’s sexually charged singing doesn’t seem to phase her, and her father’s idea to start a circus sounds like a wondrous plan in her innocent mind.

ContrastThe themes are heavy here, and the story is told in a very unique way. The world of Contrast is portrayed with shadows. When you walk into a room, it will be empty, but you’ll see the shadows of two or more characters conversing on the wall. When someone enters, the door opens but no one enters. Then, their shadows slinks into view and they become part of the scene. This is such an effective way to tell the story because it further solidifies Didi’s detachment from the world around her and places her in this pseudo realm where she lives with you, her imaginary friend.

The acting in the game is spot on, with well performed accents, and intense moments punctuated by the well written dialogue. The world is well realized, and the story is told in a incredibly unique way. In this regard, the game is a shining success. However, this is an interactive medium, which brings us to the gameplay.

All of the expected gameplay elements are present and accounted for. You have a jump, run, and dash and you use it to traverse the environment. What makes this game stand out is a unique shifting mechanic, which allows your silent character to become a two dimensional shadow on the wall. Once in this form, you move across the other shadows as if they were real, tangible forms. This allows for some interesting, if slightly awkward platforming. Oftentimes the surface you are traversing are silhouettes of other people or objects which can make judging distance and space difficult. Still, this mechanic allows for some interesting puzzles involving moving and sliding objects to create properly sized shadows on the wall to traverse.

Outside of the shifting, the gameplay in Contrast is fairly standard. The controls feel somewhat loose, making it hard to accurately traverse the environment at times. There are also small glitches and hiccups in the frame rate and moments where the character model can get stuck in the environment. In addition, the puzzles can sometimes become tedious, with some involving moving boxes or some other object for a simple traversal.

The game is also very linear. Because the story is so good and the pacing is done well, it doesn’t become a huge issue, but the world is so intriguing that it’s a shame it can’t be explored more. The shadow puzzles are the high point here though and they play well into the themes of the story and make for a very unique aspect to an otherwise standard platformer. There are some collectibles to round out the package, and these do well to flesh out the world, but otherwise Contrast is very straightforward with some great ideas to the gameplay and puzzles.

Graphics and Atmosphere
The graphics in Contrast are nothing that couldn’t have been done on the PS3, but the sharpness to the textures and the vivid detail in the lighting are certainly enjoyable. The art style is very focused and does a fantastic job of making this world feel alive without there being any people in it. The shadow mechanic for telling the story creates a profound and striking way of portraying these characters.

One scene, early in the game, has Didi, the only other person you can see, hugging thin air in front of her as the shadows on the wall depict her father embracing her. This moment of sheer detachment, a moment that showcases the contrast between our world and Didi’s, is a great example of how the graphics go a long way towards creating a great atmosphere.

It is also worth noting that the music is very well done. A great mixture of jazz and and swing music plays with saxophone and trumpet coming through to create some very moving pieces of music that speak directly to the time period. Kat, Didi’s mother, also has a brief musical moment at the beginning of the game that is excellently performed.

The dips in frame rate and the graphical glitches are disappointing and happen far too often. It is easier to forgive this because the game didn’t have a massive budget but the lack of polish hurts the overall atmosphere and the work they put into the game to create this world.

Contrast Review

The Final Verdict
Contrast is free right now. For that price, it is absolutely worth your time. It has the golden gift of doing something different, which doesn’t happen enough in this industry. To try something new, to break new ground and go out on a limb is something to be admired in an industry crowded with the same old shooters. Even with this, the game has a lack of polish, and the controls can be too loose at times.

If you have a PS4, download Contrast and try out this unique game, just be ready to deal with some frustrations along the way. In the end though, for the low asking price, it’s worth your time.

Have you downloaded Contrast? Would you pay the regular price for it, if it wasn't free with PlayStation Plus? Tell us in the comments!

Final Score: 7/10

Game Category: Puzzle and Indie

Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert Date: 11/25/2013

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