Contrast caught a lot of attention when Drive Club was delayed and Contrast stepped up to be a free download for PS+ members at launch. The trailers showed a creative world of a reminiscent 20’s era in Paris, mixed with an inspired gameplay concept, where you can fade out of reality and into the shadows to overcome any obstacles in your path. Contrast showed a lot of promise, but after playing through the short game, the only gratification you get once completed is that it’s over, and you don’t have to keep playing it.
Contrast isn’t all bad, and by far the best part of Contrast is the story. It’s told in a wonderfully creative way, where every character is a shadow on the wall. The only two people who aren’t shadows are Didi and her imaginary friend Dawn. With a first glance, it can easily be mistaken as a little girl with an overactive imagination getting into nonsensical trouble. It doesn’t take long to realize there are some serious family troubles, and you’ll be shocked by how dark and grave some of the themes are. Didi’s father takes center stage in this dark drama, and things could get much worse if Didi doesn’t help.
The reason why the story is so strong isn’t the plot alone, but the characters and dialog. Admittedly, Didi isn’t the best character, but she is often the catalyst for the other characters to shine. The dialog has that witty and snappy flare that romanticized 20’s films have. Contrast is clearly going for that film noir style that is becoming more and more popular. On this front, Contrast is successful. I liked every character in the game, and I felt like I was watching an old movie. There were multiple times when I really laughed aloud listening to Didi’s father, and gripped my controller tightly when people made Didi cry. The story brings you in close, but it’s the dialog that hooks you for the entire journey.
When you hear film noir, you can’t help but picture a setting that would match such a description. Once again, Contrast holds up in this department by creating some interesting sets. That doesn’t mean the graphics are good, they are average at best, but it’s the overall mood of that game that’s important. Contrast is very dark and gray, but that’s the point, so it’s hard to complain about the color palate. Matching the 20’s era sets, the musical accompaniment is also wonderfully reminiscent of that era. The first act could be taken right out of a classic 20’s nightclub. Only in the beginning; however, as the game goes on, Contrast stops being film noir and becomes more just…creepy. The music isn’t jazzy, but considerably more ominous, and the picturesque 20’s Paris becomes a disturbed twisted city. This isn’t necessary bad, because it matches the serious themes of the game’s progression. But it means if you are looking for strictly a film noir type game, this isn’t the best example.
The story and setting are enough to hook you into Contrast, but it is the gameplay that will keep you—or rather—it should be. The gameplay has one primary concept. Dawn can become a shadow on a wall. This helps her in a number of ways, but generally it is to bypass a physical object in the real world. It’s fun at first and requires you to think outside the box on multiple occasions. The problem with Contrast is it’s a one-trick pony and doesn’t do anything else besides this one feature. Eventually, boxes are introduced to put on switches, and that becomes the standard feature for the rest of the game. Pick up a box, become a shadow, walk, enter real world, and put it on the switch. There is some variation of course, but nothing too dramatically different.
Truthfully, I was never stuck on one puzzle for more than a few minutes. They were never difficult and the only time a puzzle took longer than five minutes was due the poor control scheme. When Dawn gets stuck between two shadows, she is forced back into the real world. This also occurs when her foot might get pinched even a tiny bit, so a majority of the time I would be tossed out of the shadows in some questionable ways. Getting stuck at a puzzle because you can’t figure it out is frustrating, but rewarding when you finally overcome it. Unlike when the controls are the main hindrance in completing a puzzle. Then it’s just frustrating.
The controls are difficult enough to deal with when precision is required, but my frustration increased to completely dissatisfaction when I encountered too many glitches to be acceptable. There was one moment in the game where I kept falling through the floor into infinite space. There was solid ground beneath me, but I still fell through. That wasn’t game breaking; I simply had to jump over that one area. There was another instances where I glitched through an obstacle to stop me from completing a puzzle. It must have been a glitch, because I managed to jump up a ledge while holding a box in my hand, and you definitely cannot jump while holding a box. I took the freebie, even though I could see the proper solution to the puzzle.
A good puzzle game will make you pull your hair out while you try to complete one puzzle, and often times puzzlers are so successful at getting into your head, that you start to question if the game is broken. You swear what you’re doing is the right solution, but it’s not working. Therefore, the game is broken, because there is no other solution besides what you’re trying and it’s not working. As we all know, there is almost always another solution to be found, even if we refuse to admit it.
I had that exact moment in Contrast, except I was right! I saw the solution to the puzzle, tried to complete it multiple times, but it wasn’t working. Naturally, I looked for something I missed, but couldn’t find anything. I went back to what I thought was the proper solution, but it still wasn’t working. After about forty minutes of struggling over that one puzzle, I turned the game off and came back to it a couple days later. Turns out, I was doing the correct answer, but for whatever reason, the game wasn’t registering it the first time. Forty minutes of running around and I was right the first time. It was that glitch that made me put the final nail in the coffin.
Contrast is a unique game that carries an interesting premise from setting to gameplay. Didi isn’t necessarily the strongest protagonist herself, but she brings out all the other characters strongly. The setting does have the cool film noir style, and it’s easy to get lost in the time. The gameplay is entertaining in the beginning, but it grows old pretty quickly. The puzzles are far too easy, which means you don’t feel that rewarding feeling when you complete one. The game is only about three hours long (minus dealing with glitches), and since the puzzles are so easy, there really isn’t any replay value here. You’ll remember the solution no matter how long the break is between playing. The story is the only thing worth playing through the game for, and once you experience it, there really is no other reason to come back to it. Contrast has a sturdy premise, but the poor gameplay makes it fade into the shadows soon to be forgotten.
This review is based off a retail copy of the Playstation 4 version of Contrast developed by Compulsion Games and distributed by Focus Home Interactive.
- Good Story
- Good Characters
- Too Many Glitches
- One Trick Pony