Compulsion Games dared to improve gameplay, but it was put into an empty, lifeless environment along with the beautifully told, moody story. In a sentence, that is my description of Contrast, which I was really getting into after two and a half hours, but by then I saw the credits roll…
The story seems a little convoluted at first sight, but after a while you’ll understand it. We start in the bedroom of Didi Malenkaya, whose imaginary friend, Dawn can do more, than what we would think of her seeing her film noir-bdsm combination of clothing. They two – or Dawn, mostly, as we keep doing Didi’s tasks throughout most of the game – try to stop a family break-up that is about to go down. Kat and Johnny (they are Didi’s parents) have a hissy fit at each other, and the latter one puts his life at stake because of his financial troubles. So Johnny – to get out of the swamp – sets up a circus, inviting the main attraction of his program, Vincenzo. (Oh, by this point we’ll be at the beginning of the second Act – out of three…)
Vincenzo, from whom we steal the recording of his latest show, will try to help us, but we will have to do a lot to fix the family issues… from fixing the lights to repair the circus programs and such. The whole extra spice in this is that Vin is Didi’s biological father, but the star does not want to return to his family – instead he convinces Kat to choose the luckless Johnny…
I wouldn’t call the story a reason why to play this game. If it would have been the only weak point of Contrast, I wouldn’t have brought it up. The gameplay itself is really enjoyable. Dawn’s skill is to turn into a shadow at places where the wall is lit. (SPOILER: I would even dare to call the shadow world a fourth dimension, given the ending itself…) You can easily swap to the shadows to bring a box over to a place where it’s required, otherwise we would get stuck very early. Oh yeah, this is a puzzle game, which has its classic platformer elements throughout the three Acts.
One example: in the circus, there will be a part with a pirate ship. First we have to get the ramp down to board the ship by bringing a box over to the shadow world, so Didi can board. Then we have to place boxes at three positions to keep the next gate open, we take the first one from the gate, we use the shadows to get the second, and then we just move the final one easily. There are puzzles which can make you think (like entering Vincenzo’s hideout; or I can even mention the lighthouse finale as well!)…
The music is simply fantastic! Smooth jazz rhythms with added female vocals can be heard in the background at Ghost Note, in the circus you can hear the classical melodies, and so forth. None of them are problematic. Even the voice acting is done nicely, although if you get stuck while Didi is nearby, you might get a little annoyed and tired of her constant nagging – she will keep repeating a sentence over and over every fifteen seconds or so. May this motivate you in not getting stuck!
But what’s worth a good gameplay, if you finish the game so quickly? As mentioned earlier, you’ll only get three (yes, 3) Acts. Alright, there are the Luminaires to collect, and you must collect five at every level to progress (these are required to give power to the machines). There are collectables as well, but in this case, this doesn’t really feel like an inspiration to replay the game.
No difficulty levels and no Game Overs – if you fall down into the depth of emptiness (why does this remind me of Dishonored?), you just get a sad chord of music, and then bam, you’re back in game. At least this doesn’t break your mood to play Contrast. However, don’t overcomplicate the tasks to do! Sometimes the solution is really easy, but finding the solution is an excitement.
The game itself is very short. For the second time I completed it in about two hours, and if I would have skipped the cutscenes, it might have been chopped in half in terms of length. This isn’t much. Despite having been released for the PS4, in my opinion, this console is supposed to have better games.
And I haven’t even talked about glitches yet. There was one in the ship part of Act 2, where I have literally got stuck into the wall! I wasn’t able to dash out of the wall! Dawn simply stuck there, half of her body in mid-air, the other half within the wall. Restart… oh, so there’s a checkpoint only at the start of the attraction? Wonderful… and once I got the dashing animation all the way, when I was just simply going up some stairs. I kept letting white skeletons out of myself for no real reason…
The animations… well, they aren’t really that good. Dawn kept doing the same arm movement for every single interaction in the game. They tend to interrupt the gameplay too with several few seconds long animations, and I think that is annoying.
Tasty once, but not twice
So Contrast hits home hard for the first time, but it’s not a big hit even then. It has an acceptable quality, but sadly, this is brought down to earth by the lifeless, empty and simple city, the length, and the almost total lack of replayability. But still… it is worth playing through once. Compulsion Games’ product deserves this much. We will be shadows one day…
+ Creative gameplay
+ Clever puzzles
+ Marvelous audio
– VERY short
– The city: oh, what it could have been…
– Lack of replayability