Review: Contrast from Compulsion Games – Playing with Light and Shadow

Review: Contrast from Compulsion Games – Playing with Light and Shadow
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Platforms:

Windows PC, Steam, XBOX 360, SONY Playstation Network

Game Name:

Contrast

Publisher(s):

Focus Home Interactive

Developer(s):

Compulsion Games

Genre(s):

Adventure, Platformer

Release Date:

November 15th, 2013

The following is a composite review by Indie-Game-Freak and Callabrantus – Ed.

Contrast: What We Think

In Contrast – a 3D puzzle platformer from Montreal based indie developers Compulsion Games you play the role of “Dawn,” a sultry, imaginary friend to a young girl named Didi who is trying to help her ne’er-do-well father so that he will return home and rebuild a happy family with the girl’s mother who is a lounge singer at the Ghost Note cabaret.

Indie-Game-Freak: At first blush, the game appears more like Bioshock Infinite in movement and scope than it does like, well a puzzle platformer. But in essence, despite the beautifully decorated world and rotatable camera, you are swapping between a 3-dimensional character and a 2-dimensional shadow version of her that can scale shadows cast by light sources that you can often manipulate to arbitrary positions so as to solve puzzles that allow you to access areas of interest. In fact Dawn and Didi are the only two 3-dimensional characters in the game.

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A screenshot from Contrast by Compulsion Games

Where Bioshock’s Columbia channels Dixieland, Contrast channels a dreamlike spin on Bob Fosse’s take on Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret starring Liza Minelli.

It’s Time To Light The Lights

The game’s narrative shifts back and forth between the past and present as you collect mementos from the young girl’s upbringing that fill you in on the backstory. In some instances, these flashbacks play out as shadow puppet theater on the walls that you jump into in order to access the next stage in the story.

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Become a shadow and climb silhouettes to access new areas.

Sometimes, you will hit the end of the apparent reality, and random objects, furniture and set pieces will float in space like fragmented memories. Pressing forward into such locations will lead you to tumble into a void and reset at your previous location.

Along the way you collect luminous blobs that you will eventually need to advance through the story. This is slightly bothersome, since they are treated in the game as what would normally be elective bonus goals, like collecting stars in Super Mario Bros. We were left wondering what would have happened if we didn’t have any Luminous blobs, would we have to backtrack through the long streets to find one? This seems unnecessarily tedious, to the degree of feeling like a design afterthought.

Chewing the Scenery

While contrast feels like other much higher budgeted games I have played, it does in fact have quite a unique core mechanic. The story component can lead to a lot of cut-scening (yes that is now a verb), but these can be skipped. That said, the pattern to the gameplay goes something like this: solve a puzzle, get a cut-scene, solve a puzzle, get a cut-scene. It makes the progression feel very chunky and in fact pulled me out of the world rather than deeper into it.

Callabrantus: Further detracting from the grand illusion are the numerous glitches. We would frequently manage to get Dawn hung up on objects when trying to solve puzzles, leaving her hovering awkwardly a few inches above the ground. While backtracking through a scene we had previously completed, we crossed an area where we had used Dawn’s flash step to bust through a couple of gates. The gates were still gone…but the caution signs that had adorned them when they stood had re-appeared, and were floating in mid-air.

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Caution: Floating caution signs

Wonky camera angles abound. The point of view adjusts frequently to accommodate having Dawn move items around the screen. At times it seems like the camera may be trying to provide a hint to the desired placement, but I found that even the slightest touch of the left analog stick would cause it to lurch awkwardly in a different direction. After a few seconds, the camera would reluctantly return itself to its place behind Dawn.

If it were only once or twice that this occurred, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought, but it happens often enough to really show the man behind the curtain (whom, it would seem, is asleep at the switch).

Only The Shadow Knows

The game takes a bizarre twist at the end. It was definitely meant to be a giant “A-Ha!” moment, but it left be saying “huh?” I certainly have no intention of spoiling the plot, but I will say that this reveal came far out of left field, and left me with more questions than answers. It does appear as though there may be more story to come, but I wouldn’t even classify the ending as a cliff-hanger. More lead-up might have made the unveiling seem less abrasive.

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A fantastic soundtrack accompanies the seedy subject matter.

Darkest Before The Dawn

On a positive note, the music in Contrast is worthy of mention; some gorgeous original song recordings feature singer Laura Ellis as the voice of lounge singer “Kat,” making for a nice value add. All told, the visual design and music are very good, and conceptually the puzzles are clever; we only wish, somewhat breathlessly, that the whole thing came together in the game design, and it’s a little heartbreaking that this aspect falls apart like Didi’s unkempt memories.

Get Contrast on Steam

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Watch the official launch trailer for Contrast:

Indie-Game-Freak

[Los Angeles] The Indie Game Freak eats games for breakfast. It is a horror to behold, but it's good for the ecosystem.

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