- Street Date:
- November 15th, 2013
- Reviewed by:
- Bill Braun
- Review Date:1
- November 18th, 2013
- Game Release Year:
- Sony Computer Entertainment
- Compulsion Games
- ESRB Rating:
- T (Teen)
Version reviewed is for the PS4, which is available either free with PS Plus or as a standalone purchase. The game is also available for the 360, PS3, and PC.
'Contrast' is an indie puzzle platformer from Canadian developer Compulsion Games. The multiplatform title was thrust into the spotlight when Sony selected it to replace the delayed PS Plus version of 'DriveClub.' The developer's stated desire with 'Contrast' is to intrigue players with a mystery clouded deep in the world of cabaret, a tagline that just screams 'independent game.' But along with the showmanship, comes a platformer that promises to mix 2D and 3D gameplay in a way to both contrast and compare the different platforming sensations. Now, without further adieu, let's have a look at the PS4 launch title 'Contrast.'
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
The PlayStation 4 was released on Friday, November 15 in North America. Up until a few short weeks before the console was available, subscribers to the PlayStation Plus service were expecting to get their hands on 'Resogun' (Housemarque) and PS Plus version of 'DriveClub' (Evolution Studios). While the former title was available as a free download on day one, the latter was added to a growing list of games that were pushed into next year. Sony, not wanting to lose any momentum, announced that 'DriveClub' would be replaced with the little-know title, 'Contrast'. While it's easy to think of the game as just a stand-in, its arty indie sensibility bears little resemblance to a new online racing game. If 'DriveClub' is action-packed genre far, then 'Contrast' is like a foreign drama, and like a foreign drama it's not without foibles.
'Contrast' tells the mature story of a little girl named Didi, dealing with the emotions of her broken family. Her mother is a Jazz lounge singer and her estranged "father" has trouble keeping his business affairs in order. As a result, Didi enlists the help of her imaginary friend – Dawn – who has the unique ability to shift in and out of the shadows of what appears to be a 1940's Paris.
Controlling Dawn from a 3rd person perspective, you follow Didi through darkened alleys and into a variety of establishments. In one chapter, you sneak into the lounge where your mother performs, while in another you're interacting with the attractions of the local circus. Each new section helps to further develop the story of Didi's family history as well as introduce new puzzles for you to complete.
'Contrast' is a puzzle platformer through and through. As was previously mentioned, Dawn has the ability to shift in and out of the shadow world with the simple push of the R2 button. in this shadow form, Dawn is able to navigate the projected shadow environment, with some shadows acting as platforms and others as obstacles. It is through the shadow platforming that Dawn is able to reach new heights in the 3D environment. 'Contrast' will often set these platforms in motion, whether as a rotating carousel, interactive puppet show, or an oscillating spotlight that shifts the shadows' angle. While the shadow gameplay mechanic is interesting, multiple other games have done similar things before. 'Lost in Shadow', developed by Hudson Soft for the Wii in 2010, is one that I whole-heartedly recommend.
'Contrast' will also mix things up and add to the difficulty by giving Dawn the ability to place the light source - near or far – to adjust the size, shape, and angle of the shadows she is meant to climb. This was often more puzzling to figure out than the actual platforming. I often found myself needing to step back from the situation and examine all possibilities to ensure the shadow path was both clear and a viable solution to the puzzle at hand.
There are also a number of collectible items scattered throughout the streets that, when found, prompt a shadowy story cutscene upon the side of a large building. These were generally timed opportunities to quickly enter the shadows and interact with the scene by jumping your way onto the arms, shoulders, and heads of the moving characters as they act out the scenes that further illustrate Didi's tumultuous family life. They are by far the most interesting platforming sections of the game and the most distinct.
For the most part 'Contrast' was an enjoyable game, but it was not free of the nagging bugs that tend to plague some of the smaller, downloadable titles. Dawn's character would often stick and freeze to boxes she was required to carry in order to activate a floor switch. Additionally, I experienced a progression-blocking bug at the very end of the story. Moving a spotlight to a specific section of the level did not register, and prohibiting me from completing the final puzzle. Other players captured footage of this bug, confirming that I was not alone in my frustration. Regardless of how often I shut the game down and restarted, the issue persisted. It was disappointing to realize that the game was only moments away from ending, but I'm glad it only happened at that one point and not in multiple areas.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Unsurprisingly, a game that built on the mechanics of light and shadow also delivers a visual story that is both dark and devoid of color. Still, the cabaret art style shows through without becoming a dark mess and even the darkest textures and animations are enough to impress.
The developers at Compulsion Games did a nice job of recreating a city in what I interpreted to be 1940s Paris. From the cobblestone roads to the bright circus lights, there is enough detail to immerse the player further into a world inhabited by shadows. Adding to this, the edges of the city prevented exploration by artistically presenting images that were reminiscent of the works of Salvador Dali. They added to an already fantastical setting ,and it seemed that at any moment the city might slip back into the surreal the dreams of a little girl.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Fans of the smooth and sultry sounds of Jazz will not be able to resist the sounds of 'Contrast'. Whether as a performance by Didi's mother, or as simple background music, Compulsion Games brilliantly enlisted the vocals of Laura Ellis to help set a near perfect mood for the entire game. While I've never been a prolific fan of Jazz, the songs that were chosen and the way they were delivered left a lasting effect on me well after the game ended. It's not often I seek out the soundtrack to a particular video game, but this is one that I could envision adding to my music library.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the effective use of surround sound throughout the game. Moments of quiet were quickly replaced with the hustle and bustle of a circus tent, or the clanking of glasses and muttered conversations while Didi's mother performed her Jazz act. During these richer experiences I often felt as though I were in the midst of a large group of people, laughing and enjoying themselves, even though the room contained mere shadows. It was very much a haunting experience, and one that benefits from the aid of an optimum sound field
The replay value of 'Contrast' is mostly nonexistent. The majority of the collectibles – scraps of newspaper, magazines, letters, and posters – can be easily found with just one play through of the game. Some of the harder to reach items may take a moment's pause to figure out, but it is unlikely you'll ever find yourself completely stuck. Although the story was wonderfully imagined, completing the game will only take a few hours and may lose its potency if played a second time.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
I think the idea of bonus content with 'Contrast' is less a high mark of the game and more of a statement on the benefits of owning a PlayStation Vita. I had the option of experiencing everything that 'Contrast' had to offer from the handheld device while utilizing Remote Play. The integration was seamless and worked exceptionally well. Because the control scheme of 'Contrast' is fairly minimal, playing the game on the Vita was easy to manage and none of the added-in touch control features were needed to navigate the world or complete the puzzles. It's simply a nice option to have, particularly for those must weigh the wants of other family members against monopolizing the TV.
Pinch hitting for the highly anticipated 'DriveClub' as a part of the PlayStation 4 release was certain to be a daunting experience for the development team at Compulsion Games. Annoying bugs and short game play aside, they have nicely accommodated for those oversized shoes they needed to fill. 'Contrast' presents a wonderfully crafted and intimately personal story, while promoting an avant-garde take on the increasingly popular game play mechanics of light and shadow. The style of the game will keep you entertained from start to finish, but there isn't enough substance there to prompt a replay.
- Dolby Digital 5.1
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