Some of you may remember Contrast from the Xbox 360 marketplace where it was released as an arcade game. At that time it was plagued with numerous bugs and minor problems. Compulsion Games have now bought this puzzle platform game to Xbox One with the bugs ironed out, I hope. Contrast is a unique game in that it is set between the world of real life, and the world of shadows. Everything has a shadow in this world and we just simply take that for granted. Compulsion Games has used this to add a unique flavour to one of the most used genres in gaming, by allowing you to cross between this world and the shadow world that surrounds us on a daily basis. This may not have worked out to their advantage in the first release of Contrast, but with the feedback of their community they have hopefully created a better version, on all fronts.
In Contrast you play as Dawn, the imaginary friend of a young girl called Didi. The only person that can see you is Didi, and she is the only person in the game that you can actually see in true form. The rest of the characters are portrayed to you in the shadow world. Set in Paris during the 1920′s in a very noir atmosphere that I have to say comes across extremely well, and sets the scene perfectly throughout the game. The story begins in the bedroom of Didi, with her mother Kat tucking her into bed before she goes out to work on stage as she has done every night. Didi decides to sneak out and go watch her mother, where she overhears a conversation between Kat and her father Johnny. During the conversation Didi hears that her father has been kicked out of their home by her mother, who has had enough of his schemes and lies. Didi decides to help her father out, and so your adventure through the world of light and shadow begins.
Contrast is a platform game at heart with many puzzles scattered throughout the entire environment. Most of these involve you manipulating light sources to enable Dawn to reach her goal by jumping into the shadow world and climbing the shadows you have created. Here is where the first problem arose for me, while most of the bugs from the previous release have been ironed out, it seemed that Dawn still jumped out of the shadow world on her own at times. This usually happened at a critical point, and left me frustrated at times to say the least. I mean how many times do I want to repeat a certain sequence of jumps and shadow runs only to end up failing at the last hurdle? Also Dawn’s movement is way too fast and erratic to be controlled in the precise manner that some of these puzzles require her to be. At times her movement was almost confusingly fast, and there is no way to turn down this sensitivity, which is a shame because I more than enjoy being able to jump in and out of the shadows at will.
What does make Contrast stand out is the surprisingly human storyline of Didi as she struggles to keep her family together in this world of broken homes. Using her imaginary friend to further her quest, she works frantically to bring her father back into her mother’s good books. All of this wrapped up in a beautifully artistic world that has just the right amount of feeling and atmosphere to create a feeling of belonging and realism for the gamer. On one occasion I tried to stray from the path and complete a different objective first, only for me to end up stuck in an area, unable to go back or forward, leaving me with only one choice, restart!. I sometimes felt that too much emphasis has been put on the aesthetics of the game, leaving the mechanics to almost sort themselves out. Going back to the aesthetics, Dawn almost looks like she is floating above everything in the real world, I don’t know if this is a genuine look that the developer was striving to achieve, because she is after all an imaginary being, but it is one that gave the movement of the character an unnatural feel. Couple this with her erratic and fast controls and it becomes problematic for the gamer.
Contrast is also a rather short game, lasting only 3 – 4 hours in it’s entirety, and with many collectables to find you will have no trouble racking up those gamer points. It is another game that I am torn about, on one hand I love the artistic visuals and the story that pulls you in, on the other hand is still has it’s problems, with Dawn jumping out of the shadows at will on occasion, and her awkward movements being the main ones for me. It is definitely an improvement over the first release, and is a solid game from Compulsion. The main draw of this game has to be the unique idea that the developer has put to gamers, being able to use shadows as the main mechanic is a master stroke, it’s just a shame that it is held back by some bad implementation on certain fronts. However, it is a game worthy of playing and I am glad I did. I look forward to what this studio will bring us in the future.