Contrast was released on the 360 last year, and has now managed to find a new home on the Xbox One. As part of Microsoft’s ID@Xbox programme, it has given Compulsion Games the opportunity to publish their own game this time around, a move the developers themselves have welcomed, insofar as them saying that the programme can perhaps be the catalyst for other indie developers to show their games to a wider audience. This review will try and shed some light on whether this film-noir-esque, vaudevillian game is worth the entrance fee or whether it is too much of a shadowy deal.
Contrast is essentially a 3D adventure story, and also a 2D Puzzle-Platformer. The main character is Didi, a 9 year old girl wiser than her years because she has been brought up around the cabaret and entertainment business in the burlesque 1920's, her mother being a singing diva. We actually play as her imaginary friend Dawn though. Nobody else can see Dawn, and this fact, along with the phantasmagorical environment, where the noir landscape shifts to the ethereal, meant I thought at first Didi may be dreaming the whole World she inhabits. In truth, the environment is more a reflection of her feelings. Whilst she may be worldly-wise, all she wants is what every naive child whose parents are separated wants - her parents back together, which in essence is simply what the game is about. Didi and Dawn join forces to try and achieve Didi's goal, which starts with a simple puzzle of leaving Didi's house. As we progress we then get different goals which move the story along, which means using objects in the 3D World to change the light and create shadows, to create routes that can't be accessed in the 3D realm. As Dawn we are then able to traverse the 2D realm. A picture shows this landscape more clearly:
The puzzles aren't difficult, in fact I had more trouble with the platforming. Some of the timing of jumps have to be quite precise, and the jumping itself felt a little loose to me. However we aren't in frustrating platforming territory by a long shot. The puzzles themselves are usually solved via shadows being made by the illusory landscape itself, and are quite charming. It seems like a lot of effort was lovingly put into crafting them. A shame then, that they are so simple, but on the other hand Contrast offers a route into puzzle-platformers for younger players of say 11-12 who maybe find other games in the genre too difficult to complete by themselves. You are never stuck for too long in any chapter, of which there are 3.
Anyone who plays Contrast will see elements borrowed from Limbo and I actually wonder if they needed permission to make one particular scene, it being so similar. Other influences seem to be Portal, and whilst not glaringly obvious I believe the developers may be fans of Double Fine Productions, this game also being a short, quirky adventure with a sprinkling of dark humour in places. One way to describe this game is clever, without being pretentious. There are a few anachronisms in the game, some blatant. I won't spoil them, but the mention of a film made in the 1960's when this is set in the 1920's is an example. They are obviously in the script on purpose, and are a nice touch.
The graphics for the game have been upgraded from the 360 and are crisp, the environment beautifully put together. One issue I have is that the streets and environments are completely empty. I understand that as part of the story we don't actually see anyone in 3D form except for Didi, the rest of the characters only shown as 2D shadows, maybe as symbolism for Didi feeling empty without her Dad being around, but the cynical part of me wonders if this was too much of an easy choice and meant that it saved time and effort by not having to put any other characters in the game. The result is such that the beautiful landscape which should be breathing and thriving with people visiting the cabaret, and other entertainment venues, is completely lifeless, save for Didi and Dawn.
The jazz music fits well to the era and is superbly done. I'm not a big fan myself but I can appreciate the music matches the mood and era of the game. The voice acting is superb, especially for Didi, the actress of which has also provided her voice for Watch_Dogs recently.
The achievements are a straight copy and paste from the 360 version, which is good or a shame, depending on how you look at it, all mainly story or collectible based. I found all of the collectibles in my 3 and a half hour run without any hassle at all, just going off the beaten track slightly but you can replay chapters if you miss any. The collectibles do add a little substance to the story and demolished my theory that Didi was dreaming the whole story. There could have been more variety with the achievements but I suppose it's another 1k and completed game on the gamercard without breaking a sweat. There isn't any replay value in the game at all however so afterwards it will get deleted off your hard drive.
Is the game worth the price then? In a word, no. It is hard to recommend a game as short as this to anyone at full price. Is it worth a buy in a sale? Definitely. A quick padding for the gamerscore, and a charming, slow-paced break from blockbusters is exactly what this game is. I will probably pick up the 360 version when it goes on sale again, whore that I am.
In summary, Contrast doesn't have too many flaws, and for an indie developer/publisher it is a respectable debut. Its length and level of difficulty let it down somewhat though. The puzzles are fresh and the environment and sound are great. If you play games with your family/kids it would make a nice cosy night in, otherwise it is just a slightly above-average story but one of which is ultimately forgettable, with gameplay that tries to be unique, but actually isn't anything we haven't seen before. This may sound harsh, but I actually want to like Contrast. Viewing a World through a child's eyes makes a refreshing change. If the puzzles were more difficult, more satisfying, and utilised moving objects in the 3D World more I think I would've enjoyed the game to a greater extent. As it is Contrast only deserves 74/100. A decent premise, a good debut, and if built upon, a future that bodes well for Compulsion Games, and ID@Xbox.
Original Review here: http://www.thegamesden.com/t15258-contrast-review#158922