Contrast Review

By Michelle Balsan,
For some readers, Contrast is a game you've already played and decided your feelings on. After all, Compulsion Games' debut effort has been available on XBLA, PS3, PS4, and PC for some time. After an initial launch that featured some hiccups and bugs, however, the developer has now brought their title to Xbox One, with a fresh coat of paint and bug fixes already applied. Now we have to explore whether that makes Contrast worth your investment.


As Contrast opens, we are introduced to Didi, a young girl who currently finds herself living with her mother, Kat. We don't know why at the outset, but Didi's father, Johnny, doesn't live with Kat and Didi, and it's clear that Didi misses her father greatly. Didi also has a friend named Dawn, who is the character you take control of throughout the game. As is turns out, Didi is the only person in the game who can see Dawn. Throughout Contrast, all of its characters are presented as shadows, with the exception of Dawn and Didi. We learn quickly of the relationship between Kat and Johnny and a third man, Vincenzo. When Johnny tries to open a circus to make money to pay off debts by recruiting Vincenzo as its top star, things invariably go wrong, and it's up to Didi and Dawn to fix those problems and enable Johnny to succeed.

Contrast Screen 3

The game's central hook is its use of light and shadows. Dawn is able to travel seamlessly between the two, and this ability fuels all of the game's mechanics. Very basically, the ‘light’ gameplay is mostly puzzle-based and is used to set up the ‘shadow’ gameplay (which you enter by pulling RT next to a lit wall), which is more platformer in nature. During the light segments, you will sometimes be tasked with shifting a light source around to create shadows that provide just the right platforms for Dawn to complete her objectives. The game does feature the sometimes-dreaded box puzzles, but they are not too overwhelming. For the most part, you are given direction by the game when you need to use a new skill to progress, but some mechanics, like being able to take items you carry into the shadows with you, are not explicitly detailed. None of the puzzles in the game are particularly hard, so you don't get that "ah-ha!!" moment, which is a shame as, given a longer experience, you would likely get to puzzles of that type. The platforming sections aren't perfect, as it's sometimes difficult to judge jumps and a missed jump will likely send you back to the light world where you have to re-orient the camera to find the proper shadows to be able to progress again. Nothing in the gameplay is so poorly constructed that you'll want to throw pieces of gaming equipment, but it's certainly something that could have used some refinement. While not a gameplay element per se, the use of shadow portions to tell Contrast's story is fascinating and works very, very well. The developers were also smart enough to construct the game in such a way that, when story is delivered via the shadows, it doesn't repeat the dialog every time you fail, making it just slightly less frustrating to replay those sections more than once.

Contrast Screen 5

All of the action in Contrast takes place against a noir backdrop that is perfectly situated to the light and shade gameplay. The game’s environments are well-crafted, but they are very confined, which is a shame because you do actually want to explore more than you’re given. You also never find yourself at a loss for where you can enter into the shadow realm due to the expert use of lighting across the game’s three acts. The sound in the game is excellent, with music that fits the period and atmosphere perfectly and some of the best voice acting you’ll hear in a game or anywhere else.

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Contrast’s achievement list is simple, with most of the game's GamerScore locked up in unmissable, story-related achievements. There are collectibles, which come in the form of pictures and letters that further flesh out the story, but these are very obvious to spot and are often hidden at the end of a long corridor or some other obvious hiding place. Only a couple items are actively hidden from plain site, and if you miss them, you can always reload chapters to pick them up. There is another collectible in the game, luminaries, but these are only used to start up some puzzles, and the stages that require them offer more than enough opportunity to find them. Contrast also rewards you with achievements for finding out-of-the-way items and features some achievement names the let you know that the developers are clearly fans of the hobby themselves. It is unfortunate that the list is exactly the same as the game's 360 counterpart simply with beefed up GamerScore values, especially given the lag in release time between the two.

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All told, Contrast is an exceedingly solid effort from Compulsion Games, and certainly leaves me excited for what the future holds for the company. Despite its short length, the characters are well-crafted and have more emotional depth than the protagonists in games that are many times longer. The gameplay is flawed, but not to the point of being frustrating or being a huge knock on the title. The soundtrack is fantastic and sets the mood perfectly. Really, the biggest problem with the game is its short length. At the end, you'll be left wishing that what you just played was an extended demo; something that was merely a teaser to whet your appetite for the bigger and more-realized universe that Didi, Dawn, Johnny, Kat, and Vincenzo occupy. This is obviously a positive commentary on the game, as being left wanting more is reflective of a satisfying experience in this case, but is a problem in the context that this wasn't a teaser, but a full package. At $15, the only thing that makes the game hard to recommend is that it’s very short, about three hours for a full completion, and has no replayability. I'd implore those of you intrigued by the game to dive in, however, and hopefully fuel the studio to revisit this world with a longer title (and the benefit of touching up some of the control issues) in the future. For those of you on the fence, the Xbox 360 version of the title, which debuted in November of last year, has already been on sale once, so it's likely safe to say that the same will happen for the Xbox One edition. When that sale happens, do not hesitate to pick this one up.
Michelle Balsan
Written by Michelle Balsan
Michelle is the Assistant Manager of the Newshounds at TrueAchievements and has been a member of staff since 2010. When not contributing to gaming websites, she makes her living as a mild-mannered librarian. She can be compelled to play just about anything if there's a co-op component, and has been playing games with friends and siblings since the Atari 2600. As it's reportedly healthy to have hobbies outside of gaming, she also roots for some of the most difficult sporting franchises to root for, the New York Mets and New York Jets, but offsets that by rooting for the New Jersey Devils. She's also seen pretty much none of the movies you have, but she's working on that.
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