Yes, yes, I know – Contrast was a Playstation Plus Instant Game Collection game last month, from the launch of the PS4, and you’re probably thinking that this review is a little late in the cycle. You are right, and I would like to offer you my reasoning. Contrast is a game so forgettable and low on everyone’s priority , that I completely forgot to play, record thoughts about, and write sentences describing, until recently. This review was hard to write because it is that most difficult of game for reviewers: one that engenders no strong feelings either positive or negative. Excuse the lack of passion.
Thrown onto the Playstation Plus roster in a fit of panic following the delay of flagship racer Drive Club, Contrast feels destined to be played and forgotten fairly quickly, a mere trifle of a game with one strong aspect to make it stand out from the crowd. Despite an art style that gives it an immediate notice-ability and a central mechanic that offers the promise of intriguing twists on existing gameplay, this latest indie title is hampered by a lack of polish and imagination in basic areas.
You as the player take on the central role of Dawn, an imaginary companion of a young girl called Didi whose home life in a Parisian bohemian household, is seemingly disruptive and fragmented. The opening is fairly jarring, with little contextualisation and reasoning behind your motivations beyond following Didi and helping her get from A to B. Early in the game it isn’t made clear who you are or why you are there, but gradually, things are carefully and delicately unfolded.
One sense in which the game shines is in the story and the tale of the triumvirate of Didi and her parents. Her father is a well meaning but low level hoodlum, desperate to escape his criminal past and using the setting up of a travelling circus as a means to go straight. Her mother meanwhile is a jazz club singer, exasperated with her estranged husband’s efforts to lead a normal life. This family tension is bolstered by some excellent voice acting, which imbues the characters with a strong personality and really sells the family drama at the heart of the story. You start to identify with and feel for the characters, and it is this that motivates you more than the mechanical progression of the game.
In terms of art, the game is steeped in a 1930s Parisian style, full of art-deco architecture and dipped in a vat of soft, pastel hues of browns, reds and yellows, punctuated by garish neon signs and deep, dark shadows. The visuals are bolstered by an excellent soundtrack, a sultry, jazzy affair which complements the action and gives the proceedings a hauntingly lonely feeling. Audio and visuals are where the strengths of the game lie, as playing the game is where the the experience falls short.
The game’s central mechanic, that of being able to shift between the real world and the shadows generated is the highlight of the tricks on show, and unfortunately, the only one to make the game stand out. Accompanied by a satisfyingly tangible pop and visual dazzle, Dawn can enter the shadows thrown onto surfaces and become part of the silhouetted patterns, offering ways to traverse the environment in order to solve puzzles. These puzzles however, are a simple case of switching levers, moving boxes and jumping onto platforms, with the latter being particularly problematic, as the camera and floaty feel of Dawn’s movement can generate problems where there doesn’t really need to be any.
There are a number of collectible to be obtained throughout each level, which do a good job to flesh out the world and the narrative. As well as simple collectibles, there are a number of orbs to collect on each level, which add to trophies as well as give you access to mandatory gateways. Not all are needed but the more you collect, the simpler progression will be, as well as extending the length of the game overall. Some of these orbs are accessed via shadow-based puzzles that play out by interacting with Didi‘s mother and father, and their relationship is fleshed out as you interact with their shadowy forms, forming some of the most effective puzzles that the game has to offer.
Contrast is not long and can be beaten on a long afternoon, though why you would want to spend one afternoon in relative frustration and monotony I do not know. I will confess that it took me a good few sessions over a course of a few weeks to get through Contrast, such is the lack of drive, energy or motivation the game encourages. The game is saved somewhat by some solid writing and voice acting, and a refreshingly different art-style, but ultimately, Contrast is a disappointing platformer that doesn’t offer enough to warrant much of your time, despite the low entry price. One to play only if you are starved for something to play, and if you only have a PlayStation 4, that might be enough of an incentive…
MLG Rating: 5/10 Format: PlayStation 4 Release Date: 29/11/2013
Disclosure: Craig was provided with a copy of Contrast via his subscription to Playstation Plus. The title was reviewed over the course of 7 days on a PlayStation 4. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.