Saturday, November 16, 2013

Review - Contrast

  • 0:37 - Gameplay
  • 2:05 - Pros
  • 3:42 - Cons
  • 8:05 - Final Thoughts

In this episode, I have finished the game Contrast in just over six hours. This game is all about plot and puzzles. Unlike most of my other reviews, the gameplay footage you are watching is only from the first ten minutes of the game to prevent spoilers.

In this series, you never have to wait for my opinion: in this case, at the risk of being too pithy and without exaggeration, this is one of the best games that I have ever played. But is it right for you? Well let's find out.


To begin, Contrast is a 3D puzzle solving game with a twist: the puzzles require you to assimilate with the shadows on the walls -- turning the game at key moments into a 2D platformer. You play as Dawn, the imaginary friend of a precocious little girl named Didi whose family life is, shall we say, less than optimal.

The plot of the game revolves around you following Didi around as she sneaks out of her bedroom at night to explore the world, assisting her past obstacles she cannot traverse on her own, and attempting to piece together the gritty happenings in her life.

The game is set in a beautiful but strange world that is gorgeous and reminiscent of the art deco style you would see in classic film noir movies.

Throughout the game, there are also so-called "luminaries", which are collectables you can pick up for fun. While most just require a little bit of exploration in back alleys and such, some require shadow-popping puzzle solving of their own.

You can also pick up items from around the world that give you more backstory into Didi and her family. Your enjoyment of this game will be doubled if you examine or read each of these items as you grab them.

This is the first game from Compulsion Games -- a collaboration of video game professionals in Montreal, Canada. Normally I'd have more to tell you about the developers, but their corporate Web site is so scatterbrained and poorly-designed that I'm not entirely sure it hasn't been "adjusted" by hackers.


  • It's a close race between story and style in this game, but for me I think the story just edges out the win. It is, at once, both sweet and dark -- a tough combination. I won't spoil it for you, but in every conceivable aspect the plot does not end where it begins and THAT is hard to do properly.
  • With that said, second place belongs to the art-deco, film noir setting of this game which is absolutely gorgeous. Exploring this world even to it's edges will feed you enough eye candy to fill a Halloween bucket.
  • In the game, the word "chiaroscuro" appears. I won't tell you where because that's a spoiler. Chiaroscuro is an Italian word. It means "the interplay between light and shadow". That's a 2400 SAT word. When I saw that I was like, "Hahahahahaha, NICE!"
  • The items and luminaries that you pick up are rarely in plain sight, encouraging you to explore the world.
  • As you shift from shadows to real life and back again, there is a very subtle saturation shift between the vibrant colors of real life and the more washed look of the shadows. As weird as it sounds, it really adds something.
  • The shadow-jump mechanic is amazing and well done. It defines the game and yet isn't gimmicky or ostentatious. It also add some interesting solutions to the puzzles. For instance, you can use your shadow-jump ability to circumvent locked doors by passing through windows while staying in the light.


  • Dawn is referred to as an "acrobat" but she does nothing acrobatic other than jump. If she could roll or do splits or crawl through tight places or swing from pipe to pipe, it would really have made the puzzles amazing and would have filled out her character a little more. Also, just as a video game model, I found her to be stiff.
  • The puzzles are challenging and fold in well with the story. However, only two of the puzzles have multiple ways to beat them. At each puzzle I tried alternative ways to accomplish the same thing and was rarely rewarded. I really think this game could have bordered on perfection had they offered multiple solutions to almost every puzzle.
  • The game violates it's own rules by allowing Dawn to crash through wooden fences and other such barricades (not glass, though) with her dash mechanic. While rare, I would have preferred if these were instead handled with more shadow puzzles.
  • There is one puzzle involving an ogre that was maddeningly difficult to beat. Also, the animation was broken when I played and the ogre remained on the screen even after I beat him, but that has since then been patched.
  • This game is basically a story, so is very, very linear. You can't progress out of an area until you complete certain tasks and you are walking through basically a scripted movie. I personally had no problem with this, but I have seen some complaints on Steam about it so I figured I'd mention it.
  • The world is 3D with 2D puzzles. As a result, to prevent you from solving certain puzzles in 3D, the developers threw up some invisible walls in certain places that are just aggravating. Most of the time, they are quite noticeable and make me sad because those were great opportunities to, again, offer multiple ways to beat puzzles.
  • To interact with objects or puzzles, you have to press the "E" key. However, once inside the event or puzzle, it doesn't tell you to press "E" again to get back out even though the "backspace" key is the one you've been using for most of the game.
  • You can't rekeybind.
  • The options menus need a lot of work. I understand that you only have to deal with them for five minutes at the start of the game, but still they are unwieldy and odd.
  • There are only certain ledges that you can grab. They are highlighted with a faint white glow. Sometimes the light from the puzzles obscures the glow of the grabbable pipes, making the next step in the puzzle more mysterious than it should be. This is more a problem at the start of the game than at the end. Also, there are many places where you would expect to be able to grab but can't -- which again I think is a missed opportunity.
  • The only true technical flaws with the game are a tiny number of places where your character can get stuck or bugged out. Sometimes if you approach a wall at an odd angle you can swing the camera around to see no-mans land and Dawn will do a weird "falling" animation when standing on the ground. This is a minor note and mostly funny when it happens, but it's an oversight that should have been ironed out during beta testing.
  • The game is only six hours long. Not only did I not mind but I thought it was commendable. However, I've seen some posts on Steam about it being too short, so I'll leave you to decide if $14.99 equals six hours of awesome storyline.

Final Thoughts

There are precious few video games in this world that can keep you riveted to your screen with a story so engaging and vibrant that you can't stop playing. Nowadays, developers are more interested in their forums than they are in their own imaginations because it's easier to ski down a mountain than it is to climb up it.

Compulsion Games isn't wearing any skis and if they keep putting out games like Contrast they are going to quickly reach the summit of our industry. This game is a gem and worth every penny.

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