Review: Contrast – Glamour and Grit

From Montreal based studio Compulsion Games emerges a puzzle platformer starring two young women at the center of a heartbreaking family drama.

Set amidst the glamour and grit of vaudeville, Contrast meanders through the dark but alluring streets of 1920s Paris while showcasing the vibrancy of its jazz and performance art scene. Didi’s deadbeat father Johnny, fresh out of jail for writing bad checks, has been cast out by her mother (an up and coming lounge singer) for continually failing to provide for the family. Johnny however has a new scheme and business venture, a circus that is sure to bring in enough money to support his wife and daughter, provided he irons out the many¬† issues along the way. The plucky and persistent Didi sets out to help him, aided by Dawn, a trapeze artist whom no one but Didi can see. With her ability to slip into the shadows and perform tasks no ordinary human could achieve, Dawn is able to solve puzzles at her young friend’s behest, removing many of the obstacles blocking the path to Johnny’s success in their goal to reunite the family.

Built on the Unreal Engine 3, Contrast is an exquisite treat for the eyes and ears. Upon first firing it up on my PC, I spent twenty minutes letting the title screen idle, mesmerized by the sultry main theme. The setting is executed beautifully. The moody, poorly-lit brick of the Parisian streets and the dusty antique of vintage posters and marquees, sitting under a blanket of dusky twilight, are simply enchanting. I especially appreciate the character design of Dawn, whose prim and stylish appearance blends easily with her vogue surroundings. Overall, I found the aesthetic of Contrast to be a refreshing and welcome change of pace.

My praise for the game, however, ends there. Pre-release anticipation for Contrast largely hinged on its inventive light and shadow based puzzles, (arguably the entire premise of the game). However, there weren’t that many, and what puzzles did exist were not difficult. I spent the latter third of Contrast waiting for the tasks to get progressively harder. They never did. In that regard I was severely disappointed. While the narrative delivery was at times creative, playing out in large, pantomime-like shadows that never completely reveal the full cast of characters, the dialogue is often cheesy, an aspect unhelped by the overdramatic vocal performances (with the exception of Didi, who is excellent). I sometimes encountered glitches while switching in and out of shadow mode, which only deepened my lack of interest. (I also found an appalling continuity error–a reference to Mary Poppins the movie, which was made in 1964. The book upon which it was based was not even written until 1934). Add to that an overall playing time of approximately 4 hours and you have one short game with shallow execution.

While I’m impressed that Compulsion Games fought to make a game that would appeal to both genders and I appreciate their effort, in the end, I had my issues with Contrast. It’s an adequate game but fails to live up to its full potential. I recommend it to those who desire a more story -focused title or those who have a preteen son or daughter to play with, but not for players who want a thought-provoking, puzzle-driven adventure.

6/10

Contrast was developed by Compulsion Games and published by Focus Home Interactive. It was released on November 15, 2013 for PlayStation 4, Xbox Live, and PC, and on November 19, 2013 for PlayStation 3, at the MSRP of $14.99. A copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of review.