Compulsion Games‘ Contrast has been available on multiple platforms since its November 2013 release, but recently found a home on the Xbox One earlier this month thanks to the ID@Xbox program. Featuring all of the bug fixes and improvements implemented since its initial launch, Contrast has also received improved level streaming and shadow physics that are exclusive to the Xbox One release.
Set in a French noir atmosphere, Contrast focuses on a young girl named Didi, and her imaginary friend Dawn. Didi seems to reside in a broken home, often sneaking out in the middle of the night while her mother works late hours as a jazzy lounge singer, and her father is temporarily out of the picture after falling in with the wrong crowd. In the same way that Gone Home focused more on a secondary character, Contrast‘s story is really all about Didi while you’re in control of Dawn for the entire game.
Although Contrast only took up 3 hours of my time, I was fully immersed in to its world for the duration, and found its story both engaging and satisfying, especially during its final act. I really enjoyed its classic noir feel as I explored an old theater, various circus attractions, and a towering light house, although being an imaginary friend often made the rest of the world feel completely barren. I did get the sensation of loneliness, but I’m not sure if that’s what Compulsion Games was going for.
At its core, Contrast is a puzzle platformer that’s heavily focused on manipulating light sources and using the shadows made by nearby objects as a means of exploring the environment. It’s a nice blend of 2D and 3D exploration, and I really enjoyed its unique approach to platforming and puzzle solving, but Contrast unfortunately suffers from some rough controls and occasionally boring box moving segments that took away from what it set out to accomplish.
Its sketchy controls sometimes hindered my overall enjoyment of the game, as I found myself falling down holes or missing jumps due to the amount of time it takes to turn around in the 2D portions. The 3D platforming segments were occasionally unenjoyable as well, but more so because of its odd camera choices in tight spaces. Thankfully Contrast features a rather well designed checkpoint system that made any sort of hiccups easier to swallow, and did a great job at eliminating any unnecessary backtracking.
Certain portions of the game do tend to think outside the box, though. For instance, during the circus portion of the game, you’re tasked with playing the role of a princess in a puppet show. Rather than relying on shadows to platform your way to a specific location, this segment plays out more like a 2D adventure game along the lines of Another World, Limbo, or Heart of Darkness. No portion of the game ever felt stagnant or overstayed its welcome, but figuring out how to move a box from one area of the room to the next wasn’t very fun. It’s a small portion of the game, so the weight of that complaint is going to vary from person to person, but I just didn’t enjoy doing it.
Contrast‘s world draws graphical comparisons to Bioshock Infinite, although not nearly as lively or technically sound. That’s not to discredit Compulsion Games in any way, as it’s still a fantastic looking game made by their 8-man studio. It’s easier to notice the visual comparison when you reach the edge of the world, staring down through the floating rubble and in to the void. Visuals aren’t the only thing Contrast has in common with Bioshock either, as a majority of Dawn’s back story is found via collectibles and documents hidden within the game itself.
Overall, Contrast offers a fantastical story and a unique approach to platforming and puzzle solving. I loved it more when it was an adventure game, exploring areas and manipulating shadows, but not so much when it was a platformer. It’s not bad in a sense where it’s unplayable, but it doesn’t seem as polished as the rest of the game which makes it all that more noticeable. Contrast also features an amazing soundtrack full of jazzy tunes and backing vocals by Laura Ellis, which had me sitting back and listening to the music quite often. The game’s $14.99 price tag may deter some, as the entire experience lasts about 3 hours, but I can easily recommend the purchase to anyone looking for a game with great style and a memorable story.
This review is based on the newly released Xbox One version of Contrast. It is also available on Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, and PC, but unless we find significant differences within each version, consider this our official review.