‘Contrast’ feels like a work in progress
If I have to carry another box to another destination — despite the fact that I can shift into shadows like some demon spawn — I’m going to have an aneurysm.
Which is how I feel half the time I’m playing “Contrast,” Compulsion Games’ newest release. From stellar music and fantastic puzzles to dealing with numerous glitches and a plot that introduces more questions than it answers, “Contrast” left me conflicted and frustrated.
The game follow the story of a young girl named Didi, who uses the abilities of her mysterious imaginary friends, Dawn. The goal is to solve the problems plaguing Didi’s family, which can come across simplistic in an adult’s eyes — the father is a bum and the mother doesn’t want anything to do with him and ludicrous schemes — but would be complex and foreign to a little girl. So, as Dawn, we’re charged with fixing what’s wrong using the gifts only a shadow-crawling, leather-clad she-brute can muster.
Softly accompanying us on our journey are an aesthetically wonderful vaudeville 1920s Paris splashed in contrasting dark tones and some infectious jazz music. (The opening music has a killer song that’s worth checking out.)
But we can’t just listen to some awesome music all day, can we? No. We have a family to save. To do that, we must solve a myriad of puzzles blocking our progress. Dawn has the ability to shift between the physical and shadow worlds, which grants the game both 2-D and 3-D aspects. Nothing is as straight-forward as it seems because you have to think in three dimensions along with using the available light to your advantage. For example, because objects cause shadows when bathed in light, you can manipulate those shadows into creating pathways to different parts of the locale.
But that’s only if glitches and bugs don’t trap you in a shadow nightmare first. Dampening the experience, “Contrast” on the PS4 will leave you stuck in the environment, leaving you to smash buttons in a vain hope you dislodge yourself. Interaction can cause a headache as you repeatedly try to pick certain objects up. Sometimes, if you’re real lucky, you can find yourself floating like some ghost wannabe. Not to mention an inconsistent frame rate, which can misplace you when you’re in the middle of a puzzle.
And let’s not talk about the camera, especially in tight quarters. Because we all want to stare our character right in the face as we’re jumping around a lighthouse trying to get to the top, right?
The game is short, about three hours long or so, and divided into three acts with several subchapters in each. For the first half or so, you’re entranced and having yourself a time learning new skills and coming up with creative uses of light and shadow. Collectibles are plentiful and add a nice touch to the story.
But when we hit the second half, prepare for carrying around a lot of boxes. Which just kills the game. It’s like those pesky escort missions: It serves almost no purpose other than to induce rage. Which it does quite fantastically.
In the end, “Contrast” could have been so much more. With an interesting story and some creative game elements, it’s a shame the game feels like it’s still in beta testing. Maybe rushing it for the PS4 launch wasn’t the best idea.
Two shadowy stars out of five.
This game was reviewed on the PS4. It’s a free download from the PlayStation Network if you are a PlayStation Plus member.