Contrast (2013) Video Game Review

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As someone who has/had a Playstation Plus membership, I was able to get 70% off this game, and I remember it catching my eye, so here’s a review on it.

How to describe Contrast…consider it like a maths equation (once again)…Aspects of Bioshock Infinite (floating world and surprisingly similar character models/designs/choices)…plus Owen Wilson in Midnight In Paris’ favourite era, 1920s Paris…plus a slight Tim Burtoneque visual design approach…equals Contrast.  It is the first game to be developed by Compulsion Games (an 11 person company from Montreal) and in terms of its choice of visual design, hopefully not their last.

So what’s the story?  It’s about a little girl named Didi Malenkaya, who wants her dad to come home, even though her Cabaret Singing Mother Kat tells her he might come back someday, but not until he straightens himself out.  Life isn’t rosy for this mother/daughter relationship, as social services have threatened to take Didi away at least once, and Kat has been provided with 2 options – find a steadier job, or return to her husband Johnny, Didi’s father.  On top of this, Didi has been called mentally disturbed, and often ‘acts out’ by sneaking out of her room at night.  So…do you play as Didi?  No, you play as Dawn, Didi’s so-called Imaginary friend, who is visible in a different dimension.  To put it loosely, the story is about Didi trying to get her parents back together…while also sneaking out and being a bit of a nuisance.

What’s great about Contrast is evident, as is the definite flaws.  I fell in love with the game’s art design, style, atmosphere and choices, as well as its use of french orchestral and lounge music.  I also think it has a very good, if not very short story, and the puzzles are quite well done.  I also like how Dawn can get around by switching from 3-D to 2-D gameplay.  In 2-D gameplay, Dawn enters the dimension of “the real world” (which looks like the shadow world to us), where she can reach areas that can’t be reached simply in the 3-D world, and to progress in this area often involves moving objects around against a backdrop of light in the 3-D world to create shadows that can be used as platforms.  It is also this shadow world that Didi’s family story takes place, as Kat struggles with her relationship with Johnny, who happens to be taking an enormous risk and might owe money to some bad men.

Now onto what’s bad about Contrast – the primary problem with the game is the polish.  It’s a very rough, tatty game, full of evident glitches in the background and the occasional weird moment within gameplay.  The animations can be a bit choppy and textures appear to load while you’re in the middle of playing.  If the budget was bigger and there was a more experienced team working in this department, it really would have helped in this area…also if it came out in 2007 rather than 2013, it would have been more excusable due to all developers getting used to the new technology at the time, but this isn’t the case.  On top of this, as mentioned, the game is very short (perhaps a 3 hour play through) and there isn’t really enough in the gameplay department that would encourage players to return (Other than trophy and achievement hunters)…But if you like the art style and story, there is a reason to return, of course.  Another problem is some aspects of the sound.  I’m not talking about the music (which I think is great) or the voice acting (which is mostly pretty good), but rather the audio quality.  There’s a fair bit of noticeable reverb in Didi’s voice, similar to recording it in a garage rather than a studio.  It does it’s job, but the quality isn’t particularly high.  In terms of gameplay, it is definitely inspired and with great ideas that can be built upon, but the controls leave a lot to be desired, as there have been numerous occasions when moving boxes were a problem, jumping gaps was by chance, and jumping from 3-D to 2-D was a split second button push.  Like the graphics, the controls are clunky and unpolished, but simple enough to not make the game unplayable.

Would I recommend Contrast?  Yes, but only for a handful of reasons.  One reason is if you’re an art student, and want to check out something that might inspire you (It’s a visually beautiful game, even if the graphics are very rough).  Another is if you like anything french, because it’s a nice, dream-like, romanticised interpretation of 1920s Paris.  Also if you can find it in a sale, because it may be worth £3, but not £10.  I saw and played through its flaws, but I still found it to be a very charming and original game and I’m intrigued to see what Compulsion will do next.

Art/Design: *****

Concept: *****

Graphics: -*1/2

Music: ****

Gameplay/Puzzles: ***3/4

Control Polish: *

Voice Acting: ***

Sound quality (Voice acting): 1/2*

Story: ***1/2

Characters: ***1/4

Overall: **3/4

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