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Review: Contrast

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Of all the indie games available at the PlayStation 4’s launch, Contrast probably most closely fits the general perception of an indie game. It’s got a charming, artsy aesthetic that’s a little out of the norm and takes a simple concept and twists it into something new and different. Unfortunately, Contrast also plays into some of the more negative perceptions of indie games by offering up a product that functions, but fails to offer a quality experience.

Contrast (PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360)
Developed by Compulsion Games – Published by Focus Home Interactive

The storytelling in Contrast has its ups and downs. It plays heavily on some complicated and abstract concepts, with a lot left to the background and inference from things like collectibles scattered around the game. It’s definitely a title that falls in line with the more common prejudices against the storytelling in indie games, offering up twists with little direct explanation. At the surface level, though, you control Dawn who can move through the shadows to reach new areas and you are tasked by Didi, a little girl, to fix various problems relating to her family life.

You do this largely through simple platforming, shifting in and out of the shadows to get from point “A” to point “B”. Sometimes you’ll have to adjust the position of items to create a path out of shadows and sometimes you’ll have to shift items into the shadows to get them to a new location in the physical world you couldn’t normally reach. Unfortunately, most of the puzzles end up feeling a bit like busy work, and when you finally suss out a solution it definitely doesn’t feel epiphanic.

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That lack of an epiphany isn’t helped by the fact that you’re just as likely to break a puzzle as you are to solve it. It’s an issue that sort of becomes apparent when you think about the general structure of the game. You’re dealing with mechanics that revolve entirely around your character, and sometimes objects, going into and coming out of walls, so sometimes things end up going wrong. You can fiddle with angles to get up on places you couldn’t, go out of bounds to trigger cutscenes and bypass areas, and sometimes just skip Rube Goldberg machines with simple platforming.

There are, in all honesty, at least a couple puzzles I have to admit to not knowing the intended solution to, because it just ended up being easier to bypass the puzzle with platforming. Some of these situations happened unintentionally, but I’ll also admit to looking to create them myself at some points after realizing how glitchy the game can be. I’ve also had a scripted platforming segment break on me, leaving a man’s shadow stuck with his arm like a chicken wing, forcing me to die to reattempt the section.

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Gameplay issues aren’t the only problems Contrastruns across. Its performance, at least on the PlayStation 4, is a little suspect, with the framerate feeling off and load times being especially long in comparison to the PC version. Graphically it doesn’t stack up to other titles on the PS4 and looks a little rough even compared to some titles from last generation. The art direction is good and it’s one of the few times I’d say I don’t mind a game being dark and grey, because it fits the tone of the story, but its execution is disappointing. Simple things like turning animations just look bad and sort of lend the impression that you’re playing a game that’s either unfinished or from a few years ago.

For all the issues elsewhere, the audio ends up being the most solid part of the game. The soundtrack is pleasing, if a bit soft at times, and helps bring together the atmosphere of the game. The voice acting is really good, though some of Didi’s deliveries sound off, and rounds out the presentation of the game by driving home the gritty, vaudeville package with cliched, but charming, voices.

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Ultimately, Contrast is a game that feels rushed, as if the prospect of being a PlayStation 4 launch title caused the developers to push too fast and deliver a product completely lacking in polish. Still, the game’s out now, and on a wide variety of platforms, and it’s likely to feel just as incomplete on all of them. As negative as I am about the game, it’s fun to try and break and figure out ways to skip puzzles through sketchy collision and world geometry, but that’s definitely not the sort of appeal that a platforming game should have. That’s the sort of thing you expect out of a PlayStation platformer, not a PlayStation 4 title.

Final Score: 3.5/10

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