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Contrast Review

Contrast Review

Although they’ve fallen slightly out of favour in recent years, 3D platformers were all the rage back on the Xbox and PS2. With the market becoming overloaded with similar titles, developers were forced to start to come up with more unique mechanics in order to stand out, resulting in genre innovations such as Prince of Persia’s rewind mechanic and Psychonaut’s mind-bending level design. Now it’s almost 10 years on, and developers Compulsion Games have added their own inventive offering to the mix with Contrast.

The game sees you playing as Dawn, a mysterious mute woman who has the unique curse of living in an alternative plane of existence to the rest of us, only able to see our shadows. The exception to this rule is Didi, a young girl who is the only person who can interact with Dawn and acts as her guide through the game’s fantasy 1920s world.


Since Dawn is the quiet type, most of Contrast’s story revolves around Didi and her family life. She lives with her cabaret-singing mother, Kat, who simply believes our protagonist to be her daughter's imaginary friend. One night, after sneaking out to watch her mother sing at a local jazz bar, Didi’s absentee father, Johnny, makes an appearance. He explains that he has a plan to make some money and get the family back together, which Kat dismisses as just another one of Johnny's failed get-rich-quick schemes. As predicted, it all goes wrong, and Didi and Dawn have to sort it out.

This is where Dawn's unprecedented circumstances come in handy; she has the ability to shift into the shadows, allowing her to reach areas and complete puzzles that us normal folk simply couldn’t. An early example of this useful power is when the player needs to reach a high balcony; normally there would be no way to reach it, but thankfully this particular scene included a bicycle with a spotlight behind it. By standing near the well-lit wall, the player can switch Dawn to her shadow form and climb the silhouette of the bicycle wheel to reach the balcony.


Dawn's movement is pretty basic, being limited to running, jumping and a short dash move, but as you might expect, the perspective-shifting gameplay makes for some mind-bending moments. Just as Valve's popular puzzle title required users to learn how to "think with portals", it can take a while to master Contrast’s shadow mechanic; starting off with some simple platforming, it's not long before you're shifting in and out of shadows mid-jump and manipulating light sources in clever puzzles to create new platforms. The controls don’t provide Mario levels of precision, but they do the job, and death is never punished too harshly thanks to generous checkpointing.

The real star of the show is Contrast's presentation; the game’s vaudevillian, jazz-laden world is extremely charming. Seemingly inspired by Alice in Wonderland and 1920s pop culture, the unique fantasy setting created by Compulsion Games is a joy to inhabit. As you might expect, the game features a heavy use of dynamic lighting, and fully utilises Unreal Engine 3 to deliver some striking visuals.

This accomplishment is particularly apparent in a section involving the shadows of a marionette show. Another novel use of lighting occurs when the player picks up one of the game's equivalent of audio diaries; doing so causes a conversation to play and the shadows of the characters speaking to animate on a nearby wall, also acting as new platforms for the player.


The conversations provide an insight into the relationships between some of the characters in the game, but in order to learn a bit about Dawn and her unique circumstances, you'll have to be on the lookout for newspaper clippings, postcards and various other collectibles scattered around the environment.

Contrast's story, which takes roughly four hours to play through, is not particularly fulfilling, with an ending that raises more questions than it answers. The issues with the story are slightly rectified by some great dialogue and voice acting, but unfortunately the characters feel underused by the events of the plot.

The quality of the voice acting extends to the rest of Contrast’s audio; a wonderful jazz soundtrack provides the perfect accompaniment to the art deco setting. Some areas of the game also make great use of ambient sounds, with the player able to hear the hustle and bustle occurring in the physical dimension. Sadly this aspect isn’t used as often as it should be, as the effect adds a lot to the atmosphere and instills the sense of loneliness that Dawn must feel, knowing that there’s a whole other side of life that she’s unable to see.


Unfortunately, there are a few aspects that hold Contrast back from reaching its potential; while the game features a few clever puzzles, I feel that the perspective-shifting mechanic could have been explored further to create even more ‘eureka’ moments. There’s also the somewhat forgettable plot, which does little more than provide some incentive to keep the player moving through the game’s beautiful world.

Nevertheless, Contrast is an easy game to recommend; it boasts a stunning visual style, interesting characters, a great soundtrack and smart game mechanics. It’s not without its faults, with an overall feeling that the game was rushed to meet the PS4 launch date, but Contrast still provides a memorable experience, even if the story itself doesn’t shine quite as bright.


7.00/10 7

Contrast (Reviewed on Windows)

This game is good, with a few negatives.

Contrast isn’t without its faults, but it still provides a memorable gaming experience.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Matt Girdler

Matt Girdler

Staff Writer

When he's not hunched over a computer programming, Matt can be found hunched over a computer playing and writing about video games.

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