"Shadows and Mystery"
A sultry voice carries into the sort of night that blankets a seedy underworld filled with gangsters with tough talk and tougher actions. The song is a soundtrack to crooked ways of that lifestyle, where smoky entertainment clubs with live performances in its ivory keys and laid back drumming are the best set pieces for shady dealings. There's beauty on those notes too that illuminate quaint outdoor French cafes and cobblestone streets that wander off into unknown back alleys, and to the vastness of gorgeous, starry skies with its dreamy purple tints. It's in those dark areas where the song cannot reach, that a young girl chases shadows. She's looking for the answers to fix a broken family life and the light that is you, the player, will be that glimmer of hope on her journey.
Contrast, at its heart, is a puzzle game with the backdrop of a seemingly typical story in one that you may have heard of before; a classic story of a girl growing up under a sad state affairs. Her mother works nights at a high class club for unsavoury types, with an absentee father, trying to make amends through unwise, illegal business practices. It's not a story that is new. However, this background sets the groundwork for the mysterious story, and it's you the player that is the key. It's easy to forget your own presence during this game, as the focal point is helping the little girl, Didi, uncover her own beginnings.
In a way, its brilliant storytelling and explanations come through a series of items you collect that reveal tidbits of information to further the story. The process can feel mundane at times, and it was only in the final act where I remembered I was a factor and key element to the story as well. In that regard, some parts of the story felt a bit rushed, and connections in storytelling were not always seamless. I will say however, that the ending was a refreshing and unexpected surprise. It's definitely one worth witnessing, and the game invoked various feelings that had me guessing as to what sort of story would unfold. Its noir artstyle could easily portray this game as creepy, and there were moments I felt anxious.
With anxiety, unfortunately, also came frustration. Contrast's gameplay often had me tossing my hands up in anger. As a puzzle game, it's satisfying. Some puzzles require a bit more thought and once solved, could have you feeling inept at not having figured out the obvious simplicity staring right at you, sooner. It's a sign of a good game when you can feel stumped, but as one who explores every nook and cranny in my games, it's here where Contrast sees its biggest failings. Exploration often found my character trapped on walls. Glitches left me stuck and suspended in mid animation. I never had to reset the game to get out of one, but angry button-mashing was often required to do so.
The game employed a unique system of shadows and light to fuse in and out of the walls, making Contrast stunning in its visuals. The attention to detail in sound design from the whirs of big mechanical, steampunk wonders in machinery to the fantastic, scaling set pieces in its 1900s settings are staggering and immersive. But as noted before, it was my penchant for exploration that sometimes had me unable to find my footing - literally! The shadows cast made for areas to become unseen and it often took a leap of faith to figure out where to land.
For all its shortcomings, Contrast still remains something worth playing. Didi's story may not intrigue you with its predictability, but that surprise twist is there, making the game overall enjoyable. Its puzzles are worth the trip into the beautiful sepia tones of Contrast's design, for that mental stimulation you may be looking for. And it's the science and magic built into the world of Contrast that will leave you with the feeling of treading into a beautiful piece of art.
GameDynamo's Score for Contrast (PS4)
|Narelle Ho Sang
A lover of music, games, and food; Narelle spends her time writing on all of those things, when she is not dreaming of traveling and general clowning around.
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