A disappointment from the shadows.
Billed as a game of light and dark, initial preview vids revealed an adventure that looked to be different, blending 3D exploration with old school 2D platforming. There’s something to be said when a developer strives for something new, but Contrast fails to live up to its artistic vision due to poor execution and an abundance of technical flaws.
The adventure takes place in a Parisian hub dripping with the essence of art-house filmmaking. Colours are extremely limited but it’s all in the name of a persistent theme; the real star of the show is the use of shadow and the way Dawn (an acrobat tied to a young girl named Didi) can interact with it to accomplish her goals. Phasing between worlds is performed with the tap of the right trigger, allowing for traversal of walls to access new areas. It’s the core theme of Contrast and it’s a good one too, leaving a solid first impression as you traipse through the introduction.
It won’t be long before you realise that every task is at the behest of Didi herself, with no motivation other than to simply follow her request. Contrast attempts to be a story-based game centred on the idea of family, but you’re not about to feel emotionally connected when you’re staring at robotic shadows and listening in on mundane conversations. You’ll run to light switch A, hit a load screen, push object B to move a shadow, hit another load screen, shift into the wall to reach the exit and meet another load screen. It’s a pain on older systems, so it’s downright unforgiveable on the PlayStation 4.
Contrast’s technical issues seem to run even deeper than the extensive load screens. I came across multiple bugs that completely halted progress, made more frustrating by some poorly considered checkpoints. Jumping between the second and third dimension is a clever concept that doesn’t always work in practice, primarily due to the transitions and a general lack of responsiveness.
The game isn’t a complete loss however, presenting a few standout moments where shadow and gameplay collide; hopping atop a carousel via rotating shadows is a prime example of clever design as is the ability to shift a crate between dimensions so it can be moved by a spotlight. Collecting luminaries is a largely optional side-quest, though a few will be needed to progress in the main story. Items littered around the city fill in gaps and reveal key details that you won’t have seen coming, making it doubly strange that the main adventure should focus on Didi’s troubled family – it’s just not compelling enough to hold the game in its entirety.
As a linear adventure with little room to improvise, Contrast suffers from a lack of replayability that will see it erased from your hard drive soon after completion. Its creative ambitions are stunted by a host of glitches, load times and a lack of polish overall, though the art style does hold a certain appeal. It’s incredibly frustrating to see a game with such potential fail in the way that Contrast does, where more time in gestation and a little know-how could have gone a long way to create a game worth recommending. Those with a PlayStation Plus subscription can merrily take this for a spin without foul. Everyone else should leave it in the shadows where it belongs.