Platforms: PS4 (reviewed) | PS3 | 360 | PC
Developer: Compulsion Games
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Contrast has been thrust into the limelight of the PS4's launch thanks to its inclusion as a free game for all PS+ subscribers. And given that said subscription is required to play the PS4 online, it may be getting a bigger audience than it expected on opening night. No pressure then.
The game's setup is an unusual one from the start as you control the odd pairing of Didi -the young girl- and Dawn, a female stage performer. More unusually, the other characters in the game don't seem to see Dawn, and they only appear as shadows. This is the norm though as we see Didi talk with her parents in their shadow form throughout.
The setting is based in the jazz age and has a distinct noir flavour thanks to the shadows and scene-setting music. The story and acting border on cliché for the movie genre, but compared to most gaming setups it’s hard not to fall in love with this classic tale of gangsters, jazz singers the circus and family all seen though the eyes of a child.
The crux of the story involves Didi's father attempting to fix his relationship with her mother and be a part of their lives again. Having heard it all before, Didi's mother is highly sceptical, but truly wants to believe he can turn things around. The silhouette-based dialogue scenes we see unfold as shadows on the sides of buildings are easily the game's strongest element, with some genuinely touching scenes between the family.
Gameplay takes the form of both 3D and 2D platforming. Didi and Dawn travel together, but Dawn has a unique ability to move into the shadows. When the lighting creates a particularly heavy shadow, Dawn can shift into it via a tap of R2, transforming the platforming action into a 2D dimension.
You’re often required to manipulate the shadows beforehand. This could be by moving a spotlight or one scene has you moving some cardboard cutout characters on a stage to make their shadows larger or smaller by pushing them backwards and forwards to create a series of platforms to reach higher ledges.
The best sections involve running along the shadows of Didi’s parents. For example, you may need to cross a gap by waiting for them to embrace so you can transfer from one to another when they pull apart again. Another neat section sees you running along the figure of a singer lying down on a piano, waiting for her feet to swing down so you can hitch a ride to the ledge above.
For the most part, the platforming is very responsive, but towards the end of the game, things start to unravel. The button prompt to shift in and out of shadows becomes a bit twitchy and doesn’t always work when it should, leading to a few deaths as you plummet into the abyss below. It’s strange how it’s only towards the end of the game though.
Worse still is a glitch right near the end where a crate I was moving didn’t reappear when it fell into a hole, meaning I couldn’t progress. I had to restart the section and backtrack about twenty minutes. Good thing I didn’t drop it the next time.
Graphically, I’m not convinced the game isn’t doing anything on PS4 that it can’t on the PS3, although I was impressed at the detail on some sackcloth in the circus that I randomly inspected close up. As far as the graphical style and shadow aesthetics go, I really enjoyed my time spent with Contrast, as it’s one of the more unique-looking games to come out in recent years.
Collectibles are scattered throughout the game, with some of them adding detail to the story. While you may still have some questions at the end, I felt I’d been able to roughly piece together the deal with Dawn’s existence and why the supporting characters are shadows. Hopefully you’ll enjoy putting it together yourself too.
Contrast only lasts a few hours and the glitches and patchy controls for the final section let it down, but if you’re getting the game free with PS+ on PS4, it’s hard to complain. If you’re paying full price for it though, feel free to knock a point off the score below and maybe wait for a bit of discounting.
- Unique visual design
- Innovative shadow gameplay
- A mature story that has you rooting for the characters
- Over-priced if you’re not getting it on PS+
- It’s over so soon
- Glitchy towards the end
The Short Version: Despite some frustrating complications towards the end, Contrast has been one of the best titles I’ve played of the PS4’s launch lineup. The noir jazz age setting is fantastic and the game’s use of shadows and silhouettes for both platforming gameplay and telling the story of a struggling family is unlike anything else I’ve played. I only wish it lasted that little bit longer.