"A beautiful art style and an immersive narrative make Contrast an excellent downloadable launch title."
The indie-developed Contrast finds itself in an unexpected spotlight. Having replaced Driveclub as one of Playstation Plus’ freebies for the Playstation 4 system launch, it carries the burden (and privilege) alongside Resogun of being the title to kick off a new-gen indie genesis. If this atmospheric puzzler is any indication of what PS4’s indie-future looks like, then Sony’s slogan “Greatness Awaits” may truly live up to its claim. While the venture through this bizarre and beautiful world is brief, it’s an experience that lingers long after the credits roll. It may not be the best technical representation of Sony’s new hardware, but its breathtaking aesthetics, fascinating narrative, and exciting puzzles elegantly mask the occasional framerate dips and odd platforming segments.
Contrast’s narrative is layered in metaphors and symbolism. It’s the story of a little girl, Didi, whose dysfunctional family is ripped apart by an estranged father and her recently murdered mother. Didi can see and talk to Dawn, a mysterious girl that has the ability to switch in and out of shadows and traverse both two and three-dimensional environments. You play as Dawn and are tasked with helping Didi solve various mysteries in hopes of changing past events to hopefully rebuild her family. It’s a touching story that gets more interesting and complex as you uncover hidden collectibles that shed more light on Didi’s world and its shadowy inhabitants.
"The puzzles aren't particularly difficult, but they offer a unique gameplay perspective. I just wish the journey lasted a bit longer."
Contrast is an adventure platformer comprised of environmental puzzles that emphasize creative play with light and shadow. Dawn can merge into shadows when there’s a strong light source nearby and this allows her to roam the environment in interesting ways. There are no enemies to fight and Dawn’s only other abilities are jumping and dashing. It’s a simplistic approach, but it’s the puzzle structure that makes the gameplay so immersive and exciting. You oftentimes have to move a series of complex objects around the levels, forming shadowy paths on walls and you can even bring objects into the shadows by walking up to a wall and pressing the shoulder button.
The puzzles are smart, even brilliant at times, and I applaud the developers for completely removing any kind of handholding. There are no arrows, directional markers, or hints nudging the player in the right direction. Instead you have to use your head to move forward. It’s comforting when a game treats you like an adult and gives you the opportunity to solve things on your own.
While the puzzles are remarkably satisfying, the platforming is frustratingly archaic and imprecise. Dawn moves similarly to Alice from Madness Returns, but making precise jumps is usually a matter of pure luck. This isn’t a game breaker by any means, but it’s a bit annoying when you find yourself fiddling around an area just because Dawn doesn’t attach to objects properly.
Visually, the art style is breathtaking. The dark gothic environments are beautifully designed and despite having only two visible characters, the entire world feels like a waking dream. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the technical performance of the game. The frame rate stutters in the strangest places and there are some unpleasant jaggies poking out of the landscapes. Nevertheless, Contrast is a beautiful game and fans of American McGee’s Alice will love the gorgeously macabre tone.
If you buy a PS4 system, it comes with a free trial of Playstation Plus so you can play Contrast for free. It would be foolish to skip this gem as it’s one of the stronger launch titles for the system and one of the most memorable indie offerings this year. I do wish it was a bit longer and I wish there were more puzzles and levels to explore…but there’s always hope for a more expansive sequel.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Playstation 4