The arrival of digital distribution on videogame consoles has lead to some interesting new opportunities. Where once it was merely retro re-releases for pocket money prices the Xbox LIVE Arcade and PlayStation Store have blossomed and become a home for videogames that may otherwise never have been given the opportunity to shine. Contrast is one such videogame: an elegant platform adventure that carries a subject matter so far removed from military might and race drivers that it’s unlikely to have ever got off the starting grid as a retail product.
Compared to your modern action-adventure videogame, Contrast is an undeniably low budget production. The animation is far from top tier and the objects littering the environments only maintain their real-world likeness due to clever use of lighting, or lack thereof. However, you don’t need a lot of money when you’ve got good ideas, and Contrast is full of them. At the very beginning of the videogame it presents a training sequence which is directly incorporated to the character and story development rather than being an unwieldy aside, taking its cue from some of the best this console generation has had to offer.
Contrast is a puzzle-platform videogame in which the player has the ability to shift into the shadows. The key mechanic is using your human form to shift objects in the environment so as to allow your shadow form to use the shadows they create as a pathway. There’s an interest conflict between the human 3D world and the shadow 2D gameplay that is eagerly explored, though it does take some time to get moving. Contrast balances its action with the story of a young girl and her magical friend – you – and at the beginning of the videogame this takes precedence.
A child who lives in the 3D world your character inhabits by default, every other character in the videogame – including her parents – live as shadows. It’s a very interesting way to present the videogame, and thankfully so as it’s unlikely you’ll care about the child’s plot at all. What you will care about is her stepfather and his run-ins with some bad people. See, he has a history of getting involved with the wrong kind of people and this time it’s no different, but he’s determined things will come right this time. He’s sure he can win the child and her mother over.
The plot unfolds as a steady pace as you cruise through the videogame, carefully framing the speeches as you and the child overhearing conversations or being at a distance from the characters in conversation. It’s a clever device in both story and gameplay, and one which is endlessly more interesting than the choice to cast the player as a speechless friend of the child of whom no-one else is aware. Of course, much more is revealed along the way explaining away these riddles, but it’s a ride that’s genuinely pleasant and entertaining as you continue along its preset path
As stated above, the visual quality of Contrast isn’t about to astound you, but it does perform well given the intense and committed style that it features. This is a videogame wherein the gameplay design and plot delivery weigh far greater than the polygon count, and as such Contrast should be commended. The voice acting in Contrast is also worthy of not, unlikely to break any news stars into the world of celebdom but more than presentable throughout, while the frequent lack of a soundtrack is a strange decision, especially given a regular address of the music of the era in the storyline.
A videogame that’s bound to surprise, Contrast is a wonderful yet flawed experience. It’s compelling and enjoyable throughout its reasonably brief lifespan, but there are a number of poor design decisions (mostly related to the control system) that will hamper many gamers’ enjoyment. Contrast is a puzzle-platform videogame that deserves far more attention than it’s likely to get, but those who do invest will surely remember it fondly as a title of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3’s twilight years as we move onto new hardware.