Contrast Review: The Shadows Know

Contrast Review: The Shadows KnowWith a few digital-only games in the PlayStation Store at the ready for the launch of PlayStation 4, the goal was to give gamers something unique and different, and in most cases, absolutely free with a PlayStation Plus account. I mean, how many FPS shooters does one system need at launch?

Compulsion Games’ Contrast is one of those unique games. The player controls Dawn, an imaginary friend to Didi, a young girl living her life in a world of gangsters and showgirls, her parents being one of each. Didi likes to sneak out at night, while her mother sings at glitzy nightclub, and Dawn is her constant companion. Dawn is able to pop into shadow and manipulate objects, which helps Didi accomplish her goals.

A set up like this basically sets the stage for what is one complex puzzle after another as Didi is maneuvered through her story. And Contrast is told in three acts, like a stage play or a film, with each act broken down into smaller chapters/events. The art direction recalls early 20th century French nouveau in such splendid ways that it was easy to let myself get sucked into this world.

Contrast Review: The Shadows Know

The game’s writing is fantastic, as the characters of Kat and Johnny–Didi’s parents–well, her mother and the man she knows as her father–have a history, and Contrast’s setting of the 1920s gives the writers a lot to play with. As good as the writing is, the actors playing the roles of Kat and Johnny–especially–convey emotion simply with their pronunciations of words, which says a lot. It’s also worth noting that all characters not named “Dawn” or “Didi” are presented entirely in silhouette.

The story and writing aside, Contrast’s puzzles are very fun, if not a little unbalanced. Some are simple–even late in the third act–and some are incredibly complex, which involves timed platforming-like jumps and shadow-manipulation using objects like popcorn carts or boxes. I found the puzzles and levels satisfying, but things go bad midway through the third act. A light house must be climbed, and Contrast goes glitchy–real glitchy–here as boxes that are needed to move forward disappear or get stuck on walls, and suicide doesn’t reset, meaning the whole chapter has to be reset over in hope the glitch doesn’t happen again. It was an episode in incredible frustration–especially after two whole acts of fun, sometimes ingenious, puzzling and platforming.

It begs to mention that each act contains documents to collect that flesh out the story–especially the back story–of Dawn, and seeking out each collectable is worth the time, as Contrast is kind of a tragedy in the classic noir sense. Again, this goes back to the stellar writing and art direction.

Contrast Review: The Shadows Know

Contrast is a great way to give your PlayStation 4 something new and unique. You don’t fire a gun, and in fact, there is no combat. The joy of the game is in completing its tale, and Compulsion Games has created some nifty puzzles to stand in your way. With incredible writing and acting and art direction, and mindful of a buggy, nearly broken third act, Contrast is a welcome reprieve from the FPS’s and sports games that have dominated this launch. I highly recommend it.

Contrast is exclusive to PS4 and available via PSN free for PS+ members, $14.99 for everyone else. It was released on November 15, 2013.

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