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I briefly spotted Compulsion GamesContrast (‘a game of light and shadow’) at Gamescom this year: as one of the few games I didn’t have to wait in line four hours for in order to see, it definitely made a more solid impression than most of that con’s offerings. Turns out it’s hard for me to get a first impression of anything if most of what I see is other waiting con-goers! One more reason to primarily stick to indie fare, I guess. Between this, Forced and Ghost Hunter, you’ll probably be seeing a few more Gamescom alumni on the stage here in the not too far future.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, Contrast. Played it at Gamescom, thought it looked at least decently interesting, mentally archived it for later, was reminded about it actually launching two weeks ago by a friend. And here we are! Let’s see if my initial impression of interest holds up.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, high. Mechanical, medium-to-high.)

Opening

Contrast’s opening menu has smooth jazz. Smooth jazz! How come so little games start off with smooth jazz? The only other game I can actively remember that had smooth jazz was Leviathan Warships, and even there it was optional. Three points for Contrast, straight out the gate.

Contrast has what I’m starting to consider the default options for apparent console-ports. A bunch of graphics and audio sliders, no real in-depth stuff, you know the idea. There’s actually a Graphics Quality slider bar. Which would be hella cool if it didn’t just jump in select intervals, defeating the whole idea of a ‘slider bar’. Still, as long as you don’t care about anti-aliasing, it works okay.

The console-port idea is reinforced by this remarkably pretty controls screen:

Both in the 360 controller up there, and in the fact that you can’t change any of them.

As a side-note: I’m going to use my 360 controller for this game. I’m mentioning this here because it’ll mean I don’t really know how well the keyboard controls hold up. I’ve been told by a friend they’re functional, though, so I’m making the executive assumption that this should hopefully not alter the experience too much.

That said… with the options set and the controls checked out, there’s not a whole lot more to do in this main menu. Both Chapters and Collectibles are uninteresting for now, and between that and Credits there’s nothing left but starting a new game. So without further ado…

Initial impressions

This is Contrast’s fancy first loading screen.

It raises a few questions re: that outfit.

I mention this loading screen for two reasons. One, because it’s fancy; I mean, look at how fancy it is! So fancy. And two, because it suddenly and neatly sans-warning fades into the actual game.

I turned around like an idiot before taking a screenshot, but trust me when I say the actual first play screen is very similar to the loading one.

It’s a transition both neat and useful, as it makes immediately clear that I’ll be controlling this rather dolled-up lady. Standing in a child’s tiny bedroom, apparently, with smooth jazz still playing in the background, but who am I to judge her life choices? I don’t know her yet.

This game is, err… brown. Very brown. Brown, with some yellow, there’s black and white, and… that’s it. I guess my character’s outfit is supposed to be red? I’m not seeing it, though.

No, wait: on second glance, I can spot a few more actual colours. There are blue sparkles of a sort in a corner of the room, next to a vanity table of some kind. Further on, yellow sparkles illuminate a record player.

A vanity mirror and a trenchcoat/hat combo? This is the oddest children’s bedroom I’ve seen in weeks.

Both kinds of sparkles denote an Interaction spot. Pressing X on the blue sparkles has me pick up a collectible; in this case, ‘Didi’s drawing of her family’. I have no idea who Didi is, or her family, but something tells me Didi could use either some counseling or the help of a qualified wizard.

The scariest part is that that humanoid figure of *pure darkness* apparently represents me.

The yellow sparkles just turn the record player on and off. Which is a non-choice if I ever saw one. I mean, smooth jazz. This debate was pretty much closed before it started, no?

On third glance, there are more yellow sparkles on the other side of the room, near a wall with paintings. Including a carbon copy of the drawing I just picked up, casting some doubt on the veracity of Didi’s drawing work.

Either Didi can replicate pencil drawings with perfect accuracy or she’s a goddamn hustler.

Interacting with these sparkles triggers a cutscene, though, signifying that these were rare and enviable Game Advancing Sparkles! I will treasure their memory always, because maybe now I can actually get somewhere.

Light! The tiny room is bathed in light, displaying an actual wealth of non-brown colours. Good job, Contrast, I knew you had it in you!

The room’s one door opens, and a little girl with a large head and tiny noodly arms runs in. She hops on the bed with a book, looks at me with a bemused expression, and tells me to hide. Wait, what’s going on? Who am I hiding from? Also, why am I hiding?

Not sure I’m entirely comfortable with the way this scene is progressing.

Obviously I don’t actually hide, because hiding is for both chumps and people not paralyzed by cutscene-itis. The door opens again, and…

Hmm. This next section is a bit… difficult to describe, I guess? On the surface, what appears to be happening is that Didi’s mom comes in, tucks in her daughter, talks about her being a good girl and definitely not sneaking out after she leaves for work, and then doing just that. I can tell this is what’s going on because of the audio, but the odd thing is that I can’t actually see Didi’s mother at any time.

Or rather, I can’t see her directly. I can, however, see the shadow she’s casting.

The rather voluptuous shadow, I might add.

Oh! And Didi’s mother also doesn’t show any sign of seeing me, or chooses not to acknowledge my presence. Despite the fact that I’m right there.

Let me take a time-out to make some general predictions, here. Is this some sort of alternate shadow world thing we’re setting up here? I can’t see ‘real’ people, but I can see their shadows? People are phantoms, and shadows are real? And I assume Didi is special, here, because she exists in both worlds. Alright, time-out over.

Long story short: Mom leaves, and Didi immediately takes off through the window and across the rooftops. I’m supposed to follow, presumably to keep Didi from getting herself in trouble.

I don’t feel like doing this, though, so instead I spend a few minutes prancing around her room, testing out the controls and checking the quality of the animation.

And jumping on the bed.

Finally, I join Didi outside. Her cunning plan for sneaking out of her second-story room is to climb down tied-together sheet and jump into an ‘ash cart’ — which is just a wooden cart with wooden barrels in it, but hey — but shock and alarm, somebody’s moved it and it’s out of reach!

No problem, Did goes. You can do it! I’ll move this lamp over here, and you can go and… you know, be a shadow person.

*record scratch* Come again?

Alright, this would have been a more surprising twist if I hadn’t actually already played part of this game before. Contrast’s main thing is that your character (‘Dawn’) can shift in and out of shadows on the wall at will. Shifted into shadow, Dawn exists in only two dimensions, and she can platform and reach places otherwise difficult to access.

It also looks really very neat.

For instance: this current ledge is too far to jump, and too high to jump down. But shift into the shadow of a nearby laundry line, and presto!

There’s downsides to being two-dimensional, obviously.

Damnit! Vertical shadows, my one weakness!

But all in all, I reach my goal fairly easily. The ash cart is pushed, Didi gets down, she berates me for being absent or somesuch, and I’m starting to wonder why I’m helping this ten-year-old escape her own house. Again, if I read the earlier conversation correctly.

Didi runs off. I follow. Didi encounters an alleyway with pipes blocking the way, that she can shimmy through but I’m… hold on, wait a second. I’m too big for those pipes? I’m rail thin! I’m literally thinner than Didi in every respect. Here, look again:

See? I’m damn nearly a twig.

Anyway, Didi sets up some lamps so I can shadow-walk to a higher-up door, and I’m starting to get a sense of this game’s overall connecting gameplay theme.

It involves shadows, you guys.

Inside the high passage, I find a glimmering floating ball of blue light. I want to call it a ‘neat glimmering ball of blue light’, but the game insist on ‘luminary’ instead. Which, okay, fine. I guess.

I suppose ‘NGBoBL’ isn’t really a good acronym anyway.

I make my way over to the Ghost Note, the night club where Didi’s mother is playing. Because that’s what we’re doing, apparently. And when I say ‘I make my way over’, I mean ‘I explore every nook and cranny of the level first’. Which doesn’t take all that long, because there’s not all that many nooks or crannies? I do run into some neat puzzles to collect luminaries, though, like this one:

Stuff and things and moving parts.

And some collectibles:

And suddenly I’m actually interested in getting to that night club.

Finally, I get to the night club. The lights are off, which strikes me as weird. Someone’s asking me to fix them, which strikes me as even weirder. Wasn’t I supposed to be invisible? But fine, whatever. I run around the (tiny) club, aiming some spotlights at a stage and revealing the shadows of a pianist and a sax player. Using those shadows, I can even get up to the higher levels — hope you don’t mind me walking on your head, Lou! — to get to the final spot.

The final spot needs activation, which requires luminaries. So these things aren’t optional collectibles? That kinda changes the mood of the ‘optional’ puzzles earlier. Also, who here built a spotlight that can only be activated using magical light-balls from the shadow dimension?

“Sal, the spot’s out again! Did you remember to get those glowing light balls from the weird shadow dimension?” “…They were out.”

I activate the lamp, an extended cutscene plays, Didi’s deadbeat dad is introduced, and the whole thing ends on Didi deciding to track him down. And me following her around, because what else am I going to do? Exert free will?

On the bright side, getting through the club has opened up more of the game world. Or maybe it’s fairer to say that most of the game world was already open, but walking past the club entrance activated Didi’s magical powers of reeling-me-in-to-keep-the-plot-going. With that obstacle out of the way, I’m free to explore the city some more.

I gotta say, though: for what I assume is supposed to be a jazz-era American city, it’s a pretty nice place. No noise, no littering, no violence… I was a little hesitant about helping Didi sneak out at first, but having seen how little danger this place poses turned my thinking around. It seems like a great place to raise kids. There’s isn’t even any traffic on the streets! I wonder why.

Oh.

I, err… I don’t really know what to make of this. In fact, between this and the glowing floating microphone that summons the giant shadow of a sexy woman, I’m starting to consider retracting my earlier praise re: this city’s child-friendliness.

Seeing the giant shadow of your mother dance seductively on every city wall must be hard for a growing child.

Alright, but for real: Didi’s yelling at me to go hang out at her dad’s hotel, and I can tell there doesn’t really seem to be a good cutoff point forthcoming. This seems like a good early overview of Contrast, at any rate. Though I hope the ratio of actual platforming gameplay to cutscenes about following a little girl around shifts to a more favourable number later on.

Be back once I’ve finished Contrast completely, maybe! Possibly. It could happen, you don’t know!

Onto page 2. >>

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2 Responses so far.

  1. PossiblyInsane says:

    And we never learned whether or not she was a 1900′s era French prostitute.

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