by Matt Porter
previewed on PC
Light and shadows
The connection between light and shadow is a concept often explored in video games, but never quite like this. Contrast is a puzzle platformer from Compulsion Games, which sees you shifting in and out of the very shadows themselves to progress. I hadn’t heard of the game before seeing it at Gamescom this year, but in the short time I spent with it, it quickly became a strong contender for my game of the show.
Switching between 3d and 2d
I was first struck by the wonderful visuals. Contrast is set in the 1920s, which is perfect for its film noir style. The graphics are cartoony, but grown up in an almost Tim Burton-esque style. The world is very adult too, which plays into the story. It could be said that the main character is the young girl Didi. However you actually take control of Dawn, her older imaginary friend. The somewhat dark world is no place for a little girl, but it seems as though Dawn is out to protect her. Being imaginary has its benefits, as if she walks up to a lit wall, she can shift into the shadows and interact with them rather than physical objects.
When running around in the real world, it is a 3D platformer, but when you perform a shift you are then platforming on a 2D surface and jumping on top of shadows. You will have to be shifting between the two worlds on the fly, and I found this unique mechanic to be very impressive. For example, upon arrival at an unreachable platform, you must use the shadows of the nearby merry-go-round to climb upwards, quickly switching back to the real world when you reach the top, as normal objects can’t be interacted with if you’re a shadow. Equally if you get squashed between two shadows it has the same effect as if they were real objects and you will be spit back out into reality.
Solving puzzles with shadows
There is also interesting potential for simultaneous interactions between both worlds. When Dawn can’t progress any higher, Didi actually walks in front of the light source, making a makeshift platform out of her own shadow. You will have to explore the world a bit to find collectibles, not that you needed any more incentive to look around. These glowing pickups are used to power up lights with which you solve puzzles. An early puzzle has you swivelling lights to shine on a stage in a cabaret club, casting shadows in the background of the apparently invisible band. These shadows can then be climbed to reach the higher levels of the theatre. This is one of the first indications that there is something not quite right with the world at large. Every single character in the game apart from Didi and Dawn is seen only as a shadow. Exploring beyond the main areas also reveals oddities. It seems that the world is fragmented in places, with whole sections of earth apparently floating in space.
Didi’s mother, Kat, is a singer at the aforementioned cabaret club. Her father left the family a few years ago, but when Didi sneaks out to try and get a peek at her mother’s important gig, she notices them having a heated conversation backstage. Of course, they can’t be seen, only their shadows are visible in a conversation technique which is a staple of the film noir genre. It seems as though the rest of the story will be an exploration of the family’s relationship and where it all went wrong, as well as finding out quite why the world is so frayed around the edges. The great setting and story is accompanied by a period appropriate soundtrack. The fantastic jazz pieces heard throughout the game are all originals composed for the game.
I am very excited to see more of Contrast. There were some clever interactions between light and shadow that I had never seen in a game before. Details on the story were slim, but what I saw was definitely compelling enough for me to want to find out the rest. Visually, it was right up there with the best of the games I saw at the show this year. The game will take about four to five hours to complete, and I have a feeling I might be doing that all in one go when it releases later this year.