Contrast was first released late in 2013, but just came out for the Xbox One on June 27th. As someone who prefers to play on the Xbox, but has found the lineup of available games lackluster (Do you like shooting? Racing? Neither? Sorry, can’t help you), I was excited to see something a little different appear on the console.
In Contrast you play the role of Dawn, an acrobat who can travel between the 3D corporeal world and the 2D shadow world. The only person who can see Dawn is Didi, a little girl trying to keep her family together. Dawn is a featureless protagonist – she has no real character of her own, she never speaks or emotes – though she’s the one you control, this is really Didi’s story.
The gameplay revolves around Dawn’s ability to shift into the shadows, using them to get to places that would otherwise be unreachable. As the game progresses, you also manipulate lights and objects in the real world in order to create your own shadow paths. The mechanics are simple, and the few times I ran into trouble it was due to not understanding how the game physics worked. For example, the first time I encountered a box I could pick up and move I assumed I had to put it in front of a light source to create a shadow. Actually, I was able to pick up the box and shift into the shadows with at, turning it from a 3D object to a 2D one. I liked the idea here, but the execution was not great. There were a lot of issues with camera angles, collision, sluggish controls, and getting stuck. Luckily none of these were game breaking – I could usually get unstuck by shifting in and out or dashing – but it was a major source of annoyance. Based on other reviews, these bugs are not unique to the Xbox One port.
Dawn and Didi are the only characters you see clearly, the rest appear to you only as silhouettes against brightly lit walls. This led to one of the more compelling parts of the game. You’d see and hear a vignette play out and traverse the character’s moving shadows to get where you needed to go. Though these were the least challenging platforming parts of the game, I enjoyed them the most as they really married the gameplay and story together.
The story is simple and the characters are quite trite. Didi’s father Johnny is a hustler who’s just not very good at hustling. Because of this, he’s been kicked out by Didi’s mother Kat, who gets portrayed as mentally unstable when it comes to Johnny. Through the game Didi and Dawn are basically going around fixing Johnny’s mistakes to make sure his latest scheme works and they can be a big, happy family who can afford to pay their rent again.
Contrast has some good ideas and appealing designs, but it feels like a shadow of what it could have been. The game takes place in the 1920’s Paris jazz age and has some lovely aesthetics. There is also some beautiful music featured during certain scenes, but as you’re actually playing the game feels silent and empty. Shadows aren’t too exciting to look at and Act I in particular has almost no background music or ambient sound, which makes it feel unfinished. The whole shadow and light theme is a great idea, but not enough is done with it. The puzzles get repetitive by the end of the game. Many questions are raised – who is Dawn? why can she turn into a shadow? what is the shadow world? but few are answered. Near the end of the game you can find collectibles which reference these things, but don’t give any real insight.
Rating: 5/10 – The game looks nice and has its charms – a scene where you participate in a shadow puppet theater stands out as the highlight – but is marred by glitches, poor controls, and lack of explanation. Gameplay became repetitive even though it only lasted about 4 hours. On the bright side, if you love achievements this game showers you with them. I earned 840 without trying to be a completionist.