Contrast is the rare game that prioritizes story to the detriment of gameplay.


Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Rated: Teen
Players: 1
URL: contrastgame.com/‎
Price: $15.00
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PC
Developer: Compulsion Games
Release Date: 2013-11-15

Contrast is the rare game that prioritizes story to the detriment of gameplay. That imbalance is particularly noticeable here because both have an obvious arc, but the story arc ends just as the gameplay arc is starting to get interesting. The former very obviously cuts off the latter. While the story is compelling, the puzzles never advance beyond the intermediate stage. What seems on paper to be a brain-busting puzzle concept is instead pretty straightforward and barely challenging.

You play as Dawn, the not-quite-imaginary friend of Didi, a little girl from a broken home. Dawn can become a shadow at will, “shifting” into walls so that her physical body disappears and all that remains is her shadow. With some spotlights and a couple moving objects, Dawn can manipulate the 3D world in order to create shadow platforms to inaccessible areas. It’s a clever concept. Contrast is a puzzle-platformer in which you puzzle in 3D and jump around in 2D. As a puzzle concept, this would seem to promise some great brain twisting uses of shadow and light, and as a platformer concept, it seems like a delightful mixing of genres. However, Contrast doesn’t live up to the promise of its concept.

The game is split into three acts. The first act is quite easy as the game tutorializes everything. The second act advances some concepts, but the puzzling and platforming remain largely separate. There’s a whole section that has you playing the princess in a shadow play, and while it’s a great bit of platforming on its own, it’s disappointing that it completely ignores the 3D world. When the two dimensions do cross over, the puzzles aren’t all that more complicated than they were in Act 1. Contrast finally starts to come into its own in the last act as you manipulate the lights and clockwork displays of a museum to form complex moving platforms.

But then the story ends. It reaches a natural stopping point just as the mechanics begin to flourish. That puts a lot of pressure on the story to carry the entire experience, and while it comes close, it loses focus at the end.

The game world is a very empty place. Dawn and Didi are the only characters with a physical presence. The rest of the cast only appear as shadows. Even as Didi’s mother hugs and kisses her goodnight, we only see the interaction silhouetted against the wall. Without the shadows, Didi looks to be talking to herself and tucking herself in for the night.

It’s a great way of visualizing Didi’s loneliness. Her father has been kicked out of the house and her mother leaves every night to sing at a night club. Didi desperately wants to bring her family together, and most of your objectives throughout the game revolve around doing just that. Didi wants to make her family real again because all she sees now are (literal) shadows of its former self. Didi can come across as oddly optimistic considering her circumstance since she always excitedly gives you instructions, but that’s because she’s excited to get her family back together. Through the level design and art, we see the loneliness behind her optimism; her imaginary friend is more real to her than her mother and father.

In this way, the puzzle concept is a brilliant reflection of the themes, and Contrast could have been one of the most thematically cohesive games I've ever played... if it didn’t start to take itself so literally in the end. The gameplay works better as a metaphor than as a plot device. The story eventually acknowledges the shadow world as an actual place, and the compelling family drama is overtaken by sci-fi elements; the complex emotions replaced by complex plotting.

Contrast is still enjoyable, but it has such obvious potential for greatness it’s hard not to be disappointed by “enjoyable.”


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

'Curb Your Enthusiasm' S9 Couldn't Find Its Rhythm

Larry David and J.B. Smoove in Curb Your Enthusiasm S9 (HBO)

Curb Your Enthusiasm's well-established characters are reacting to their former selves, rather than inhabiting or reinventing themselves. Thus, it loses the rhythms and inflections that once made the show so consistently, diabolically funny.

In an era of reboots and revivals, we've invented a new form of entertainment: speculation. It sometimes seems as if we enjoy begging for television shows to return more than watching them when they're on the air. And why wouldn't we? We can't be disappointed by our own imaginations. Only the realities of art and commerce get in the way.

Keep reading... Show less

Wars of attrition are a matter of stamina, of who has the most tools with which to keep fighting. A surprising common tool in this collection? Humor.

The name of the game is "normal or abnormal". Here's how you play: When some exceedingly shocking political news pops up on your radar, turn to the person next to you, read them the headline and ask, "is this normal or abnormal?" If you want to up the stakes, drink a shot every time the answer is abnormal. If that's too many shots, alter the rules so that you drink only when things are normal—which is basically never, these days. Hilarious, right?

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.