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By Bobfish06-01-2014
StuntmanLT (editor)
MrJenssen (editor)

The Defence

Compulsion Games
Focus Home Interactive
Adventure, Platformer
Release Date:
US 15-11-2013
EU 29-11-2013

The Prosecution

Intel Core 2 Duo 2.3 GHz
AMD equivalent
Nvidia GeForce 7900 GTX
AMD Radeon X2600 XT
2 GB
4 GB

The Case

Focus Home Interactive hold a curious place in the modern video game industry. As hyperbolic and oxymoronic as it sounds, they are effectively an Indie Publisher. Insofar as they, pretty much, act as a publisher for indie studios. At least, studios that would be indie if not for Focus stepping in and giving them the red carpet treatment. As such, the vast majority of the games they now publish are somewhat off the beaten path. Often dealing with themes and concepts that bigger studios shy away from for fear of the risk versus investment return being weighed against them. So, too, do their games lack much of the polish a larger budget can offer, though they do still maintain impressive production values. Contrast, the first game from newcomers Compulsion, epitomises this trend to a tee.

The Trial

On the surface, Contrast is pretty standard fair. A 3D, third person platformer with some puzzle solving and a light, but engaging plot to add context to the environment, as well as convincingly connect the dots between the individual environments which comprise the game as whole. In fact, the mechanics of the game are so simple you could be forgiven for thinking them wholly inadequate for the task at hand. Aside from the shadow 'shifting' ability of player character Dawn, you are left with only movement, jump and a single button for interactions. Even her shifting abilities only cover a further two buttons. Making the whole thing extremely trimmed down compared to some of even the simpler games we have on the market today.

However, the level of meticulous planning and attention to detail that has gone into the end product allow these extremely mundane controls to perfectly adapt to any and all situations. Far from displaying a lack of creativity on the part of the development team, this bare bones approach has allowed them to be far more creative, whilst keeping everything so tightly focused that even the most casual puzzle/platform enthusiast can keep up. Meanwhile, even the genres grand masters have enough tools at their disposal to really stretch their intellectual muscles and really play around with the environments.

You shall not pass!

You shall not pass!

Each puzzle, of which there are several, has one clearly intended, and admittedly rather obvious, solution. But they never feel so simple as to be lazy, when taken into the context of the game world as a whole. As light as the plot may be, it is an integral part of the overall experience. Quite clearly, in fact, the main focus of the game. With everything else being a natural extension of the core. From the interplay of light and shadow to the ghostly appearance of everyone besides Didi, the games true protagonist, and her imaginary friend Dawn, whom you play as, the entire experience has been crafted with one very firm, clear goal in mind.

This is a dark, forbidding and often intimidating adult world, seen through the eyes of a child. A child who is generally quite comfortable with who she, but still a child, with some deep emotional scars that she is fervently determined to overcome. Colours are muted, pastel and often drab in tone, whilst everyday items like chairs, tables and doors as oddly proportioned, with edges jutting out on curiously obscene angles. There are even several sections of the game where great, gaping chasms in the ground have opened up, with streets curving down into the ground at alarming inclination.

A lot of the visual design is heavily allegorical. Especially the fact that every person other than Didi and Dawn appear only as voice and shadow. A curious, controversial visual aesthetic, but one that clearly demonstrates and reinforces the sense of isolation Didi feels. She lives with only her Mother, in 1920's France, and spends most evenings left to her own devices as her Mother attempts to build a career as a jazz singer in a local nightclub. Replete with letters from landlords threatening eviction and social services intent on removing Didi from her care due to negligence. A setup which could be seen as the neglect it would outwardly appear, but beautifully constructed to impress upon you the delicate situation this broken family finds itself in.

You know it honey.

You know it honey.

Kat is a loving, deeply devoted Mother, driven to heartbreakingly difficult, desperate ends to support her child. Whilst Didi's Father, we learn very quickly, is a shady chap who spends most of his time chasing after childish, get rich quick schemes which repeatedly backfire. Though, as the plot develops, were are given more details which add several new layers of depth. Johnny is not a bad man, not really, but his priorities are clearly way out of whack. Something which we actually see him, convincingly and organically, come to realise, fully realise, and appreciate as the story unfolds.

It's a very mature tale. Not adult, not violence and dick jokes, but genuinely mature. Unflinchingly confronting some very delicate themes, such as the aforementioned neglect, with a soft, but bravely firm hand. It does not shy away from the full gravitas of the world it crafts. Seeing the imposing adult world through the eyes of Didi, such a sensitive, yet equally strong young girl, is something many have tried to approach, but few have succeeded. The duality of downtrodden maturity with that spark of childlike, unbreakable optimism is an incredibly delicate balance that Compulsion have achieved with such incredible aplomb it cannot be ignored. Disputed, applauded, even decried, but not ignored.

The final experience clocks in at only three hours of gameplay. Something which could be seen as difficult to justify even at the £11.99 (£14.99 for Collector's Edition) price tag. But then again, when you consider the price of the average DVD or Blu-ray film is in the same price range, perhaps not so difficult after all. Though it is something that must be considered to give an informed judgement of the final product. The length is extremely disappointing, but because of how tight the narrative is, it becomes a disappointment that has you left craving more, rather than feeling that you were shafted. Nor does it ever give the impression of being a small studio making the best of a shoestring budget.

Umm, hello?

Umm, hello?

It is clear that resources were limited, certainly. But not so much that anything feels halfassed or trimmed down. This is a short, powerful tale of coming of age, which would not have been hurt by being longer, but is in no way diminished by its swift conclusion. There is hope, however, that we will see sequels, and even prequels, coming at a later date. Certain revelations, particularly during the closing moments of the last chapter, add a staggering amount of flavour text to the world. Giving us just enough to have us intrigued, just enough to allow you to make some informed, educated guesses, without spelling everything out for you in black and white. Something which is lacking in much of the industry of late. Compulsion have credited the players with enough intelligence to extrapolate the less obvious narrative elements.

Meanwhile, the visual elements, beyond those already explored, all come together seamlessly to produce a grim, bit oddly vibrant world. As the name implies, this is a game very much about dichotomy. The world is dark and almost ugly, whilst the light is vibrant, joyous. Alive. From a purely technical standpoint, despite having top notch lighting effects, there is nothing truly outstanding. Visual fidelity is barely up to par, though the art style not only accounts for, but full out countermands the otherwise uninspiring aesthetics. Resulting in a genuinely quite impressive treat for the eyes.

Even details as seemingly innocuous as the family name, Melenkaya, have been crafted to be a part of a larger whole. Everything has its place, nothing is wasted or superfluous. The surface experience is complete, offering everything we need to appreciate the story at a casual glance. With so many extra layers woven beneath that, for those of us who look deeper, there is a veritable cornucopia of cerebral goodies waiting there, just at the tips of our fingers, waiting, begging to be uncovered and pondered. As an industry, the video game world is still waiting for its Citizen Cane's and its Apocalypse Now's, its Harrison Fords and Humphrey Bogarts. Contrast is not quite up to those levels yes, but it comes so much closer than most everything else on offer. Other games have tried, and expertly succeeded, at crafting literary works of art, this is nothing new. But few have done so as convincingly, and more important, consistently as Contrast.

Now, where is Alice?

Now, where is Alice?

The quality of the script writing is second to none. Not even a single line of dialogue ever feels out of place, backed up with vocal performances which, though many will find underwhelming, are perfectly suited to the situations at hand. Every line is delivered with a degree of natural fluidity that they feel organically real. Like listening to real people having real, spontaneous conversations. And Didi, our nascent star, is so utterly adorable you just want to warp her up in cotton wool and give her the whole world her Father keeps promising, but fails to deliver.

The music, as slow, sultry, sexy jazz soundtrack, is even better. Featuring original compositions by real life singer Laura Ellis, who delivers with such natural grace that you will never want it to end. Even the incidental sounds and music is outstanding. So subtle that it is often unnoticeable, but in such a way that this becomes a compliment rather than a mark against it. It simply hovers, delicate, at the edge of your awareness, rising and falling when necessary to reinforce, rather than force, a mood. Drifting through on a tempo so intelligently crafted it never becomes tired.

The Verdict

It would be so easy to talk on and on for entire volumes, so much so that I could go into a full dissection of the minutiae of every aspect of the plot and setting without ruining the end product. But it is also a game that does not need that kind of treatment. It would be an exercise in self-indulgent navel gazing. The long and the short of it is that, as much as any game I have reviewed, this is not for everyone. But for those people who are of a mind to appreciate it, this is a true gem of a game. With only some very minor niggles holding it back from being a true masterpiece. Our hobby may still be waiting for its undeniable work of literary genius. But games like Contrast as the ones paving the way towards it.

Case Review

  • Characters: Didi. 'Nuff said.
  • Lighting: A game about light and shadows demands top notch lighting effects, and Contrast delivers.
  • Maturity: Contrast deals with some incredibly sensitive subjects with almost effortless grace.
  • Narrative: Offers more depth in three hours than most developers have managed in an entire franchise.
  • Sound Design: From the musical score to the voice acting, rarely have I found something so consistently, perfectly balanced.
  • Price: A cheap game, yes, but considering the length, it still seems perhaps just a little overpriced. Speaking of which...
  • Length: With perhaps three hours of gameplay and no real replay incentive, it is a little disappointing.
Score: 4.5/5
Didi is so utterly adorable you just want to wrap her up in cotton wool.


Contrast is a platformer with a twist, and I’m not talking about the fact that it’s set in a surreal version of 1920’s Paris (though that certainly is an uncommon setting for games of this genre). No, what’s cool about Contrast is that you use the shadows cast by your surroundings to do your platforming and you can manipulate the environment around you to make that jump just a little bit easier. It’s an engaging core gameplay gimmick and it lends itself well to some interesting puzzles. However, a fair few require just the right timing and, for someone like me with the worst sense of it, this was occasionally frustrating. Thankfully the game isn’t stingy with check points, usually setting you back to just before the tricky part so you can try again right away.

Contrast’s noir-esque story is also enticing and told in a stylised manner. All of the characters, apart from Didi and Dawn, are represented by shadows and this gives a largely theatrical feel to each cutscene. This is a pretty clever stylistic choice because the way the story scenes play out really emphasises Didi’s role as little more than an observer in her family’s drama as well as her powerlessness in certain other scenes. You really sympathise with Didi and this, along with the strength of the story, helps push you through the slightly more trial and error portions of the game. On the other hand, the lack of people leaves some environments feeling rather lifeless.

The only negative thing I can say about Contrast is that it’s not brilliantly optimised for weaker machines. That said, the only issue I really had was a consistently choppy frame rate but this never got so bad that it made the game unplayable. The only thing left to say would be ‘shift in and play Contrast’!

Score: 4/5


Contrast is another one of those short games that feels like you're playing a fable with a poignant moral at the end of it. The storyline is definitely the star of the show and surprisingly, the in-out shadow gameplay mechanic takes its place as supporting cast. That having been said, the puzzles are taxing enough to keep you entertained without being so difficult as to insight a rage quit and the game isn't long enough to become tiresome.

The visuals in Contrast definitely deserve a mention as the lighting effects are second to none (let's face it, they had to be...) and the level design is beautifully stylised. The game reminds me of American McGee's Alice with the gory bits removed and a handful of Limbo thrown in for good measure. If you're a fan of a good puzzle platformer then Contrast is definitely for you.

The main story takes about 2 hours to finish even with time spent picking up all the bonus collectibles along the way. The collectibles are mostly in plain sight and you'll only need to venture off the beaten track a couple of times to grab them all, which is a shame because it beats the purpose of replaying the game again. Fortunately, the game is fairly reasonably priced and will more than likely crop up in a bundle sometime in the next 12 months, so even an old miser like me can't shake a stick at that.

Score: 4/5
Comments (2)
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Posts: 3290

I very much doubt that is even remotely coincidental. I simply didn't comment on it because it's screamingly obvious

Posts: 12

For some reason this game reminds me of Alice in Wonderland...