Here I sit, pouring over weird stories about time vortexes and bizarre chemical reactions. I have a lot planned for Stranger Dimensions, even though I’ve been distracted (I’ve posted a whole seven articles this month). But for right now I thought I’d try something new.
So let’s review a video game. Don’t worry; it is both strange and dimensiony.
Contrast is a new indie game that just released on November 15, alongside the record-breaking PlayStation 4. I pre-ordered it on Steam, though, snatching up the Collector’s Edition for $15, which includes the soundtrack (Shadow Music!) and a programme with a behind-the-scenes look at the game’s development.
In Contrast, players take control of the dimension-hopping Dawn, who can move freely between our world and the world of shadows. Progressing through the game involves traversing both 3D and 2D environments, and this leads to some intriguing gameplay and puzzles — you often find yourself moving three-dimensional objects or light sources to cast shadows, which you can then navigate.
The story follows a young girl named Didi as she tries desperately to bring her parents back together. Her mother is a singer. Her father owes a serious debt to some bad people. The conflict plays out against the backdrop of 1920s Paris, though not all is as it seems.
Unfortunately, the journey is brief, and the game’s ending is abrupt and ambiguous. But the answers are there, and I think the developers have left enough room for personal interpretation.
As a game, there were parts where Contrast took me back to the older days of platformers. It is, predominantly, a puzzle game. You slip in and out of the shadows to complete objectives, whether that means navigating the floors of a hotel or transporting boxes across a room to hold down switches. But the platforming sections, and hunting down the collectible luminaries, gave me very mild flashbacks to the Nintendo 64 days. This is not a bad thing.
Unfortunately, with the good comes the bad. Contrast is buggy. On two occasions, I had to restart from my last save and replay an area over again (ironically, both bugs happened inside a pirate ship attraction that’s on the fritz). The first time, an object I was carrying disappeared. I think. The second time, I got trapped under a box I’d been carrying after jumping from a loft.
I also noticed that sometimes the geometry would either push me around or, in one instance, send me flying into the air for no particular reason. These are only minor annoyances, but the game certainly has a fair amount of jankiness.
Contrast’s soundtrack is arguably its greatest strength. The music captures that 1920s cabaret jazz, with two original tracks performed by singer Laura Ellis, and a background OST that perfectly matches the game’s aesthetic. Honestly, I think it’s brilliant. I’m also going to plug Cissie Redgwick’s Gimme That Swing right here, which was used in one of the game’s trailers.
Contrast’s biggest downside? I finished it in about three hours, and this included hunting for luminaries (though I don’t think I got them all) and gathering the other collectibles. There were some great and unexpected moments in those three hours, though, and I wouldn’t mind a sequel that fleshes out the gameplay and squashes the bugs. I can easily see myself returning to Contrast in the future.
Ultimately, if you’re a fan of the aesthetic or music, I think Contrast is worth a look for those qualities alone. I’d also recommend it to anyone who counts Bioshock Infinite as one of their favorite games; there are things for you here. More than you’d probably expect.
Contrast is currently available for $14.99 ($19.99 for the CE with the soundtrack) on Steam, PlayStation Network, and Xbox 360.
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