ORIGINAL REVIEW (see update below):
When I first came across Contrast during its E3 show time this year, I became instantly enamored with the premise. Then I got some hands-on time with it in October, and was officially head-over-heels. But while the trailers and teasers and demo kept me looking forward to it, the final product, while still incredibly fun, sadly fell a bit short of my possibly too-high expectations.
Your main character is Didi, a little girl whose parents have a rocky relationship at best. Dawn, your playable character, is Didi’s imaginary friend who can run in/on shadows. Didi wants nothing more than to fix her family’s problems so her mother lets her father move back in so they can all live happily together like they once had.
Most of the gameplay is pretty basic as far as platformers go. You run, you jump, you solve puzzles to progress. The wrinkle thrown in is Dawn’s ability to jump into the shadows and continue platforming from there. Many puzzles involve moving objects in the real world closer to or further from the available light source to make distinctly shaped shadows so you may then jump into the darkness and make your way further. Seamless transitions between normalcy and shadow-roaming are superb, with approximately zero problems regarding framerate or lag. This was my greatest concern before playing, so I was disappointed that my sigh of relief was short-lived.
You see, as fun as it is to jump in and out of shadows, watching Didi’s dramatic family life unfold with twists and turns, you spend approximately half of your time playing the game, and the other half REplaying it due to numerous bugs and glitches. Contrast is absolutely riddled with technical problems, and it actually caused me to be unable to complete the game in full.
I reached the end sequence, and could feel the final cinematic upon me. I worked for close to an hour to scale (don’t worry, no spoilers) the lighthouse and tried to focus a spotlight onto a stage below, to zero effect. After moving the spotlight around each and every inch of available space yeilded no results, I trekked back throughout the entire level to the very bottom to see if I missed something – no dice. Finally I broke down and looked up a video online to see how to move forward, and sure enough I’d done everything fine and proper; the game was just borked.
Surely you would expect there to be some sort of checkpoint or auto-save throughout half a dozen puzzles riddled within a single building/chapter, but that wasn’t the case. Restarting the game placed me all the way back at the lighthouse’s entrance, effectively losing my previous hour plus of gameplay. Frustrated and losing patience, but confident I could make the climb much quicker since I’d just figured out the solution to every puzzle within, I entered once more. But what should stop me this time but a glitch in the FIRST room of the tower. You are to aim a beam of light at a wall-mounted piece to spread the light throughout the room, but the cursor simply would not enter the appropriate radius. No matter what angle I tried to come at it from, the game just wasn’t having it. With that I gave up and watched the game’s end-scene online, satisfied at least that there was indeed no more actual gameplay that I was missing out on.
Even worse is that this was just one of multiple similar occasions. Sometimes Dawn would get stuck in the limbo between a shadow on the wall and the chair that’s causing it. Other times the camera would pan in such a way that I could not see her head – but instead just her eyes. Talk about creepy and weird.
What is the most disappointing is that Contrast would easily be in my top 3 games of 2013 were it not so difficult to actually play. The game and controls are simple and intuitive, the shadow-platforming an absolute delight, and the drama that unfolds has plenty of twists and turns, with an ending that just BEGS for a sequel. I, for one, will be begging for one just as much, but a sequel with all the kinks worked out. I would happily take multiple delays from the originally announced release date if it means getting a more quality product in the end, and truly Contrast could have benefited from just such a delay.
Though despite all the bugs, I cannot stress enough just how FUN the game is. The puzzles are challenging without being impossible, the collectibles give you some insight to the mysterious, broken nature of the world you wander, and there’s even a small Limbo-inspired bit that was just as eerily entertaining as Limbo itself. If you’ve got the patience for some hiccups along the way, it is one of the top new gaming experiences of the year, and absolutely worth picking up, especially if you’ve got a PlayStation 4 where it’s currently a PlayStation Plus freebie.
Contrast was developed by Compulsion Games and published by Focus Home Interactive. It is currently available for $14.99 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 (and as a PS4 PS+ freebie), and PC.
A digital copy of the game for Xbox 360 was provided to Save/Continue for review purposes.
REVIEW UPDATE #1:
I began playing Contrast in late November, just after its release. However I got caught up in the typical holiday whirlwind, and life didn’t slow down enough for me to finish the game until just a few days ago. In that time Compulsion took note of the many complaints from other reviews similar to mine outlined above, and in response released patches of the game for every system Contrast is available for. As I only had the game’s conclusion to complete, the spotlight glitch at the end only exacerbated my experience with the game, which until this writing was absolutely bug infested.
After the above review went live I had a chat with Compulsion’s Sam Abbott about my experience with the game, and according to him the spotlight glitch came about after putting through the previous patch, and they are currently working on a new patch to solve that problem once and for all. Sam also mentioned that if afflicted with the spotlight bug, you must exit completely out of the game (not just to the main menu) and re-enter, unfortunately still having to re-complete the lighthouse. At his suggestion I went through once more to attempt completion, as well as some scouring of previous chapters to hunt down missing collectibles.
To my delight my third attempt up the lighthouse went smoother than it ever had before, my only hiccups coming in the form of bad timing on my part, making me attempt certain jumps and puzzles again. But really, I was able to successfully wrap up the game (and unlock my beloved achievement to prove as much) without breaking a sweat. Plus while roaming earlier levels I sought out specific locations where Dawn previously became stuck in between the real world and shadows, with no apparent issues. True to Sam’s claim, the initial patch seems to have worked out all major bugs and problems, save for the spotlight, which as I said before has a fix on the way.
In light of these updates I am happy to raise my final score not one, but TWO points to an 8 out of 10. One point for the prior and upcoming fixes to the game, and one bonus for a member of Compulsion taking the time to speak with me individually about my concerns with the game and addressing them in kind. Even with all the bugs I loved Contrast, but it’s been made even better with a bit of love and care from the dedicated team who created it.