I first heard about Contrast back in May when Focus Home Interactive agreed to publish the game for Compulsion Games. I was instantly lured to the game from it’s premise and teaser trailer. I was enthused even further when I heard that it would be available on the PS4 at launch. I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited to play an independent game, than I was with Contrast. That’s a lot of hype that I had built up and it was justified, because this is an incredible game.
Contrast tells the story of Didi Malenkaya. Didi is a nine year old girl who lives in a unknown city in the early 1920s. (I’m sure she knows what city she lives in, but we don’t know. It looks like Paris to me.) Didi’s mother, Kat, is a singer at a night club and her father, Johnny, is a deadbeat who isn’t around anymore. Who does Didi have to turn to because her parents aren’t around? None other than her imaginary friend, Dawn. At night, Didi and Dawn sneak out and explore the town. In their journeys together, they will find out new things about themselves, Didi’s family, and the world around them. The adventure starts on one particular night when out and about, Didi discovers that her father is back in town.
I loved everything about Contrast‘s story. The player character may be Dawn, but the star of the game is Didi. She is a cute, clever, mischievous, naive little girl. At times it can be ver sad hearing things as told from Didi’s perspective. For instance, she doesn’t know why her Dad is gone. She thinks he’s just off traveling or something like that and that he’ll return again someday. Well, she’s half right, on the return, anyway. Another example is how she sneaks out of her family’s apartment without a care and wanders around the city at night. She thinks it’s wrong of her Mom to try and make her stay home while she’s at work. She has no idea what’s out there. She can’t fathom that there are bad people out there who might want to attack her. Luckily there aren’t any in the game. I’m just trying to make a point of her naivety, of the naivety of children. They don’t understand, like adults do, of the dangers that exist out there. So, when I see her putting her positive, naive take on everything in the game, especially regarding her family, it does make me a little sad. It’s mostly heartwarming and cute, but still a little sad. Didi is also very clever. She can be helpful at times when Dawn needs her to cast shadows on certain places and things like that. Finally, it is Didi’s determination that I might admire the most. She’s only a little girl, but she does everything in her power to make sure that her family stays together. With Dawn’s help, she really makes a difference in their lives.
That leads me to Dawn. As I said before, Dawn is Didi’s imaginary friend. She looks to be in her early 20s and is dressed in a sort of cabaret-looking outfit. Only Didi can see Dawn and Dawn can only see Didi. Everyone else in the game appears to her as shadows, though she can hear all of the people in the world. Dawn doesn’t say anything in the game, but Didi and the other characters provide enough dialogue to keep the plot going. I don’t think that speech was necessary for Dawn. It could have possibly been a positive addition, but I didn’t miss it not being in there. Her actions speak loud enough. She’s out there keeping a lonely girl company and protecting her like a guardian angel. I guess that’s just what imaginary friends are for? We don’t learn much else about Dawn, but she is a solid player character for Contrast, all the same.
As an imaginary person, Dawn can shift in and out of shadows. This is awesome. Dawn normally exists in a 3D world. This world is like a twisted version of reality. Not twisted as in demented, but twisted as in different. It’s like a dream world, influenced by Didi’s imagination. This dream-like world reminded me of the dream worlds in Inception, if that gives you a clearer description of what I’m trying to convey. I think it would have been cool if we could have been able to see into the real world also. Movement inside of the real world wouldn’t have been needed, but maybe just a tear to view into the real world to see the comparison? That was probably too much, though. Anyway, Dawn can and needs to move in and out of shadows to get around certain obstacles. When she shifts into the shadow world, the dimensions shift from 3D to 2D. It makes for some very fun and interesting gameplay, as you might imagine. You’ll find yourself facing all sorts of shadowy puzzles in Contrast. They get pretty difficult at times. You have to manipulate the light here and there, shift objects in and out, time jumps right, etc. Important to the gameplay are the controls and they are mostly good. They’re mapped out well, but there were times where they handled a little awkwardly. It was also a little buggy at times when holding objects and jumping. These aren’t that big issues, they weren’t enough to keep me from having a good time with Contrast, but I did think that I should at least mention them. I’m not sure if they’re console specific issues or if they’re evident through all of the different available formats. Besides that, the only other thing worth mentioning about the gameplay is the collectibles. There are something like two dozen collectibles that all pertain to the story. Stuff like pictures and documents. I like that they aren’t just items, but instead help add to the story some. Those sorts of collectibles in games are always better than just plain items.
Contrast is one of the best indie games that I have ever played. It contains an original story, with two likable characters, and a unique style of gameplay. Not to mention that it is visually stimulating with it’s vaudevillian and noir influences. The cherry on top is the original jazz music, which really complements the whole game perfectly. There were some flaws like the glitches and the length of the game (3 Acts, fairly short), but the good definitely outweighs the bad, in this case. The bottom line is that Contrast is a special game that I highly recommend to pretty much all of the gamers out there.