Contrast – Preview

Title   Contrast
Developer  Compulsion Games
Publisher  Focus Home Interactive
Platform  Windows PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4
Genre  Puzzle, Platformer
Release Date  15 November, 2013
Official Site

We all have had imaginary friends, right? Growing up can be tough, and if you haven’t got enough friends to keep you occupied, eventually you just create one so you don’t feel so damned lonely. I, personally, had the foresight to grant my imaginary friend a body, that of a small feline teddy bear. But that’s nothing compared to Didi, the little girl in Compulsion Game’s upcoming puzzle platformer Contrast, who gave life to the amazing imaginary friend that is Dawn.

Didi’s reasoning for creating Dawn is pretty sound – her mother, Kat, is a cabaret star in a noire-inspired world, so Didi doesn’t see a lot of her, since she’s out so much performing. Contrast kicks off on the night of Kat’s biggest performance to date, leaving Didi alone, yet again, with only Dawn to keep her company. But Didi isn’t planning on sitting around the house all night, and so takes to the streets with Dawn to see what her Mum’s up to, along with all the twists and turns that occur during the night.

The story is perhaps the most interesting and exciting part of the game, particularly for me. Taking huge inspiration from film noir, the bits and pieces of the story we were shown revolved around Didi’s no-good father trying to worm his way back into Kat’s life with some scheme to make them both rich. However it’s not just the story, but the way it’s told. Cutscenes involving Kat are done entirely with shadows, so you never actually see what she looks like, and brings a more literal interpretation of the shadowy nature of the game. In fact, we were told that the shadows represent a reflection of reality – the action largely takes place within Didi’s imagination, so what you see may not entirely be the truth, but simply what a nine year old girl picks up from what she sees and hears.

The gameplay revolves around the use of shadows too, as the main hook of Contrast is Dawn’s ability to become a shadow on a wall, and use this power to traverse the game world, solving puzzles to progress the story. Dawn spends most of her time as a three-dimensional being, but at times the world will suddenly light up with a dazzlingly-bright spotlight, and it’s here that you’ll then have to jump into the walls and move along the shadows to get to the next section. You may even need to manipulate the light to help you progress – one of the first puzzles in the game sees you moving spotlights onto a stage to light up the performers and then, using their shadows to jump to a higher level, point the remaining spotlight at the final performer. It’s an interesting mechanic, and one that, quite literally, brings a whole separate dimension to the platforming genre.

Even better, though, is the combination of story and gameplay. In one scene, we saw Dawn clamber over the shadows of Kat, then Didi’s father, who had just had a secret liaison in a hotel. There were more hints to the naivety and innocence exhibited by Didi, as while it was never specifically stated, we saw Kat rolling up her stocking and smoking a cigarette, heavily implying that they may have met for more than just a chat. You have to use the shadows’ movements to get to the exit, but you could easily just stand around listening to the dialogue and soaking up the atmosphere, as the shadows only move when you stand in certain points, meaning you don’t have to have perfect timing to clear these sections, and can focus on the story unravelling as you go.

To be totally honest with you, it isn’t the platforming mechanics that interest me most about Contrast, but the world that Didi has created to explore with Dawn. Since the game is set in her imaginary version of the world, the environment will at points simply drop away where her imagination stops. Dawn herself is a construct of what Didi knows, which appears to be limited to the world of cabaret. It’s beautifully shady and suggestive, just as shadows are. And of course, being a noire environment lends itself to a jazz soundtrack, with some original tracks written just for the game that I heard a couple of times during the presentation and instantly fell in love with.

It’s safe to say that I’m very much looking forward to playing Contrast for myself, with its interesting gameplay mechanics and fascinating world backed up by some lovely design ideas and a great soundtrack. Compulsion are aiming for a “November-ish” release on PC, PS3, PS4 and Xbox 360 as a digital download for $15, with around four to five hours of puzzle-platformer goodness, and all that jazz.

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