Also On: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Compulsion Games
This probably says more about the state of the PS4 launch line-up than anything else, but Contrast may have been the game I was most looking forward to playing on Sony’s new console. I was intrigued by the teaser trailer the developers released back at E3, and I may have been one of the few people who was actually happy that Contrast replaced Driveclub as one of the inaugural PlayStation Plus games for the PS4. The game looked like it had a style all its own, and that was more than enough to get me interested.
Now it's here, and the good news is, that style has totally carried over. The game is gorgeous, looking like a 1920s Art Deco piece come to life. It's lavish, it's vivid, and style drips from every frame. Not only that, every so often the game switches over to a sort of shadow overworld, where it looks like Limbo might've looked if that game had taken place in Europe in the '20s. If I were to nitpick anything on the graphics front, it would be that at times the game pops a little too much, and everything looks too bright and shiny. If the aim of game design is to make a world look lived-in, Compulsion kind of failed in that respect. But honestly, most of the time Contrast looks too pretty for me to care about that.
On top of that, the game put a decent amount of care into developing a story. The game feels a lot like an old film noir in the way the characters talk and interact. Even if the actual golden age of noir came a few decades after the height of the Art Deco movement, Contrast marries the two in a way that makes it seem natural — right, even.
Unfortunately, while Contrast looks and feels great, the same can't be said for its gameplay. In a nutshell, it's bad. No, strike that; it's not bad, so much as it's broken. Throughout the game, I constantly found myself having to reload the most recent checkpoints. Sometimes I'd get jump, only to get stuck between two objects. Other times vital pieces of puzzles would fall somewhere and get stuck. Still elsewhere, I'd try to complete a puzzle in a different order than was intended by the designers, and that would render it unsolvable. While it may have been funny the first few times to see my character stuck in mid-air for no apparent reason, but the fifth time it had lost a lot of its humor value, and by the tenth time I was ready to quit.
Which is kind of a shame because in between those fury-inducing moments, Contrast shows a lot of potential. That Limbo comparison I made earlier is kind of appropriate here as well, because Contrast is also a puzzle-platformer. Admittedly, Contrast is a) far, far more forgiving and far, far less gory, b) set in a 3D world instead of a 2D one, and c) not nearly as good, but, at the very least, they share a genre. In fact, Contrast places a much greater emphasis on puzzle-solving that most games of its ilk — you're far more likely to die from falling into space than you are to be killed by an enemy.
Of course, you're even more likely to have to restart from your last save point, which is why it's impossible to get too hyped about the game. Contrast may be great to look at, but when it comes down to it, what really matters is whether it can accomplish the fundamental task of keeping things moving forward without breaking down very often. And on that front, to be brutally honest, it fails, making it worth a download if you have PS+, but probably not much more than that.