December 2, 2013 2 Comments
Do you know what the irony of Contrast is? It became the replacement PlayStation Plus PS4 launch game when Driveclub didn’t make its deadline. That makes me laugh, because there is no way that Driveclub could have been more unfinished than Contrast. Here’s a game whose concept I loved before I even tried it, and even while I was playing it, I so wanted to love it. And, in a sense, I did. But, like someone with an elderly dog that keeps making a doodoo on the carpet, at some point you have to admit it’s over and put it down.
Contrast takes place in a stylized 1930s art-deco world. The idea is you play as on over-imaginative young lady named Didi, who defies her mother’s wishes by sneaking out of the house and going on an adventure of sexual intrigue, betrayal, and discovery. Honestly, I thought the story was heavy-handed and boring. The setting did nothing for me, mostly owing to how damn empty and artificial it all seems. Perhaps if the world had seemed more alive, I could have gotten into it. But the world of Contrast seems so drab and lifeless, as if nothing fun or whimsical has ever graced it. Which is really fucking bizarre because of how damn cool the hook is.
The idea is, gameplay can shift entirely into your shadow on a surface as long as there’s a light projecting it. I love this idea, even if it’s so shamelessly convoluted in the ways they had to implement it. I call this “Aquaman Syndrome” because it reminded me of how the Super Friends scriptwriters had to come up with the most roundabout ways imaginable to include Aquaman in the show, like having Lex Luthor steal the plans for a Doomsday Device that was hidden underneath a fish store. So, you’ll spend a lot of time in Contrast moving light fixtures around, so as to make sure all the shadows cast are exactly the right height and right size that they can be platformed across. Then you’ll spend the next three weeks readjusting them over and over again while cursing the Gods that Watch Dogs fell behind schedule and you’re stuck doing this instead.
I can’t stress enough how tough it is to properly calculate where to line up those shadows when it’s up to you to project them. Maybe it was just me, but I often could not get a feel for the sense of scale the game required. It also doesn’t help that many of the puzzles are timed, with the shadows reverting back to their original positions if you don’t move quickly enough. Early in the game, one of the puzzles took place in an enormous, sprawling room where I had to position lights, elevators, and platforms just right, or else I would have to go back and position them all again. Gateways had similar puzzle designs, but at least there the controls were tight and objectives and end goals were more clear, thus making the complex puzzles boil down to simple reverse-engineering. Here, I typically was never sure exactly where the final landing point was, and the controls were loose and sloppy at best.
I didn’t make it much further past that room at the hotel, in the first fucking chapter. Yes, shameful as hell of me, I admit. I should hang up my critic card and shoot myself or something. But here’s the thing: Contrast is clearly not finished, and since it’s not, I don’t really feel under any obligation to complete the game myself. It was not ready for prime time. While running around, looking for things to dash into, I got stuck in walls no less than one hundred times over the course of a couple of hours of wandering around. I honestly don’t remember any game where I clipped into walls even 10% as much as I did here. More over, sometimes the glitches are just super random. While running around a fire escape, she started jumping, without me pushing any buttons besides the control stick. She just started springing up and down like she was busting for a piss while using a pogo stick. Not only that, but she seemed to be jumping much higher than the natural jump mechanics allow for. It’s one of the most randomly bizarre bugs I’ve ever come across. It didn’t kill the game or impede my progress in any way, but just having it there made me feel like I was wasting my time at amateur hour.
Plus, as a showcase game for PlayStation Plus and PS4, Contrast sure is ugly. It would have been ugly on PS3. It looks more like an early PS2 game, and not a good-looking one. Completing the “just now released after twelve years in the can” feel of Contrast is an unstable camera and clippy character models. There is nothing “next-gen” on display here. I’m so disappointed because the gimmick was solid and the setting could have held a lot of promise, even if the Film Noir thing is getting dangerously close to over-saturated. This was a weird one for me, because I loved it for the first hour or so, even if I spent a lot of that aimlessly wandering around the lifeless city. But as I came to realize how unpolished Contrast was, my love quickly was replaced by loathing, and I suddenly noticed how broken so much of it is. How the phasing into the walls was touchy, slow in response, and not suited for the types of quick-actions the game sometimes requires. Or how sometimes I would have to stab the square button multiple times to activate a switch, even though I was lined-up correctly enough to have the context-sensitive “PRESS SQUARE YOU IDIOT!!” prompt on the screen. Or how I spent more time bouncing off invisible walls than I did navigating successfully to the next area. So sadly, I must ask Contrast to take a seat next to Mortal Kombat Gold, NFL Fever, and Evergrace in the “victims of a launch deadline rush” memorial wall. Contrast wasn’t quite as dead on arrival as those titles, but the last rites have been administered and its time to go all Old Yeller on it. Bang. Tears. Fade out.
Contrast was free with PlayStation Plus, normally priced $14.99.