Contrast full review
Puzzle-platformer Contrast is immediately and refreshingly different - the glamour and darkness of 1920s Paris paired with the ability to turn shadows physical. In the 'real' world, everything's 3D and dripping with period detail, but switch your long-limbed character onto the shadow plane and it becomes a 2D game.
Rather than jumping from platform to platform, you build routes for yourself from the shadows - everything from a giant, projected bicycle wheel to the moving legs and arms of other characters' shadows, transporting you across the level in dramatic and languorous fashion. Later, a short-range teleport power sees you jumping elegant between shadows, hinting at a game of wonder and ingenuity.
Sadly, once Contrast has pulled such visually striking gimmicks a few time, they cease to have the same effect and what's left feels like something of a chore.
While the narrative involves your character, the apparently imaginary friend of chirpy but troubled nipper Didi, trying to reunite her warring parents and save them from a life of strife in the Parisian underworld, the reality is a series of often thankless chores.
Turning on switches, pushing crates about, fixing broken elevators, unlocking doors... Task after Standard gaming fare for sure, but here it feels that bit too relentless, without moments of celebration and reward in between. Occasionally there's a faintly disorientating if well-performed cutscene, but usually the pay-off is nothing more than a door opening or a light turning on.
As much as it tries to be creative - mostly in terms of how shadows change size and positioning as you push crates and popcorn carts and mannequins around to create your path upwards and onwards - there's not quite enough flexibility in its puzzle solutions, meaning Contrast can frequently feel tiresome, a lot of work for a very straightforward result, and very much at odds with the louche, jazzy style.
There aren't enough moments where you get to simply play with shadows, to enjoy this rear-lit world with its often delightful fusion of Moulin Rouge and a haunting, fractured dreamscape.
A story that is occasionally moving but too often oddly detached and happening around you, rather than with you, leaves an uncertain sense of where all this is going, what you're doing these chores for . And then, suddenly, it ends, just three or four hours in, which much of what was alluded about the shadow world and Didi's sad situation left weirdly unresolved.
Contrast must be applauded, though, for avoiding the sleaziness one might expect of a game starring a burlesque dancer, as imaginary friend Dawn is - it sticks to style and elegance rather than crudity and exploitation throughout, and that coupled with a lack of violence makes it a welcome effort (especially given it's also a PlayStation 4 launch title) despite its many failings.
In so many ways, Contrast feels like a great concept that wasn't given enough room - or more likely, budget - to breathe. It has some of the component parts of a brilliant game, but they just don't come together in the right way.
- Available on PC and PlayStation 4. PC system requirements: OS: WINDOWS XP SP2/WINDOWS VISTA SP1/WINDOWS 7/WINDOWS 8 Processor: AMD/INTEL DUAL-CORE 2.3 GHz Memory: 2 GB RAM Graphics: 512MB VRAM, COMPATIBLE DIRECTX 9.0C AND SHADER MODEL 3.0, AMD RADEON X2600 XT/NVIDIA GEFORCE 7900 GTX DirectX: Version 9.0c Hard Drive: 4 GB available space Sound Card: DIRECTX 9 COMPATIBLE