Contrast Preview – Fun With Shadows

Back at E3 2013, one of my favorite games of the show was a little indie game tucked away in the Sony booth called Contrast, developed by Compulsion Games. It’s a beautiful looking puzzle platformer with a striking visual style that combines film noir with Bioshock. And it has one incredible gameplay hook that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen in a video game:

You can freely turn into a shadow and interact with other shadows as if they were solid.

You play as a young woman named Dawn, who is actually the imaginary best friend of the main character of the game, a 9-year-old girl named Didi. Didi made her friend Dawn up to deal with the loneliness she felt after her (Didi’s) father left, loneliness compounded by a distant mother whose career as a famous Cabaret singer comes before motherhood. And so, Didi sets out with Dawn to somehow find a way to bring her family together again. As for how she plans on doing that, well that’s still a mystery – few story details have been revealed.

The game’s setting is also a mystery. Didi and Dawn are the only two people in the world of Contrast with actual physical forms. The rest of the game’s characters appear as shadows on the wall, which is appropriate considering Contrast’s central gameplay mechanic.

Once a shadow, Dawn moves on a 2-dimensional plane, able to use other shadows as platforms. She can then jump back into the 3-dimensional world to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. Players will use this ability to collect hard to reach glowing orbs, which are then used to power objects and access previously inaccessible areas of the main hub.

This ability is also used to solve clever puzzles. In my time with the game at PAX Prime, I was given the opportunity to complete a substantial puzzle that involved shifting not only myself into the shadows, but also boxes to be used as weight for pressure plates. Like Braid and Portal, and all other great environmental puzzle games, you have to kind of twist your mind a bit in order to think in terms of the game’s rules. But once you do, puzzle solving becomes extremely satisfying, and you develop an appreciation for how just how clever the game, and yourself by extension, truly are.

But just solving the puzzle is usually not enough in Contrast. Not only will your mind be taxed, but your platforming skills will be put to the test as well. Dawn has an aerial dash move that she can use to push through thin shadows. While this is useful for obvious reasons, it also makes it a bit of a challenge when you have to dash through a shadow wall onto a rotating or moving platform, and make sure that you don’t overshoot it. In fact, the platforming reminds me a bit of Guacamelee’s, in which you have to shift between dimensions, with each dimension having different platforms and objects that you can interact with.

The music in the game is also phenomenal. Compulsion Games managed to enlist the talents of Laura Ellis, a well known Jazz singer, who will provide the singing voice for Didi’s mother, Kat. While Kat’s spoken voice actress has not yet been announced, Didi herself is voiced by an actual child, and from the small portion that I’ve heard, she does an amazing job making Didi absolutely adorable.

Contrast will be a part of the Playstation 4’s launch lineup and is easily my most anticipated game of the bunch. Those who are itching to jump into the shadows on the PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 will get their chance to do so, albeit later in the year.

Editor’s Note: This story has been clarified to reflect that it is the singing voice for Kat, not the spoken voice, that is performed by Laura Ellis.

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