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Contrast is Mesmerizing: PAX Preview

/ Sep 5th, 2013 No Comments


[adsense250itp]Contrast from Compulsion Games places players in the role of Dawn, the enigmatic imaginary of a little girl named Didi. Taking control of Dawn, players will help Didi try to maneuver through a dark, shadowy world while Didi attempts to bring her estranged parents back together. The world is full of film noir overtones, heavy shadows, bustling jazz, alluring speakeasies, lurid and prurient burlesque and dangerous, derelict fairgrounds.

Didi’s mother Kate is a burlesque perfomer who often leaves Didi alone when she goes to perform at night. Didi’s father Johnny left years ago, she longs to see him again and make her family whole. Contrast sees Didi sneaking out to watch her mother perform and stumble into a bizarre shadowscape where her imaginary friend, Dawn can manipulate light and shadows to perform dazzling actions. With Dawn’s help and wandering through this distorted world, Didi will find out the truth about her parents and her father’s absence. Contrast deals with latchkeyness, parental baggage, abandonment, retreating into fantasy and the ways we cope with trauma. The game tells an adult story as seen through a child’s lens.


Players can manipulate light sources in the 3D world to affect the 2D world.

At PAX, I had the pleasure of checking out a few areas of the game with Compulsion Games’ Sam Abbott. During the demo, Sam showed off the beginning of the game as Dawn and Didi go to see her mom perform at the Ghost Note. Inside the Ghost Note, Dawn encounters one of the early puzzles. In order for the show to happen, the band needs to set up. This prompts Dawn to figure out how to help the band get ready. To achieve this she needs to turn on the spotlights in the mezzanine of the Ghost Note.

So, first she must turn them on and this is done by finding the proper switch. Easy enough, but once she turns it on, the band is still not ready to perform because the spotlights are not aimed at the stage properly. Thus, Dawn has to aim each of the spotlights at the stage, doing this properly reveals the shadow of the various band members. Unfortunately, the last spotlight is malfunctioning. Dawn has to fix it. By doing so and aiming it at the stage to reveal the final band member allowing the show to start.


The greatest show in town.

Now that the band is ready to play. The show can start. Oh and it is quite the show. The voluptuous silhouette of a sultry woman appears on stage near the band and they all perform quite the number. Contrast is not only a game about using shadows through gameplay, but also using shadows to tell the story. Every story beat is told through various shadows in the game’s world. An aspect of the game that Didi’s trailer illustrates nicely (see below).

The other area Sam demonstrated was the circus from Act 2. This is where Didi’s father has been since leaving the family (or so it seems, things about his absence is a bit more complicated than that as the player will find out when playing the game). In the circus area, it showed off the openness of the various areas and some of the side missions like a minor platforming puzzle where the player needs to time an action just right to reach a lumines (a collectible that allows the player to re-energize a light source).

The circus portion of the demo highlighted the platforming and the shadow/light gameplay elements were the focus. In order for Dawn to use the shadows, she must be up against a wall where the shadow appears. From there it is a simple button press and she vanishes into the wall using the shadows to reach areas otherwise inaccessible to her before. When maneuvering through the shadows, Dawn will get knocked out of the shadow if she runs into another shadow. So proper timing and smart uses of the shadows will be necessary for success. To help the inevitable obstructions in shadow mode, Dawn can use a shadow dash that gives her the ability to move past other shadow objects to continue on her way instead of phasing out. Naturally, Dawn should receive more powers to use throughout the game, but the dash was the only one shown in the demo.


Platforming in Contrast is about timing and learning the behavior of moving shadows.

At the circus, Didi and Dawn need to use a broken down carousel to reach a new height that is unreachable in the 3D world. To get to it, Dawn needs to fix the carousel, but to do that she needs two lumines to restart the power. So, she needs to run around the area to find glowing white objects called lumines that will allow her to start up the carousel and give her some light and objects to project shadows on the walls to begin reaching that area. Contrast is very much about using objects and light sources in the 3D world to affect the 2D world and how Dawn can use that fact to her advantage in platforming/puzzle sections.

Once the carousel starts up, Dawn will need to use the shadows of moving horses to jump to a ledge, but a pole blocks her progress. So once she arrives at that point using the dash allows her to continue on toward the ledge. The platforming is not insanely difficult (it is not easy, but not meant to be punishing), but it takes time to realize the best way to use shadows and time things correctly. Each platforming section is like a mini puzzle to solve. By reaching the ledge Dawn can use some more shadows to reach the top of the carousel. Once at the top of it, she can fix it completely and reveal a new pathway to her main objective. Doing all this will give Dawn the final path to her goal and continue the story.

Contrast’s aesthetics are wonderful and beautiful, seeing the game in motion is mesmerizing. The soundtrack captures the noir feel, time period and style perfectly. After so many positive responses to the song in the trailer, they had the artist do some more songs for the game, which is a great thing because the music in the trailers are amazing (as well as in game). Contrast is shaping up nicely and looks like it will be quite a unique game to play through once Compulsion releases it at the end of the year. The game will be available on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3/PS4 and definitely is one to look out for.

Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. While he is Orange County born, he now resides in Portland, OR. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs
Kalvin Martinez

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