Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Contrast (Xbox One) - Review

Contrast is out now on the Xbox One having previously been released on the last gen consoles. It was one that I kept meaning to pick up, but never got round to before getting my One. Having not played it on the 360 I can't really comment on whether there are any improvements between the two versions. It does feel rather last gen, so I wouldn't be surprised if there hasn't been any notable graphic improvements made. 

In parts the game can look really nice - the levels are quite pretty but the character designs, whilst initially pretty good soon reminded me of 'Alone in the Dark Jack is Back', a game I played on the PS1 back in the day. Now I'm not saying the graphics are that bad,  this was more in the movement as all the characters look pretty good initially but they all moved a little bit too unnaturally, quite clunky and forced looking really. Dawn, the character you play as is a nightmare to control because of this clunky movement. Her legs are too long so I was forever overstepping or over-jumping obstacles and running into walls. For a character sprite that looks so lean and lithe she moved with all the grace of an elephant. 

Pretty sexy for a young girls imaginary friend!
For those of you that haven't played the game yet, you take control of Dawn, the imaginary friend of Didi. Now maybe this is the mummy in me but I was really shocked at how sexualised Dawn is at first, really struggling to believe that this corset wearing woman was the imaginary friend of a young girl. My childhood imaginary friend certainly didn't look like that! But as I played more of the game I guess it kinda made sense. The game is set in the 1920's and Didi's mum is a lounge singer, so I for one didn't find it quite so difficult to believe anymore. As I said though, this particular problem for me is probably nothing for a lot of people. It being set in the 1920's leads me to the best part of this game in my opinion - the sound. The voice acting and the jazz music soundtrack are fantastic. 

Didi seems to be the only real person Dawn can see...
Now when I first heard about Contrast I was really excited about it. And loading it up I expected it to be a game that felt full of heart, but really it kinda falls flat. Maybe it's because everyone but Didi is shown only in shadow, which can be seen as ruining any sense of immersion in the story. It felt pretty hard to empathise with any of the characters. I feel like in theory this game was fantastic, but in practice I'm not so sure. The story is fairly interesting, but I just didn't feel any real connection to it, it felt quite pedestrian, like a bad cover for the fact that this is just a platform game. I guess I expected this game to feel more narrative based then it was, which is totally my bad. As a massive fan of games as storytelling devices I wanted more from the story. All the aspects were there for an emotionally driven narrative, but it fell short and at some points was pretty soulless.

Use the shadows to get around the levels
Dawn can move through the 3D area and the 2D area that is the shadows on the wall. Now this is a key thing for this game, and it is done really well. There are parts where I was questioning whether I really couldn't go another way, like did I really have to morph into the shadows if this had been real life, but for the most part it made sense, and it was pretty fun to jump in between these two very different styles of play. The 2D took some getting used to. I found Dawn kept switching back out when I hadn't told her so and the shadow jump really took awhile for me to 'get', but it does prove to be a fun gameplay mechanic.

The levels are very linear, really. It seems like they are not at first glance but the first time I tried to deviate from Didi's instructions I was told off and turned back. The next time, she still moaned at me but I didn't have to turn back. And there are A LOT of collectibles. Seriously there are that many that at times you will find three in one room. They give an interesting bit of back story, but it kinda feels like there are too many for them to be of any worth. Also when you do press to view them it ruins any immersion, as when you back out instead of being in the game world, you're at the pause screen, just giving an extra level of separation really. 

What annoyed me the most about this game is that there didn't seem to be any reason given to it. There are these things called 'luminaries' that you run round collecting, and for awhile you're just left wondering why the hell you are doing it. Then you use them to make a spotlight work. Didi seems to know all about it, though, but still no explanation is given. Also there are huge holes in the games universe. Literal holes. The world looks like the little worlds on the British Gas adverts, but less cutesy and colourful. What the hell is that? There are a lot of nonsensical things in Contrast really. Dawn can break down massive metal scaffolding, but apparently can't open a simple door. It sometimes feels like the game is sending you the long way round just to drag out the game, which is pretty short. 

A HUGE problem for us was one that many may not encounter, but we were both sat down whilst I was playing, and then Kinect picked up that he was in the room and promptly KICKED ME OUT OF THE GAME. What the hell?! I had to redo a fairly large portion of the game because it knew someone else had signed in and it didn't like it. So sign everyone in when you load up this game on your Xbox One, for fear of them walking in and the Kinect doing it for you - Contrast really doesn't like it.

Generally this game feels like it could have been much more. It was an absolutely cracking idea let down by some pretty poor execution. Dawn doesn't move the way you expect her to and seeing as some - if not most - of the puzzles depend on refined movement and waiting for the exact right moment, this is a pretty tough problem to overlook. The music really is fantastic and the puzzles are good. It's currently on sale on Xbox One and I would say it's worth it at that price, but I'd say it's not really worth full price unless you're a huge platformer aficionado. 

5/10 TRY IT!
A code was provided for the purpose of this review.

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