E3 2013: Contrast preview

A surprise addition to the E3 lineup was a little game I hadn't heard anything about at first. However after looking at the game's website I knew straight away I had to see it and was very glad that I had as it ended up being one of my favourite games of the show. Contrast is an upcoming game from Montréal based Compulsion games, it's their first release since founding the company and it's definitely a strong game to start with.

Contrast is set in a surreal 1920's style dreamscape, inspired by the Vaudeville style of entertainment that was popular in America from the 1880s-1930s. You take on the role of Dawn who is the imaginary friend of a young girl named Didi. Dawn is perhaps a little more special than the average imaginary friend though, she has the power to shift between two dimensions; the vibrant game world and a parallel shadow world. To fit with the style of the world they've signed up with LA based Jazz musician Laura Ellis to bring them a brilliant and moody soundtrack for the game.

Didi is exploring a very adult world for an 8 year old, hanging around in streets at night as well as spending most of her time in a burlesque club, however she obviously feels safe when she's with Dawn. Plus a large inspiration for Didi was Ofelia from Pan's Labyrinth, who if you haven't seen the film, is a very strong female lead who is very young yet explores these violent and scary worlds which would usually terrify a young girl.

Unlike most games these days we were given a little insight into what was going through the developers heads when creating the game, when their creative lead was musing over ideas in a café in Lyons and was inspired greatly by Portal at the time along with the idea of moving through space via different means. From these thoughts the idea of utilising shadows popped into his mind. Not many games really use shadows as a means to travel through, plus of course some types of lighting and shadows can be costly to render in a game meaning it can't be as beautifully done on a console. There have been some attempts though with A Shadow's Tale on Nintendo Wii and a level that I played in Trials HD, but otherwise it's scarcely used.

As well as using an usual way to play the game you're also playing as an underused type of character, an imaginary friend of a young girl, and its nice to see it all reflected in the game, or at least from how I see it. From our slice of the game that we played and witnessed you never truly see other humans within the world other than Didi, it feels like this has been decided because Dawn is imaginary and lives within the shadow world, so as Dawn you never see anything but shadows of other humans. It's also a decision potentially to de-clutter the world and simplify it so you only see what's vital, but I like the idea that it all ties into the story and reasoning behind the game.

Another nice addition to the game is that the lights aren't static and baked into the world, in most cases they appear to be dynamic as you'll be able to move the lights that are casting the shadows to solve a puzzle that requires a shadow in a different location to where it is currently pointing. As well as this you can change shadows by moving boxes or potentially other objects that can alter the shadow if it just isn't high enough or if there is a gap you can't make.

Through the demo we witnessed four different puzzles which scaled up in difficulty. The first taught you firstly how you could get into the shadow dimension and jump between shadows in a simple location. It then advanced to informing you that you could turn on and move light spots around by just interacting with them. And then going to full on platforming within a moving environment, this seemed present throughout the demo though, that shadows can move independently if a light source is pointing towards an object that is in motion.

The jumping in and out of the shadow dimension and the real world happens in one seamless action and not only looks stunning, but feels great and is satisfying too. The puzzles themselves never lead me to be stuck and at times would just lead me to use a little patience to plan out the route before making my first jump, making it nice and easy to pick up, but still a worthwhile challenge. The game itself due to being a platform at heart requires patience and quick movements, however from what I've seen of the game making an incorrect move won't result in your death which is nice for a change.

The most interesting puzzle we saw however was at the end of the demo which showed how they've incorporated shadow puzzles into the story of the game itself, within a moment where Didi's parents were having a conversation. Using platforming on key story moments did make me wonder how they would fair if the player fell down or went the wrong way, and if the shadows would repeat the motions or if you would replay the segment.

Contrast will be released later on this year on Xbox 360, PS3, PS4 and Windows in digital format on all platforms. They're currently aiming for a release on all formats at the same time although that will of course be dependant on the individual platforms.


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