Compulsion Games' Contrast has nearly everything an indie game needs to be a success: beautiful art, an inspired setting, and an intriguing gameplay mechanic that has you solving puzzles with shadows. Unfortunately, it's put together so carelessly, it falls short of its incredible potential.
You control Dawn, a silent hero that looks over Didi, a girl who must come to terms with her broken home. Her mother works at the local cabaret, and her father has abandoned them to pursue riches--with the mob on his tail.
Set in a heavily stylized 1920s city, Contrast looks (and sounds) unlike most games out there. Other than Didi, NPCs are only visible to the player by the shadows they cast, creating some alluring cinematic moments. With the sounds of jazz permeating the soundtrack, Contrast makes good on creating an enticing vaudeville world to explore.
Unfortunately, it doesn't take long to discover there isn't much depth to the world. It may look pretty, but there is nothing to do other than find the odd collectible here and there. Like Dawn, the world is there for show--but has nothing to say.
The gameplay has some promise, and some of the puzzles have you manipulating light sources in interesting ways. However, the tail end of the game relies too heavily on box-pushing puzzles that the entire play on light-and-dark gets lost. Perhaps the most criminal mistake of Contrast is that it's incredibly buggy. You'll repeatedly get stuck in environments and will have to restart the game just to redo puzzles where a necessary box has glitched out of the world.
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Contrast is a short adventure, taking about two to three hours to complete the game's three chapters. Given its feature film length, one can't help but wonder if the game would've been better served in that format. While there are some interesting puzzles, the overall lack of polish makes it more frustrating than fun to play through. Like the shadows that inspire the game, Contrast just doesn't have much substance.