One of the games that I was most pleasantly surprised with at PAX East I stumbled upon while checking out the Logitech booth. The art style caught my attention first, so I stepped up to play. I was in an alleyway, and my objective was to get out. I walked around, moving the character up to every object I could, looking to see where I could find a button prompt. I soon found one after stumbling upon a lit up fuse box. I hit shift and I suddenly became a shadow, against the lit up fuse box. I figured it out! I must be able to travel through electrical objects . . . now I just had to find where the wire led to. I scanned the screen, looking for any indication of where the wire left the fuse box. Nothing. Defeated, I slumped my shoulders and stepped away. There was a man wearing an “Exhibitor” badge behind me, so I walked up and told him that I really liked the feel of the mouse and keyboard, but the game they put out to test was really confusing. He nodded and let out an “Ah,” before stepping up to the game and placing his hands on the controls. After a couple moments spent moving around, he turned to me. “This is a really nice keyboard,” he said, then added, “and thanks for the feedback on the game, I really appreciate it.” I had accidentally spoken to one of the developers at Compulsion Games rather than a Logitech representative. That mistake turned out to be incredibly fruitful, because I discovered that the game I was playing, Contrast, isn’t really all that difficult to understand; I am just an idiot.
Developer: Compulsion Games
Platform: PC, Others (potential)
Release Date: May 2013 (PC)
Turns out, I had missed the opening cutscene of the demo Compulsion Games brought to PAX East that explains who you are — Dawn, the imaginary friend of a girl named Didi, and what your job is — to solve the mysteries behind her troubled family — no wonder I had no idea what the hell I was doing. Any puzzle-esque game is going to seem downright impossible if you don’t have an introduction! I discovered that instead of traveling through electricity like I initially though, you shift freely in and out of shadows instead (I was a shadow on the fuse box, I just didn’t notice because I wasn’t sure what to look for). This offers a really unique platforming / puzzle dynamic in the game where you can seamlessly shift between the surreal 3D 1920s dreamscape (the art direction in the game is absolutely gorgeous, and these screenshots don’t do the game justice) and a 2D shadowscape to complete missions and explore.
After I found out that I could become a shadow, I quickly figured out how to escape the alley. I aligned myself against a wall where a shadow was being cast by boxes and a piece of wood, and I climbed up the shadow ramp and across the wall to jump over the gate preventing me from leaving the alleyway. Now it was time to find a theater named the Ghost Theater (goes with the eerie vibe the artsyle gives off) and meet up with Didi.
Once I found the theater (which was very easy to find, it was right along the street I was following), I entered and talked to Didi. You don’t have to go straight to the mission point, however. There are collectibles hidden throughout the city that can only be found by those who are able to blend the 3D and 2D platforming in the most creative ways. I was shown a way to move a light to create a block to jump on in order to discover one of the many collectibles. That means the 2D shadowscape isn’t static — it dynamically changes when you manipulate certain light sources. This means there’s probably multiple ways to accomplish tasks, provided you’re creative enough.
Back to the demo, though. Inside the theater I was tasked with finding three band members, and again I had to shift in and out of shadows to get to the multiple levels of the theater and turn on spotlights. Once the spotlights were turned on, I had to point them in the direction of the band members — this is where the developer pointed out that if I was wearing headphones, I would be able to hear the music being played louder and louder as I got warmer to the band member. It was then that I discovered the band members weren’t people like Didi — they were all shadows as well. Turns out, everyone in the game, except for Didi is a shadow. I’m not quite sure why, but I’m sure that’s one of the mysteries behind her family. After that puzzle was solved, I moved through a doorway and witnessed a cutscene of Didi’s parents (I think) arguing — but again, they were both shadows.
The next section of the demo I was tasked with retrieving a hot air balloon that was stuck on the rooftops, and this was where I learned a new power — a dash move that let me get past the next platforming area (a rotating carousel where you had to jump on top of the carousel horses and dash at the right time to not get knocked off of the horses’ poles). This is where a brilliant explanation of Dawn learning a new move is shown. Dawn is Didi’s imaginary friend, right? Well, whenever Dawn learns a new move, Didi says “You should be able to do [insert action here].” Since Didi thinks her imaginary friend can do it, her imaginary friend suddenly can. It’s so simple, but it blew my mind. I loved that the developers didn’t just say “new move unlocked!” — they actually tied it into the story seamlessly that it’s not even questioned as to why you didn’t have that at the beginning of the game. The dash itself is very simple to use — simply press the right mouse button when moving in the shadowscape, but if you’re feeling daring (and as hardcore as the developers themselves), you can shift out of the shadowscape, jump across the shadow bar that’s impassable in the 2D world, then shift back to continue running along the carousel.
A little more platforming and I was there. I untied the balloon, another quick cutscene followed, and the demo ended. It was unfortunate, because I was already attached to the game world and characters, and I wanted to keep playing. I wanted to explore this unique dreamscape that is so unlike any other game I’ve seen before. This game looks like it might be the most original game to come out on the market since Double Fine’s Psychonauts, back in 2005, and I can’t wait for it.