One of the greatest things about indie titles is how much they push games as art: Independent studios are not restricted by needing to follow industry trends to make a ton of money and are thus free to be expressive, artistic, and emotional.
Contrast is one of those artistic indie games that we are lucky enough to have coming to the PlayStation 4. The styling and the gameplay aren’t going to be for everyone, but under the surface Contrast tells a much deeper and darker story. However, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk gameplay first.
The concept of the gameplay is a simple one in that this is a puzzle platformer. You play as a woman who has the ability to turn into a shadow on walls and utilize shadows in the environment to get further and complete puzzles. As simple as that may seem, some of the puzzles encountered in my preview were quite clever and took some thought to get through. One involved lighting a merry-go-round to use the moving shadows to reach a higher ledge, which required some tricky platforming too. The lighting and real time shadows look beautiful and perfectly accent the bizarre visuals that are vaguely reminiscent of a noire Tim Burton style.
The market for people who want to play a game as an oddly thin and disproportionate shadow woman is probably not that large, so this is where the underlying story comes in. This woman is actually an imaginary friend of a little girl who is the true star of the game. The shadow woman cannot see real people aside from the little girl, but she can see their shadows and hear them speak. One puzzle involves lighting a stage containing musicians that you cannot see, but using their shadows to traverse to the upper levels of the theater. In shadow, through the eyes of the imaginary woman, we are shown a dark story about the little girl’s family containing abuse, sexual assault and a variety of other mature topics that would normally be difficult to artistically and tactfully have in a narrative.
Contrast is going to be a title to watch as we journey into the next gen. I can’t help but think of the dark and heavy story behind games like Papo y Yo when thinking about this game and its underlying narrative. As a step towards games becoming an art form for emotional outlets of very mature themes, Contrast is making shadowy leaps forward, helping show that video games don’t need to be all Call of Duty and excessive gratuitous violence. If games like Contrast and Outlast are the caliber of indie titles that we are going to get early on in the PlayStation 4 lifecycle, then I can’t wait to see what the future holds.