Combining unique visuals, a vanguard concept, and atmosphere aplenty, Contrast is full of promise with its 3D platforming shifting to a 2D shadow world. Walking on the shadows projected onto walls as the real world ebbs and flows makes for an appealing premise. Unfortunately, the end product isn’t as appetizing as the pretty picture Contrast paints. Faulty and boring puzzles drag down a promising premise and an intriguing story.
You play as an acrobat, Dawn, who possesses the power to shift between the real world and a two-dimensional shadow world. Her goal is simple: Navigate the real world by manipulating light sources and objects to provide her a landscape to solve puzzles in the shadow world. While the aforementioned basics are introduced early, advanced puzzle-solving tactics, like taking objects with you into the shadow realm, don't appear until later on. Most of the early puzzles are simply droll and require fighting the controls more than requiring actual thought.
Contrast peaks near the end when all of its different elements, like moving lights and transforming objects between worlds, come together as a whole to create inspiring, well-constructed challenges. Unfortunately, the advanced puzzles don’t always work as planned. I cheated my way through two of them by placing boxes where they shouldn’t go (due to shoddy collision detection). Even when doing the right thing, I lost required objects and had to load a checkpoint, losing three puzzles’ worth of progress. This wasn’t true for every puzzle, though with the relatively short experience, these issues stand out.
While I expected the puzzles to be Contrast’s calling card, it ended up being the imaginative world and story that drew me in. The story follows a young girl named Didi and her imaginary friend, Dawn (who players control) through an early 20th century jazz club, circus, and lighthouse in a quest to mend a broken relationship. Exploring this wondrous world where shadows let you catapult to new heights while having such a heavy, realistic plight on your shoulders is an interesting dynamic. Unfortunately, despite being full of character and film noir inspiration, Contrast ends up asking a whole lot more questions than it answers, especially towards the end of the story. Near the end of the last act, the focus turns from Didi’s plight to concepts about Dawn and the shadow world. The questions are intriguing ones, but aside from some hints introduced in collectible items, they feel more than a little undercooked.
The controls don’t help, either, as I found myself jumping from the shadow world to a swift death in the real world because the shift from 2D to 3D changes the orientation of your movement. At least there’s not much of a penalty for death or failure; your position reloads quickly upon death and you’re dumped back to the real world if your shadow self dies.
That's not to say that there aren't well-implemented ideas, as waltzing across the shadows of carousels and cabaret singers is intriguing, and the end-game begins to catch up to the promise of the concept. If the entire game were full of complex, thought-provoking puzzles, I would have been much happier with Dawn's adventures. As it stands, Contrast is simply a shadow of what it should be; the ideas are there, but the unsound execution hurts the immersion of such a thrilling world.