"Look closely around you. Does this place really look like it's safe for a little girl?" As Compulsion PR lead Sam Abbott invites me to look past the veneer of 1920's European whimsy that makes up Contrast, I notice a staggering amount of small details in the environment that tell the full story: Neon signs flashing "XXX." Broken bottles bleeding booze into alleys full of discarded trash.
No, this doesn't look like a place for a little girl.
In Contrast, players assume the role of Dawn, the imaginary friend of eight year-old Didi. Dawn effortlessly transforms into a shadow on the wall, allowing silhouette puzzle platforming around the world. The puzzles I played were just challenging enough to prompt some deep thinking, but not so much as to cause frustration.
Puzzle platforming isn't the marquee feature of Contrast though. Contrast begins with Didi realizing she is all alone, and enlisting the help of imaginary friend Dawn to go look for her. The environmental details and silhouette cutscenes that followed gradually peeled away enough layers for me to realize one thing: I am playing as a little girl's coping mechanism. I don't want to give too much away, but the 20-minute demo was enough for me to get emotionally invested in what comes next.
Compulsion has crafted a fully-realized European city here that is not only pretty, but also interesting to explore. The environment is full of incidental details that elaborate on your understanding of the story. The strong performing arts influence helps create memorable cutscenes that tease the player to finding out more about what happened to Didi's mother, and ensuring her wellbeing. More than all the other games I saw at PAX, Contrast is one that I won't soon forget.
Contrast will release for PC, PlayStation 3 and 4, and Xbox 360 on November 15th.