Contradiction review: picking up the pieces

Game Info
Box Art N/A
Platform Win, Mac
Publisher N/A
Developer Pneuma Films
Release Date Jul 10, 2015

I was assigned (OK, I demanded) to review Contradiction because I've got a not-so-secret passion for full-motion video (FMV) games, something that I've always felt a little ashamed of. Recently, I've been able to hold my head a little higher thanks to the beautiful Her Story, and I'm happy to say that trend has continued with Contradiction, a new mystery game that plays on the strength of full-motion video without falling into easy traps.

In Contradiction you play as Fredrick Jenks, an inspector who has one night in the village of Edenton to prove that PhD student Kate Vine did not commit suicide but was, in fact, murdered. With nothing more than the testimony of some not-always-helpful locals and a handful of clues, Jenks has to catch a killer and reveal Edenton's seedy underbelly.

Contradiction strips away all but the most basic of mechanics

The most important reason that Contradiction works as an FMV game is that it strips away all but the most basic of mechanics. As its title suggests, the core of the game is listening to testimony from locals, archiving their answers in a simple menu and then finding the statements that conflict. It's not unlike the Ace Attorney series, and it's a fine fit for the limited control provided by FMV.

contradiction review screen 1

A lie being revealed usually leads to new information — information that Jenks can then ask around about, all while searching for more contradictions and furthering the story. You can occasionally search the world for clues to put into your bare-bones inventory, but it's always supplementary to the core mechanic of looking for lies.

While there are a few glaringly obvious slip-ups, some of the contradictions take a bit of thinking to unearth. Catching these lies (especially with some of the shadier characters) is hugely satisfying.

Nothing requires split-second timing, which (like Her Story) makes it a great experience for two or more people playing collaboratively. My wife and I had a great time ferreting out the lies and trading theories about what was really going on with Atlas, a shadowy "business training course" at the core of the story. It's an excellent little mystery with a solution neither of us saw coming, but felt really appropriate in hindsight.

Of course, no mystery is fun if it's not well-told, and that's the other core virtue of Contradiction: It treats the fact that it's an interactive movie as a strength to be capitalized on rather than a handicap to be overcome.

contradiction review screen kate portrait

FMV games are notorious for bad acting, but Contradiction falls closer to a schmaltzy performance style, which (as any fan of soap operas will tell you) can be a hoot and (as soap opera performers will tell you) isn't as easy as it looks.

Rupert Booth gives a whimsically idiosyncratic performance as Jenks and Anarosa De Eizaguirre Butler is hypnotically reserved as Kate's friend Emma. But my personal favorites are Paul and Ryan Rand, the father-and-son team behind the curtain at Atlas (yes, the objectivism references are hilariously on the nose). Paul Darrow and John Guilor could have phoned in cookie-cutter bad guys, but instead lavish us with such deliciously campy and smarmy villains I had to replay a few responses because I was laughing too hard.

Laughing with them, mind you, not laughing at them, a distinction too frequently lost in the "V" bit of FMV.

Contradiction also uses its presentation to give a wonderful sense of place. It was filmed in a small village in Cheshire County, U.K., and there's something transporting about walking the streets as night falls that would be almost impossible for a virtual environment to capture. That effect is heightened by a seeping, atmospheric score by Tim Follin, whose career as a game soundtrack composer dates all the way back to the ZX Spectrum days.

If I struggled with anything during my time with Contradiction, it was with its interface, which has bizarrely omitted mouse control in favor of keyboard or controller. I was able to adjust pretty quickly — the game never requires any level of control precision — but it's more hassle than it should be navigating menus and remembering, for example, that the "A" key opens the menu. (UPDATE: Contradiction has now been updated with mouse controls and it makes for a much more pleasant experience.)

It also would have been nice if the game would have provided a simpler way of filtering through evidence, as the single row of testimony and items can get pretty unwieldy towards the end of the game. (I played on Mac, mind you, so these issues may be ameliorated on the iPad.)

Wrap Up:

Contradiction rebuilds the FMV genre in a smart, sensible way

Contradiction would be really enjoyable on its own, but for an FMV fan like myself, it's impossible to separate it from the delight at seeing a much-maligned genre beginning to find its place. Developers like Follin have taken something that, let's be honest, never worked that well to begin with, out to the woodshed, dismantled it and reassembled its core components into something that really makes sense.

Contradiction was reviewed using a final "retail" downloadable build for Mac purchased by Polygon staff. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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