Contradiction (+ Her Story Bonus Review)

Contradiction: The All-Video Murder Mystery Adventure is, as the title suggests, a murder mystery game where all scenes are done in full-motion video (FMV) and the core gameplay element involves finding contradictions while interrogating witnesses. You play as Detective Inspector Frederick Jenks, who is investigating the death of Kate Vine, a PhD student in the small village of Edenton. While the large amounts of alcohol in Kate's system imply that it may have simply been a suicide or accident, there are a few elements that suggest foul play may have been involved. Moreover, much of the town seems controlled by Atlas, a local business course that may be a front for something much more sinister...

When I first finished playing Contradiction, I was lukewarm towards it. When I initially began writing this review, I said that I would describe pretty much every element of the game as "good, not perfect, with flaws that are there but not major." But the more time has passed, the more problematic I have come to regard the game and the less I find I like it. Contradiction is a game without a... vertebrae. I can't say it doesn't have a heart or soul, because it does. What it's missing is something to keep it straight and sturdy; a plot. But because it doesn't have one, it ends up weak, mushy, and forgettable.

The gameplay of Contradiction involves wandering around Edenton, interrogating witnesses, and finding contradictions. You can only ask witnesses about the pieces of evidence you have, which you obtain from searching locations and talking to people. If there is a piece of evidence in a location, a large magnifying glass icon will appear for you to click, so there is absolutely no pixel hunting. When you ask a witness about a piece of evidence, you will get to watch a short video of Jenks questioning the witness about the item. The main points of the witness's response will be recorded. You must then find contradictions by picking two contradicting points.

A few technical notes about this system. First, you can only find contradictions between statements made by the same person. No matter how clearly Witness A contradicts Witness B, you cannot bring it up. Second, you can only talk by asking about evidence or finding a contradiction. No matter how much you may want more information about a certain thing, you cannot simply ask. Finally, the game will only accept the contradictions that it thinks is right. While there is absolutely no penalty for wrong guesses, a small acknowledgment of contradictions that are there but don't mean anything would have been appreciated.

Now that I've explained the basic gameplay mechanics (and a couple of minor grievances), I will discuss exactly what I found so problematic about Contradiction. To begin with, the plot is not very good. At least, not as a murder mystery. The setting and atmosphere are fantastic, but we get so caught up in the truth behind Atlas, we end up barely investigating Kate's death. Kate's death feels like a giant mystery for most of the game, but only because we have so little information about it, rather than because there is a concrete problem to be solved.

This ties into what I believe to be the biggest flaw of the game: the interplay between the plot and contradictions. Or rather, the lack thereof. I'm not sure how much Contradiction was inspired by Ace Attorney (and/or Danganronpa), but it's impossible to avoid comparison, and Contradiction just doesn't measure up. Ace Attorney is fun. The core gameplay of Ace Attorney is finding contradictions. But the reason Ace Attorney is fun isn't because it's about finding contradictions; Ace Attorney is fun because it's about solving a mystery, which you do by finding contradictions. The core gameplay of Contradiction is finding contradictions. But it's also about finding contradictions, rather than solving a mystery. The contradictions in Contradiction might give you new evidence and information, but they're related to disjointed tangential issues, rather than building upon each other to reveal the mystery. Rather than sequentially deducing the solution over the course of the game, the answer is handed to you at the last minute when certain witnesses suddenly decide to give you vital testimony they've been withholding the entire game for no stated reason.

This isn't to say that the game isn't fun. It's just not as fun as a game that's about actually solving a mystery. While Ace Attorney feels like an intricately crafted puzzle box with clever, interconnected mechanisms to open, Contradiction feels like a set of disconnected riddles. Each individual riddle is enjoyable, but they don't form an engaging, cohesive whole.

The contradictions, as individual puzzles, were for the most part okay. There were a couple of contradictions that were a bit wonky for one reason or another, but they were the exception, not the rule. While there were some subtle contradictions, there were also contradictory statements that were made right after another. I understand it's the nature of the game and I'm not sure what could be changed, but it's still strange to see someone say they've never left the country and then praise their overseas vacation in their next breath.

The characters generally worked well, and had the right amount spice for the scale and scope of the game. They weren't zany and memorable like in Ace Attorney, but this is an FMV game set in modern Britain. The characters were solidly in the realm of realism that the game wanted to be in, while being interesting enough to hold my attention for how long they needed to. I thought the acting was okay, but I am the last person you probably want to ask about that. There are occasional silly moments, but I'm a fan of narm charm, so I didn't mind. The only thing that bothered me a little was how the main character makes the exact same "Gotcha!" face every time he presents an object to someone, even if he's just asking for information.

The graphics and location capture the feeling of a quaint, small English town. They definitely put a lot of thought and detail into the locations. For instance, you get a different image when entering a location from different angles. As the game goes on and it gets later into the night, they make things appear darker by applying a blue filter to the screen--but not on top of light sources. The background music and sound effects are there mostly to create atmosphere. They do that, but there aren't memorable or interesting songs.

According to Wikipedia, Tim Follins (the creator) had budget shortfalls that prevented him from making the full game he wanted to make with all of the intended plot threads. If he had had the funding, perhaps the problems I pointed out would have been solved, and we would have gotten an actual, cohesive mystery rather than a series of disjointed logic puzzles. Unfortunately, I can only judge the game I played, not the game Tim Follins intended to make. From the details and atmosphere in the game it was clear to me that a lot of passion and soul went into the game, but the end product suffered from the lack of a strong mystery to build the game around. The individual contradictions are fun to find, but don't go in expecting any sort of satisfying mystery.

...For that, play Her Story!

I initially intended to review things just after I finished playing them, but I wanted to write a small review of Her Story here even though I played it a bit ago, since it's also an FMV murder mystery game that I thought was pretty cool and can use all the exposure it can get.

The structure and gameplay of Her Story is... unorthodox, to say the least. You are investigating an incident from almost two decades ago by looking at the police records of a series of seven interviews of a certain woman from that time. All the interviews were videotaped, but you can't simply watch those recordings. Instead, each of the woman's responses was saved as a different clip. You have to search for keywords, and you get the clips that have those words in them, although you can only get the 5 results at a time. So if you search the word "murder," you'll get the first 5 things the woman said that had the word "murder."

And that's it.

There's no investigation, or trial, or confrontation. There's no sequence where the game prompts you to solve the crime. You simply watch videos. Then, when you've gotten bored, or feel you've solved the mystery, or watched all the videos, you stop playing the game. And it's over.

Unlike most mystery games, which are meticulously plotted, Her Story is completely open within this structure. This open design has both positives and negatives. There's no exciting confrontation and denouement. But the feeling of satisfaction when everything clicks, and it was purely from your own work without the game leading you, is unlike any other. It also means that you might stumble on the big twists in your first couple of videos, which obviously won't result in a fulfilling experience. However, I think you're much more likely to have a good experience than a bad one.

Still, this is a game that is definitely worth checking out if you like mysteries. Just make sure you know what you're getting into, since it's easy to feel bored if you expect a regular mystery game. When I first started I was weirded out by the open structure and didn't expect much from the plot, but by the end I was incredibly impressed with the director's attention to detail and the actress's ability. Go give it a play!

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