iPad owners, take note.
As the title should indicate, this is a review for the iPad version of Contradiction: Spot the Liar and is not indicative of the PC version.
I'm a big fan of hammy performances and movies. I'm that die-hard Bruce Campbell fan who has watched Army of Darkness more times than I care to count, has Brisco County, Jr. on DVD, and sat through every episode of Jack of All Trades. I'm fond of Syfy's absurd films. I've watched as much MST3K as I can find legally. I'm pretty much that nerd.
It should come as some sort of surprise then that I'm not overly fond of FMV games. During the nineties, FMV games often amounted to all flash and no substance, especially when compared to their much better brethren, the tried-and-true point and clicker. I tried to like the genre. Certain aspects certainly appealed to me - the acting in stuff like MTV's Club Dead and Police Quest SWAT was deliciously bad, and the often wildly nonsensical plots and locales certainly had charm. But FMV adventure games often times had frustrating barriers, particularly the inevitable failure conditions when you didn't have X item at Y time.
Modern FMV games like Lococycle or Roundabout had the right spirit, but lacked solid gameplay mechanics to tie the whole thing together. It seemed like the resurgence might not lead to much until the launch of two remarkably interesting games in the genre - Her Story and Contradiction.
Contradiction isn't going to appeal to a wide market, but it really doesn't have to. This is a game targeted towards a very specific audience, the sort of gamer who - like me - wants something tongue in cheek but with a genuine amount of intrigue to help back up the ham. This feels very much like what it is - a small darling project, crafted with a lot of love and a shoestring budget. And holy crap, does it ever work.
On its own, the delightfully over-the-top acting of Contradiction might make this a budget purchase, something of a novelty to buy during a Steam or iPad sale when there's nothing else that really catces the eye. It's the sort of thing that bears watching rather than a written description. From the inexplicably moody guy staring at his fire and making fish-on-a-hook wiggles to the almost-pathologically lying Emma, each and every actor and actress wormed their way into my heart.
Combine that hammy acting with the surprising length and depth of Contradiction's story and you've got a hefty one-two punch. I finished the game in about seven hours or so, having only watched about an hour of the GB content. I'm glad to say that while the game notes the passage of time, it doesn't actually affect the gameplay at all, which should be the case for every single FMV adventure game out there. I took a lot of time visiting and revisiting every character, even if it wasn't strictly necessary, just to see all the dialogue I could. There's also a two-part hint system in place, which turned out to be handy. One is a simple button which points you in the direction of characters who might have more dialogue for you (or let you know when you need to wander the woods). The other involves calling Jenks's chief, who will help point out inconsistencies in people's testaments without giving away too much. In a future game, I'd like to hear Jenks give an audible "hmmm" or other similar cue when the player almost has the clues right but not quite. It would be a good way to let the player know that, yes, they've got the right idea.
In a big budget game, I might note the need for boom mics or better audio syncing, but here and in most FMV games, it's downright adorable and gives the game more cheesy charm. A few more audio cues for Inspector Jenks going in and out of conversations might go a long way in future games though.
The locales are nice, too, giving the whole proceedings a nice and distinctly British homey feel, which goes a long ways towards contrasting the dark going-ons of the town at large. I'm a sucker for tales like this and Broadchurch, which peel back the many layers of a quiet town to dig at the stinky rotten core. Contradiction's settings are almost characters unto themselves in that way, though you don't interact with them at all. As with the entirety of this game, I want to see more in the future.
The controls on the iPad seem far and away the better choice. All the buttons are clearly marked out in a nicely simplified way, and I never found myself having any of the issues the GB crew has had with the game on the PC. The video and sound compression seem fine - I play with a pair of iPod headphones on, and it sounds just great, aside from the mentioned audio issues within the game itself.
On the whole, Contradiction is that rarest of game whose charm isn't just a flimsy mask, but is actually equaled by its compelling, goofy story and solid mechanics (on the iPad, at least). I really hope there's a whole line of games like this, hopefully with the cast intact and maybe a few fresh cheesy faces to boot.