Note: Since time of writing, the game has been updated and ported to PC. This review is based on the original iOS release. For later versions with subtitles added, add an additional half-star rating to the current score.
PhD student Kate Vine is dead, drowned in a local lake. Given her history of alcohol abuse and depression, the death appears to be either suicide or an unfortunate accident whilst drunk. But some unexplained pieces of evidence mean the possibility of murder cannot just be dismissed. Detective Inspector Jenks has been despatched to the village of Edenton to find out if there is more to the death than it seems. Arriving at 5:00pm, Jenks has just one night to investigate the matter before the case is closed. As he interviews Kate’s friends and acquaintances, odd discrepancies indicate there is more going on here, raising important questions that need to be answered. The intriguing mystery posed by Tim Follin’s Contradiction weaves an interesting FMV tale with many fine performances, though some hammy acting from the lead and a linear plot that doesn’t quite pay off hold it back.
This game is presented as an interactive movie. A short prologue video gives some background and introduces the characters with known associations to Kate (and hence of interest to the investigation). Once that has finished, the player is dropped into the centre of the village beside the pub. Each location is depicted in a high-resolution video still, taking up the majority of the screen, with large arrows superimposed on it to indicate available exits. These exits are also listed in a menu in the bottom-left of the screen with descriptions of where they lead. Either of these can be used to access the neighbouring locations. Alongside those is a single sentence detailing your last action, plus buttons allowing you to exit the game, open the map and get a hint. A small notebook icon near the top of the screen allows you to access information Jenks has recorded over the course of his investigations, while a bar at the top of the screen shows the current hour (advancing as you proceed through the story), the name of your current location and a percentage progress counter.
Most major locations generally only have one view associated with them, such as the front of the village hall, the greenhouses behind a farmhouse, and the grand manor house past the woods. Linking locations, such as the junctions on the main pathway through a forest, present different views depending on your direction of travel. Moving from place to place results in a brief transitional video followed by the new still. Those wishing to move faster can open up the map, which allows you to travel immediately to most external locations in the village. Whilst you cannot enter some buildings until later in the game, all the map locations are available from the outset.
Interaction with the environment is extremely limited. When there is an item of interest available, a magnifying glass icon appears to make you aware of its presence. Tapping that makes Jenks look around, collecting any item of interest automatically. Whilst this means the game has no pixel hunting, it also left me feeling divorced from the investigative action. The game does not have an inventory as such, as collected items are simply added to the notebook along with the information Jenks has recorded. Most collected objects become topics for questioning, but a few practical items such as keys can be used in the environment as well. To do this you simply access the notebook in the current scene, select the item and tap a hand icon in its description. If the item can be used at that location, Jenks will again undertake the action automatically without you specifying how to use the item.
That may sound overly restrictive, but the meat of Contradiction revolves around interviewing the inhabitants of the village. At the start of the game you only have two subjects to discuss with others: Kate’s death and the fact that her driving licence was found nearby. There are also only two people from your initial interviewee list available, a student couple who were friends with Kate. This allows you to ease into the interview process without feeling overwhelmed by too many options at first. Interviews are initiated simply by visiting characters in their respective locations, as noted in the exit descriptions, opening up an interview overlay that lets you question them on events. The top half of this display consists of a scrollable list of subjects available for discussion, alongside a picture and brief description of the currently selected topic. Most of the images are photos of the actual item or person, though a handful of more abstract subjects are covered by hand-drawn illustrations. The bottom half of the interview screen includes notes on what the present respondent has said on a subject and a box for comparing statements.
When you select a subject to talk about, a live-action video plays of the discussion between Jenks and the interviewee. These have been made with a high-quality standard throughout, with clear, crisp audio. The performances are generally excellent as well, from the laid-back demeanour of recreational drug user James to the dismissive arrogance of business course leader Paul Rand. The latter is played by Paul Darrow, a well-established actor in the UK, so the quality of his performance is not surprising, but most of the cast stand up well in comparison. Rather importantly, the actors all speak clearly, which is vital as no subtitles are provided for any dialogue. All videos are replayable, however, so it is possible to review any conversation details you may have missed first time around. Even so, this seems an odd omission for a game made for portable devices. When playing on the move, you can often be in places with significant background noise, and the lack of subtitles can make the game unplayable in such environments.
There is one performance I found a bit hammy in places, and unfortunately it’s from Detective Inspector Jenks. Especially when asking about objects, he can put questions in an overly dramatic manner, and he often adopts a sly expression when asking questions which I would expect to unnerve his subjects rather than encourage them to talk to him. But by far the worst is when he does spot a discrepancy in someone’s testimony. His reaction to this is often akin to the glee of a small boy having caught his parents doing something that they have told him only bad people do. It would be unfair to say that every conversation was like this, and his overenthusiastic demeanour could potentially be considered a character trait. Were it any other character it likely wouldn’t be a problem, but from the player character it became a little wearing over time. Perhaps this explains why Jenks has been sent to look for a murderer on his own, with no means of calling backup.
For each subject of conversation, the major points of an interviewee’s testimony are summarised and recorded as a series of single-sentence statements. Whilst in an interview, you can review all the statements by that particular individual on any subject. Accessing the notebook outside of an interview allows you to review all statements on that topic. As indicated by the game’s title, the key to progress is to find contradictions. To do this you select a single statement and add it to the contradiction box in the interview screen. You then select a second statement that you believe disagrees with this. If you have chosen correctly, both statements light up green and you are rewarded with a video of Jenks challenging the discrepancy. This opens up new avenues of investigation, either by advancing the game clock or providing new matters for discussion. If you have not found a contradiction, the two statements simply fade to grey, then automatically deselect with no further consequences.
Whilst catching people out is satisfying, there is only one contradiction to be found at any given point in the game. This not only feels unnatural, it can also bring the game to a dead stop if the current one eludes you. At the start, when you have little information and few suspects, locating the contradiction does not require much review of the facts. As you progress and your notes become more voluminous, this becomes harder and harder. Whilst interviewing everybody on every subject means you will often have something to do, this really only adds to the issue by expanding the list of irrelevant information. If you’re having trouble pinpointing the current contradiction, the hint button is nearly useless in aiding you, often simply saying “someone is lying.” A second in-game hint system, phoning your boss from a call box in the centre of the village, is of limited use as the attempt often rings unanswered. In the end, I found myself briefly resorting to the hint system on the game's website. This confirmed my suspicions about the game’s linearity, with single line hints provided for each percentage complete figure.
Early on you hear about the Atlas business course, and the extreme methods employed by it. As Kate was a student in this course, and was there the night of her death, this forms the central part of the story. All the locals have views on the course, though there is a wide variety of opinion across the populace on the subject. A wealth of background detail builds up around this issue, including the closure of a previous incarnation of the course, and some acts of vandalism. But the information comes up naturally from conversations, without feeling like exposition. This builds into a satisfying and intriguing overall story as you uncover the secrets of the locals. Unfortunately, the ending does not quite deliver the payoff on this story that I expected. Many more questions are raised over the course of your investigation than are answered by the finale. Indeed, the closing video heavily implies that many of the mysteries have deliberately been held over to a future instalment. Whilst this does have the effect of piquing my interest in further episodes, I felt rather cheated by this reveal.
Despite its rather limited gameplay mechanics, overall I found Contradiction a pleasant game to play. There is no doubt that the videos have high production values, in both the quality of the filming and the cast involved. The story, especially involving the morally ambiguous Atlas course, is fascinating to follow, and will no doubt continue to prove enthralling in future episodes. The lack of payoff in this episode is frustrating however, and resolving more here would have made completing the game more satisfying. The automatic note-taking is a boon for a mobile device, but the lack of subtitles is a definite issue when playing on the go. At about five hours of gameplay it is longer than most non-interactive movies and sold for a reasonable price. Whilst the protagonist can prove over-excitable at times, fans of mystery games and FMV adventures should find this case worth investigating.