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Sunday 25 September 2016

Contradiction - the All-Video Murder Mystery

Here’s another great adventure game that should be of interest to retro-forteans everywhere. Steam has it listed as “Contradiction: Spot the Liar” – which almost put me off buying it, because I assumed it was all about politicians. But the official logo says “Contradiction: the All-Video Murder Mystery Adventure”, which sounds much more promising! It’s not an old game (it only came out last year), but it has a nice retro feel – a cosy, puzzle-style detective story set in a small English village. And there’s plenty of fortean stuff going on in the background, as I’ll explain later (no spoilers – I promise).

Contradiction is an unusual sort of game, certainly in comparison to other recent adventure games I’ve played. Generally I hate cut-scenes and dialogue, because they slow things down and hardly ever tell you anything you need to know to solve the puzzles. Of course, they’re important if you want to follow the plot – but in most adventure games the plot is about as sophisticated as a Saturday-morning cartoon. Contradiction is completely different. It’s at least 90% cut-scenes and dialogue – but you have to pay close attention to them, because the whole point is to spot contradictions in the various characters’ testimony. And the plot is absolutely first-rate – it would be worth watching even if there wasn’t a game to play.

Another thing that makes Contradiction such a pleasure to play is its seamlessness. Perhaps it’s my computer, but in most games of this type I’m used to sitting through long pauses while the next scene loads (another recent detective mystery, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments, was almost ruined for me by that sort of thing). But there’s none of that in Contradiction – everything runs as smoothly as if you were watching a film on TV. That’s true of the professionalism of the video-making too, with things like lighting and camera angles, and the authentic country village locations. And the acting is perfect for the context, too.

The most famous actor in Contradiction – for people of my age-group, anyway – is Paul Darrow (top left of the screenshots above). He played Avon in Blake’s 7 – which was a brilliant series, even if everyone wasn’t able to appreciate it. People who missed the point often criticized it for “ham acting” – but that style of acting was absolutely essential to match the over-the-top, space-operatic plots. And Contradiction needs exactly the same kind of calculated, deliberate ham acting – not because it’s a space opera, but because it’s a video game. That’s particularly noticeable with the protagonist, Detective Inspector Jenks (played by Rupert Booth, top right). He had to record the words “And what do you know about this?” (and sundry variations thereof) literally dozens of times, in different settings and with reference to different objects. And you can tell he enjoyed every minute of it!

The most fortean character in the game is James Wilson, played by Stephen Mosley (bottom left). In fact, he comes across as pretty much the archetypal Fortean Times reader. A former student of plant science, he now ekes out a meagre living selling scrying mirrors and specialist herbal tea (you know the kind – made with ingredients like Salvia Divinorum and poppy pods). James is convinced the government is spying on him, and that anyone with a lot of power and/or money must be a practicing Satanist. All in all, James is the most normal and likeable person in the village.

At the opposite extreme – and much more interesting – is Ryan Rand, played by John Guilor (bottom right). The son of Paul Darrow’s character, Ryan is a posh millionaire who runs an unorthodox training course for business executives. Surprisingly, there’s a fortean element here too. Ryan’s gimmick is to mix the usual management bullshit-bingo with a heavy dose of New Age nonsense. There’s trance-like meditation and doll-burning, triple goddesses and third eyes, and role-playing exercises that border on pagan rituals. The ultimate aim of the training course is to transform ordinary people into ruthless and ambitious business leaders. And Ryan delivers it all with such over-the-top sincerity you end up believing it might actually work! Ryan Rand has to be one of the greatest video game characters of all time – it’s worth playing Contradiction just for his scenes alone.

But I’m left with a nagging doubt. I can’t help thinking that if they’d put all the same ideas on a DVD, and marketed it as a straight management training video, they would have made a lot more money than they’ll ever get from this game!


Peni R. Griffin said...

I dunno, nobody actually watches training videos and lots of people play games. Gaming is a much more mainstream activity, with much more money at stake, than most people seem to grasp.

Andrew May said...

Thanks Peni. I know really big games make huge amounts of money, but I didn't think there was that much profit in this sort of "cerebral" adventure games, particularly when (as in this case) they obviously cost a lot to make. And although I phrased it rather sloppily, I wasn't really thinking of consumer DVDs for training, but the sort of "computer based training" that big corporations buy licenses for and then inflict on all their staff. I don't know how much money there is in that, though - you're probably right that the game was the best way to go!