Let it be said that I have a distinct reverence for the FMV era of gaming, and not in an ironic sense for the most part. Granted, the Night Trap theme song is really the only worthwhile part of that particular game, but the genre as a whole exists as this curious relic, one of the many times when the industry got ahead of itself; in such a rush to achieve photo-realism that it didn’t bother to wait for technology to catch up. What resulted were barely interactive games that were really nothing but a series of grainy videos playing in a window the size of a postage stamp.
As with many cases of the industry overreaching, these things tend to go in cycles, just like VR or motion controls, we keep trying until we get it right. FMV took an odd turn, though, settling in its rightful place as an accent to the experience, as opposed to the main draw. Nowadays we mostly see it used in trailers and intro cut-scenes, comfortable in the fact that we’ve now reached a point where we can render worlds realistically enough on our own. When it is used in a gameplay context, like in Her Story, there is still that disconnect, actively knowing that you’re manipulating the world in spite of the passive nature of video.
Contradiction exists almost in defiance of that, feeling as if it would fit right at home on a laserdisc, but moving forward with an enthusiasm that makes it easy forget the novelty of its live-action antics. The usage of FMV quickly feels less like a gimmick than a conscious aesthetic choice, though the performances within are clearly coming from a place of unspoken self-awareness. That’s the key, I think. Everyone in Contradiction knows what they’re in, but at no point is there an off glance or wink at the camera, even when Detective Jinks is eccentrically throwing up devil horns at everyone in the neighborhood. There’s a genuine quality there that’s impossible to manufacture, a feeling that everyone involved was trying to make the best of it they could, even if restricted by budget or logistics. It’s fun.
The only real upsetting thing about the whole experience is perhaps the very sudden way that it ends, causing one to wonder if there’s more to offer from this odd little town in the future. Part of me fears that it could go disastrously, similar to the sequel of a blockbuster comedy that simply tries to retrace all of the same beats from its predecessor and failing miserably, but Contradiction has a way of inspiring hope, not only that they could get it right again, but that there is still value in once-discarded aspects of game design without having to resort to retro worship or overwrought parody.
Contradiction isn’t a FMV game. It’s a game about murder in a quaint village that just happens to use FMV to tell its story, one that you find yourself invested in despite your initial urge to treat it with a derisive sneer.
Also, it’s got Paul Darrow. And he’s awesome.