The contempt is true to Giger’s work, but he needs more dicks
The contempt is true to Giger’s work, but he needs more dicks
Contempt is a tough game so far. It’s slow, sends you down winding mazes with little guidance, offers zero narrative comfort (at least early on), and is set in a dramatically unpleasant and grotesque world that’s clearly inspired by the works Swiss artist HR Giger. I found it unfun, painful experience. But to be honest, I think the point is discomfort. And in that, Contempt could be a successful game.
Developed by Ebb Software and released yesterday on PC and Xbox—I’m on PC—Contempt has been in development since 2014. After a failed Kickstarter campaign and a scrapped plan to release the game in two installments, it resurfaced on Kickstarter in 2017 to successfully secure its funding and is now available to play. Billed as an “atmospheric first-person horror adventure game set in a nightmarish universe of strange shapes and dark tapestries,” it also takes inspiration from Heideggeran philosophy.
I will let you, reader, deal with the philosophical angle, as that is not my specialty and I have no desire to comment on Martin Heidegger’s work or how it relates to this game. I’m approaching Contempt from the perspective of someone deeply moved by the works of HR Giger; I often appreciate art that is unfun, difficult, and, intentionally or not, abrasive. I’m not an expert on Giger’s biography or his intentions behind his work, but I do know how I reacted to his art. And with that I approach this game.
Contempt, in the five hours I spent with it, it appeals to me because it creates so much friction on the player. I’m not necessarily having a good time, but I’m still being dragged down the corridors of this creepy plodfest, more adventure game than first-person shooter, because of how profoundly Giger’s art moves me.
As a trans woman who spent most of her life closeted, I found HR Giger’s work to viscerally communicate an ambience of doomed sex, sexuality and physical forms, a general sense of unease and confusion that has resonated with my view of the world for most of my life. His paintings provide meditative spaces that are much smarter and more attuned to my sense of the world than the simplistic, goddamn utility that Hollywood has often reduced it to. That’s why I’m attracted to this game. And while Contempt isn’t for everyone (probably not for most), so far it manages to reflect what I get from Giger’s art by refusing to conform to the “AAA” expectations of games to be easy to play and understand.
No hand holding. There is no map. There is no objective marker. The HUD elements are confusing (to a fault, actually) and the puzzles take a while to wrap your head around. You can’t jump. You can’t crouch. Invisible walls are everywhere, they create Contempt feel more like a museum. The first “weapon” you get is almost useless against the early enemies, and when you finally get a firearm, it’s terribly inaccurate. This game has one of the worst cases of where-the-f***-should-I-go-now I’ve experienced in years. And yet, I want to continue playing it until the end.
Contempt manages to convey, exploit what I love about HR Giger’s work in two key ways. But he fails in the third, perhaps fatal one.
His first success comes in removing confusion and surrealism. I don’t know what he’s going to do. As a player, I feel frustrated by that. But like me, Claire, I’m thrilled to be so lost and forced into a place of ignorance.
The way it tends to play out is that you come across strange rooms and devices whose purposes are unclear. You try to activate them somehow, either using strange objects you pick up or pressing the A button, only to be frustrated when the animation plays out to no effect. Then you stomp down corridors and touch disgusting things over and over again until you finally figure out where you’re supposed to go or which piece of dirt interacts with which pulsating organelle.
This is undoubtedly boring, but I would argue that, in the spirit of Giger, this is how it should be. If this game randomly assigned words and phrases to objects and spaces around you, or otherwise made itself friendlier, it would spoil the natural flow of the bizarre crap you have to navigate. The protagonist is (so far) silent, leaving my thoughts to tell what I experience. Contempt it becomes very personal in this vacuum of character and voice.
A game that appeals to Giger so directly should be inherently surreal and confusing. However, many of these puzzles are the kind we’ve seen before in other games. What makes them work, at least for me, is what gets me there ContemptAnother key success so far: bringing the “mechanical” to life of the “biomechanical” source material. Seeing this kind of artistic style bend and weave through my manipulations conveys a sense of movement that Giger’s still works don’t usually have.
Combined, these two strengths give me a game experience similar to what I experience when I lose in Giger’s piece. If it had played more smoothly, more gently, it would have been far more Prometheus but “Brain salad surgery.” Contemptitself, is not “brain salad surgery,” “Necron IV,” or “Birth Machine“, but I think that, as a video game, it is in line with what I go to these works for.
Read more: When grossly sexual art and adventure games came together
ContemptIn my opinion, its ultimate failure has little to do with its clumsiness as a game. Of course, the protagonist walks too slowly (get used to the “sprint” hold) and you should really turn off the motion blur and increase the FoV by at least a degree or two. Also, the game suffers from a kind of stuttering that I notice more and more in Unreal Engine games. These are all valid reasons for players to turn away from this game.
But for me, its key flaw is an almost shocking lack of art design (given the source material) lack of engagement with human sexuality. I think Contempt I could learn more from the eroticism of Giger’s work. There’s certainly gory body horror here, but the watering down of its erotic motifs takes it away Contempt‘s art of feeling humanity, however warped and warped it may seem, is present in Giger.
I understand why this is probably the case. Any game that followed HR Giger’s depictions of distorted genitalia, monstrous penises and vaginas would likely land in adults-only territory. There are enough “inserts,” phallic imagery, and yawning openings to hint in the right directions, but Contempt she suffers because she didn’t go all the way.
Honestly, more penises and vulvas and body parts would make this game so much better. Imprints of Giger-esque biomechanical sexuality are present in the design of her various tunnels and ascending phallic objects, but they lack the clear details of actual human anatomy. In this one key way Contempt is almost like a radio-friendly version of an otherwise explicit song. To be fair, I don’t know if I trust a modern video game to handle such themes tastefully, but the mix of horror, confusion, and erotica is the main appeal of this art style for me, and it’s a shame to see it so, well, neutered Contempt. Raw, terrifyingly surreal eroticism is what so often attracts me to Giger, and its omission here ruins the play’s potential vitality.
Contempt not a fun game. It’s confusing and painful to play. It’s like listening Dillinger’s escape plan vice versa. But for those reasons, I’ll continue to struggle through these corridors as long as the sloppy combat doesn’t spoil the experience too much.
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