“Knights Contract” offers neat concept that falls short
Released on Feb. 22, 2011
PS3, Xbox 360
“Knights Contract” is an action-packed hack-and-slash game set in 17th-century Europe that follows the epic tale of an immortal executioner and the resurrected witch he is bound to protect.
The notorious Black Death is swiftly skittering throughout medieval Europe, leaving piles of unattended corpses in its wake. A homunculi witch, Gretchen, has taken it upon herself to rid the globe of the infestation originally spread by rats and poor sanitary conditions; however, as villages swiftly begin to burn alive anyone deemed to be a devil inspiring magi, Gretchen encounters former allies who seek revenge on mankind for their murder by furthering the deadly plague.
The game starts with the eternal Heinrich walking into a chaotic scene of zombies slaughtering fleeing villagers. Heinrich begins to combat the reanimated corpses with a decorative scythe nearly larger than the executioner himself. A cut scene soon initiates and a zombie decapitates Heinrich. Within seconds he’s again standing and obliterates the ensuing horde of the undead.
“Knights Contract” proposes the very interesting concept of immortality in a hack-and-slash and implements it fairly well.
Regardless of the amount of damage Heinrich absorbs he won’t perish; conversely, he will become incapacitated by dismemberment or explosion, only to emerge from clouds of thunderous darkness after button-mashing “A.”
However, in order for Heinrich’s resurrection to commence, Gretchen must sacrifice her life force to revive him. If she dies, it’s game over.
The combat feature is pretty generic for an action game. Four buttons control all of Heinrich’s attacks, and by using the right trigger Gretchen’s abilities are activated.
“Knights Contract” also includes special execution moves that are activated with hot action keys during combat. If Gretchen snares a fiery hound with magic, a flashing prompt will appear at the bottom of the screen to press “B” at a particular moment causing Heinrich to lunge into the air and dismember his enemy with a single blow.
Although this addition certainly isn’t new for the genre, these executions require a certain amount of skill and are done in such a brutally unique way it is satisfying to complete the movement.
Boss fights are quite similar to the recently released “Castlevania: Lords of Shadow” and occur every two stages. Similar to “Castlevania,” the fights are heavily dependent on hot action keys and are pretty extensive due to the boss’s permanently regenerating health.
Using proper timing during the hot action portions is crucial; failure will cause Heinrich and Gretchen to take damage and completely refill the boss’s health bar.
While Namco Bandai Games had an intriguing idea of an originally fun slaughter adventure, the developer fell short in many vital areas.
Foremost is Gretchen. The left bumper beckons the witch toward Heinrich and must essentially be constantly held while running; otherwise, she is frustratingly slow and habitually collides into un-ascendable rock faces instead of staying in pace.
Abandoning her isn’t an option as when the distance between Heinrich and Gretchen grows too far, her screams override all other sounds and an invisible death barrier is created. Run too far away from her and it’s instant death — no button mashing resurrections this time.
The other suitable solution to Gretchen’s unbearable slowness is to have Heinrich carrying her whenever he runs. This tactic is especially useful during boss fights, because when Heinrich carries Gretchen she is healed.
The secondary annoyance is the absence of save points. The necessary tool is almost non-existent and there isn’t an auto save option.
Lastly, although a great deal of time apparently went into the game’s beautiful artwork and lush graphics, level navigation appears to have been an afterthought. The map is poorly designed, and climbable objects are not visible enough. With these combined traits, it isn’t uncommon to spend more time traversing the levels than fighting.
Although the combat is enjoyable and the game has a fairly decent plot line, “Knights Contract’s” unintelligent artificial intelligence, poor level navigation and lack of continuation options severely damper the otherwise positive experience.
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