This Room Looks Familiar
HIGH Ripping through Rapunzel with Maar's Lance.
LOW Finding out I lose auto-save data when I turn off my console.
WTF Climbing a ladder and climbing vines is the same animation.
A rebellious witch joins forces with an immortal executioner to stop her sisters from taking revenge on humanity for their own executions centuries ago... a unique idea, for sure. In an industry dominated by sequels, new ideas always excite me, and I do my best to give them fair attention. It's a huge risk to make a game entirely about escorting someone, and this game isn't shy of doing so. Knights Contract deserves a great deal of credit for finding a way to make itself stand out from the crowd.
Despite its creativity, Knights Contract is an absolute mess. With the game being entirely an escort mission, it seems the most important aspect to focus on, even before the combat, would be the artificial intelligence of the person being escorted. While Trent's review indicates that he didn't have much of an issue with how Gretchen handled herself, I found the AI to be absolutely horrendous, bordering on non-existent. The witch, Gretchen, has no issue standing still in lava as her health drains to nothing, which is an especially big problem considering the fact that this game has a lava obsession. It'd be one thing if the executioner (Heinrich) could tell her to hide when things got rough like in Resident Evil 4, but instead I had to endure watching this brain-dead girl burn to death, get choked to death, or fall to her death from beginning to end.
Picking up Gretchen is a good way to keep her out of trouble, but this is undermined by the player losing the ability to dodge roll, attack, or use witchcraft. It's a shame Gretchen couldn't just piggy back on Heinrich instead, leaving his arms free for some slicing and dicing. Instead, I just found myself running in circles with her, hoping I didn't get knocked off a cliff.
The immortality mechanic had great potential, but it doesn't change the game much. Heinrich still needs to avoid incoming attacks like the plague, or else he'll be forced to lie on the ground for ten long seconds while Gretchen is forced to fend for herself. If anything, it improves combat, since it allows the player to take a very aggressive approach. It's just a shame the mechanic is also the reason there's a witch that needs escorting in the first place.
To give the game some credit, the types of witchcraft the player can use during combat can be very enjoyable to use. They can end battles quickly, and have a balanced amount of incremental effectiveness as they get leveled up. The final version of Maar's Lance is a powerful electric lance that bounces between enemies and can finish off bosses in no time. If the actual hacking and slashing of combat were more varied and enjoyable, it might have actually made the combat great. Unfortunately, since the stale and shallow hacking and slashing is so prominent in Knights Contract, the cool witchcraft spells don't get to shine as much as they deserve to.
One of the things that drew me to Knights Contract in the first place was the clear focus on telling a story about two people, and only two people, going on a journey together. With a story that doesn't have to focus on pointless side characters, building a strong connection between Heinrich and Gretchen seems like it would've been a natural progression of the story, but apparently the writers disagreed. Whenever there was a scene where something emotional happened to one of the characters, I really thought we'd see a bond form between them. Instead, these scenes almost always immediately ended with Gretchen saying something along the lines of “There's no time to waste. We need to keep moving.” Between Gretchen's frigid personality and Heinrich's Master Chief-esque blankness, I have no idea why the writers thought anyone would care about them.
If story and combat were the only places to find issues in Knights Contract, it could have gotten away with it due to the enjoyable witchcraft and unique concept. That's not the case, however, as the game is also poisoned with levels that are pretty much impossible to not get lost in. They love to loop back to earlier parts of the area for no reason other than to confuse the player. Unlike Trent, I felt that the environments looked rather bland, with repetitive rock and building formations that didn't grab my attention in the slightest. Perhaps I've been spoiled by Uncharted 2, but the environments just felt barren to me, and it didn't help that they stayed the same for long stretches of time. There's little in the way of puzzles or platforming, you simply run from one room to the next. The only area that had a cool look was Rapunzel's castle, simply because it was covered in massive strands of hair.
There's a point about halfway through the game that Heinrich utters the line “You've got a lot of nerve... but you've got a lot of heart.” I like this line because to a degree, it expresses how I feel about this game. For the developers to have the nerve to release a game with these completely stupid design decisions is pretty bewildering to me. Even so, the boldness of the concept combined with the creative and overall great ending made me somewhat warm to the game as an actual attempt at doing something new, rather than a soulless cash-in that I've come to expect from modern gaming.
There's a laundry list of additional problems that could be talked about, but Trent summed the rest of them up well in his review, particularly the tedious boss fights. If the game had been half as long, had no QTEs, let the player use fully-upgraded witchcraft from the start, given Gretchen a braincell or two, and gotten actual writers to handle key story moments, it could have been so much more. As it stands, Knights Contract isn't worth anyone's time.
—by Eric Bowman
Disclosures: This game was obtained via rental and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately 27 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 times).
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: Subtitles are available for both cut-scenes and general speaking. I noticed a couple typos in the subtitles, but nothing serious. The lack of an audio indicator of the QTEs could make them more annoying, but I used a QTE guide because they were tough even with the audio indicator, so you might as well do the same from the start.