Knights Contract review
I wouldn't sign it
I won't beat around the bush with this one - Knights Contract is quite possibly one of the most frustrating games I've played in ages... that's still technically, well, not a piece of shit I guess... if piss poor level designs, horrendous escort missions, lag, and incessantly unforgiving quick time events are considered decent! It really is riddled with problems that prevent it from being what it should be - a good, wholesome, fun little game.
While most reviewers prefer to start by getting the crap out of the way, I prefer to start by getting the story out of the way because I like to let readers know what a game is about before diving into anything else, and the story is, by no means, crap... in fact, it's actually really interesting. You play as Heinrich, a former executioner gone travelling knight due to a curse that an innocent witch placed upon him before he executed her. A good hundred years later, he finds her in a different body (via alchemy, I might add... the alchemist wears a mash and a robe, so I assume he's a burn victim? Equivalent exchange, perhaps), and then they end up on a quest to fully kill the other witches he had executed who are taking their revenge on humanity, doing stuff that they were falsely accused of before execution... like destroying towns, and causing anarchy and chaos. After killing the witches, Gretchen - that being the witch who cursed him - will remove the curse and let him die peacefully. It might sound really cliched or whatever the new buzzword is these days, but execution (no pun intended) is just fantastic. The cutscenes manage to plod along at a reasonable pace to ensure that you get your dosage of storytelling before, after, and often during each of the 20 levels you must go through in order to lift the curse. Oh, and some other stuff is going on, but I think you guys like surprises, so I'll keep it a secret.
The graphics suck. Although the designs for the enemies and bosses are cool, creative and even menacing, they're bogged down by textures lifted straight out of the first Kingdom Hearts, colors from the first Killzone, and framerate issues galore - in other words, the dated looking visuals severely downplay otherwise inventively awesome designs, and combat has less of an impact due to times where the framerate starts to go at about... 1 frame per second by the looks of things. The cutscenes had potential to look really awesome, but they don't really. Heinrich's face looks really flat, and Gretchen almost never changes her expression - seems nitpicky, but it's the little things that bring stuff down. Overall, unimpressive graphics.
On the other end of presentation, the audio is pretty good. The soundtrack is quite an epic compilation, managing to enhance the mood of any cutscene, and make fights quite a spectacle for your ears. It's got that medieval flavor that suits the setting very well (after all, this takes place during the times of witch burnings and executions), and.. did I say it was epic? Seriously, I could listen to these songs all day. Unfortunately, the voice acting isn't quite there. Some of the actors play their parts very well, but the others seem to have the enthusiasm of Garfield - I mean, you can't blame them because of the overall quality of the game, but still, a little enthusiasm wouldn't kill them, especially since they're trying to make the GOOD side of the game even better!
At its heart, Knights Contract is a hack and slash game, and as such, you'll go through levels, slashing away at monsters while getting from Point A to Point B. As you progress, you'll gain a few upgrades to your scythe, which will make Heinrich more of a force to be reckoned with, though unlike other hack and slash games, you can't buy combos or weapons for him. In fact, those few upgrades you get via progression - that's all Heinrich gets, so I hope you like the combos you get at the beginning, because that's all you'll end up using! Then again, the combos you start off with are all you really need - it's not like you're starting with just "X-X-X" or "Y-Y"; you actually get a few combinations that'll only expand bit by bit as you get more upgrades. I mean, it's not like Lords Of Shadow where you revisit earlier levels later on when you collect the necessary upgrades; nah, just best certain bosses and you'll be fine.
But just letting you know, there are two sides to this coin, and the other half is Gretchen the witch. She can cast spells as you obtain them (don't worry, you'll get them all within the first quarter of the game - no last minute additions, folks). From a sword from beneath, to a giant clam looking hammer from above, and four other magic abilities, she has a bit of an arsenal, and I guess to be nice, we can equip four of them at a time. You open up the menu and notice "3000 souls needed" when you move the cursor down to a grey circle... so all those souls you're getting from downed enemies - yeah, those are for Gretchen. I suppose immortality prevents you from upgrading YOUR arsenal with the power of souls. Oh, and as an added bonus, if you manage to weaken the enemy enough, you can cast a spell, then press the B button and execute a finishing move. You can also try this on bosses, but you don't kill them - you just do a decent amount of damage, but it's cool beans regardless.
So far, so good? You think this game might be one worth purchasing? Think again, buddy, because that was just the objective portion of the gameplay section of the review - now for the part where I get to describe where it goes right and where it doesn't! For the most part, this game goes so deeply into the caverns of poo poo that it's amazing how this even got the okay to be retailed! For one thing, the levels are pretty badly designed! You wouldn't pick this up at first because the first 4 levels are just linear and aren't really an issue, except to people who love exploration... in that case, you'll just LOVE level 5! I mean, I love it when I constantly get lost in sewers that all look the same in an vain effort to cool down the lava around the village. I especially love when the checkpoint system resets me at what is essentially a random place! Nah, forget having checkpoints at logical points or having none whatsoever, let's just throw them wherever seems good! I'm surprised that in the boss levels, the checkpoint system actually works, in which you restart at the phase Gretchen dies on...
Yes, you read it correctly, folks... the phase GRETCHEN dies on. You may be asking "what about Heinrich"? Well, as he's immortal, he doesn't die, meaning no matter how cut up he gets, no matter how badly on fire he is, no matter how much disease plagues his body, he isn't going to die. What he IS going to do when he gets a severe enough pummelling, however, is either have some trouble moving, or be completely immobile while you molest the A button to bring him back to life. Meanwhile, the computer decides to give Gretchen a frontal lobotomy, because when Heinrich dies, her brain for the most part is switched off, and this leads to the biggest problem this game has - Gretchen is such a ditz! Seriously, she runs in front of charging enemies, she runs in the middle of a circle of monsters, and she walks into lava, not to mention she almost never casts any magic to deter enemies... and that's when Heinrich is alive. Now imagine him hacked to pieces.. she's so helpless, that it's pathetic! She's a witch! She should conjure up a spell to disintegrate the enemies, or at least stun them! But nope. That'd make the game fun. Basically, you're forced to change up your hack and slash strategy in a vain attempt to cuddle her up because she's too dumb to actually do anything useful... you can actually carry her out of danger, but just don't put her back down, or she'll probably run back to get herself killed. Even when she's at low health... did she forget that SHE isn't the immortal one? Terrible!
Now, as the game is about slaying witches that you've executed back when you were mortal, you'll inevitably encounter these witches, albeit in devilish forms, like a three headed snake, or a giant Valkyrie skeleton that's always on fire. For the most part, these fights are actually pretty fun. You get to hack them to bits and use Gretchen's magic to give them hell. While fighting off the first boss (and don't ask me what it is, I really don't know), you're having a really good time slashing and slashing, but then it runs out of health (indicated at the bottom of the screen), and then comes something we all know and hate... quick time events. Oh, god, I HATE these with a passion, and Knights Contract really knows how to push my buttons with these. Basically, you have to input commands... in like half a second, and if you're like one billionth of a second off, it'll stop, and the boss gets back a third of its health. That's okay though, just means we get to hack at it again, even if you're probably about the pop some blood vessels. Yeah, it's okay, until about the third boss, where you'll be greeted by cheap one hit deaths, via getting knocked back off of the stadium and into the lava... unable to get back up. It gets worse too, people. In conjunction with Gretchen's horrible AI, this is just going too far. At that point, the game got far too frustrating to play through, and at the end of the day, the point of playing a video game is to not be frustrated... not according to Knights Contract, though! The more frustrating, the better according to this game!
Knights Contract gets a 3/10. Had the story not been as awesome as it ended up being, I would've stopped ages ago, and I'd imagine everyone else felt the same way before chucking this into a second hand store, or into an incinerator. God, this game sucked.
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