Knights Contract review
Knights Contract is a game that promises you excellence, and delivers something that feels... mixed. To give you a better idea, it has good ideas, but not all of them turned out good when taken from paper to the gaming grid. The biggest problem Knights Contract has is that it goes out of its way to make sure it's as frustrating to play as possible, and it's quite a shame, because if Game Republic had decided to instead make this game fun, this might've actually gotten a pretty high rating, both on Metacritic/Gamerankings, and from myself.
The story is that just as Heinrich executes a witch known as Gretchen, she curses him with immortality as a way of making him think about what he's been doing to people who are really helping out others and just being blamed for the black plague because some tyrant by the name of Faust wanted more power. About a hundred years later, Heinrich meets up with Gretchen, and together, they slay the other witches he had executed because they're seeking revenge against humanity. As you progress, you'll uncover a deeper plot, and you'll know why these witches are being revived, and what Faust really wants. It's actually quite an interesting story when it starts to dive deeper, as each plot point is given ample time in the sun, while keeping things from ever getting boring (unlike Metal Gear Solid) unless you're really impatient.
It plays out a fair bit like your typical hack and slash, like Dante's Inferno or Lords Of Shadow, but there's also an escort mission attached to it, I guess for good measure or variety? I don't know, but I don't want to get into that side of things without explaining what makes this game seem good. Anyway, Heinrich has to kill a bunch of monsters on his way to Point B using his scythe. For anybody expecting an in depth combo system ala Ninja Gaiden, prepare for disappointment, because you only get a few here and there, and none too complex I might add. If there's any consolation, the combos you do get are useful, so there's no need for extras. It knows it's not exactly a deep hack and slash game anyway...
For the sake of variety I guess, the game slams some half assed exploration segments where you basically have to explore each of the levels to find stuff like keys so you can proceed. I like the idea, because let's be honest – most hack and slash games nowadays are linear as *bleep*, offering only one path with some little nooks because they can (not saying it's a bad thing, but it's just damn common nowadays). Knights Contract, on the other hand, have levels designed in ways that force exploration... now, what sucks is that each nook and cranny looks very familiar to the point where it's easy to get lost when looking for shit. Normally when you're making an exploration game, you want to have mazes that don't feel too redundant at each turn... well, my wish wasn't granted. *bleep*ers.
Oh, and the shitty checkpoint system doesn't help matters. During boss stages, the checkpoints are laid out logically – if you die at this phase, you restart that phase. Simple. During the other stages though, they decided to just lay them out at random places, and to make things seem more random, you'll encounter these save orbs out of nowhere. Just... what the hell? The game saves automatically after each level, and not every non-boss stage has these, so... I don't know, man, I just don't. And as for the locations of the checkpoints, it's so that you'll probably be even more lost! Thanks guys for showing us that logic is for pussies! Seriously though, wouldn't it make more sense to place them at points where it won't make us feel lost after being defeated?
Now as I mentioned, this is an escort mission, so what does our escort do? Well, she can cast magic... she IS a witch, after all. Unlike Heinrich, Gretchen can be upgraded, and upgraded she must be, because when push comes to shove, her spells are usually more powerful than Heinrich's attacks. From blades that spring up to giant clams that slam down, and more, you'll find that Gretchen's sorcery will come in very handy as you proceed, and can also be fairly situational – those blades can usually pierce and break armor, while throwing lances are great for faraway targets.
As you proceed, you'll gain more spells, and as you kill more enemies, you'll gain more souls that can be used to upgrade six of the twelve spells she gets, and even when you upgrade, you can still equip the lower level spell, so really, you have 24 candidates, but only 4 can make it as what you'll be equipping – don't worry, you can change what you equip at any time, though it's usually a good idea to have a definite idea of what you're equipping, because recently equipped spells need to be charged up before usage... I forgot to mention that you can't just spam spells. You need to wait until they charge up, and some take longer than others to charge up.
Sounds pretty cool, right? What's the catch, you may be asking? Well, there are two catches. First of all, Heinrich basically has to command her to use these spells. She can't do it herself, it seems... in fact – and secondly – she can't seem to do MUCH on her own. All she can really do is run into a gangbang and cast some spell that just staggers an enemy or two for about... 1.3 seconds? Which isn't exactly helpful whenever Heinrich ends up all *bleep*ed up and shit and you have to mash on the X button for about 8 seconds – during which, enemies can grab her and kill her with no problems. Granted, you can still cast most spells, but you can't target enemies, meaning each spell is only going to be cast around you, and probably nowhere near her.
As you'd expect, you have to fight bosses in this game. For the most part, it's your typical “slash the shit out of big monsters” affair, though given that, they can be tricky to deal with at first. Heinrich is unable to jump, though he can roll out of the way, but for the most part, it's about taking their attacks and knowing when to dodge or strike. It's never too complicated, but the difficulty lies in keeping Gretchen alive, keeping Heinrich from getting slaughtered too badly, and the goddamn *bleep*ing quick time events, which I guess could be exciting or something, but when you're given like a quarter of a second to press buttons you can't predict ahead of time, and then you're forced to rebattle the boss with a third of its health restored, you know you're in for some deep shit, but not in a way you'd expect or want to be in. What could've been cool ended up *bleep*ing frustrating, and something that you'll only try again if you're a completionist (seeing as how you need to go through three playthroughs at least in order to get all the achievements/trophies).
The visuals are a mixed bag here. On the negative side, it looks like shit from a technical standpoint. The texture quality is actually quite inconsistent – some textures look subpar for a PS3 game, looking like a launch title for the 360 at times, while at their worst, they look like something out of a launch title for the Dreamcast! Not to mention, the colors look so dreary and depressing, but in a way that's just saying “BORING”. Oh, and this game has the gall to lag. Seriously, these graphics are shit, so why the lag? Is this engine so ancient that it can't even run PS2 quality graphics on a bloody PS3 without any hiccups? Or it's just incompetence, I don't *bleep*ing know, all I know is that there's a lot of lag! On the plus side, the designs are actually pretty good. Even though they're not backed up by great or even good textures, the actual designs are pretty cool. The bosses look quite menacing, all big and evil looking, and through this, the fights end up feeling more epic. Why? Because you're a human – albeit immortal – up against a giant *bleep*ing monster! It's always badass to slay those sorts of things, you know?
Audio is definitely not as mixed, as both sides of the coin are well done, though to varying degrees. The voice acting manages to convey the story well enough, although some voices sound pretty monotonous and kind of shitty, but they just make the good voices shine even more, and it tends to be one or two characters that appear for a level or two, then you kill them and that's it. The good voice acting is definitely good and manages to strongly support the story, but drowns when you listen to the soundtrack. The soundtrack is just excellent. Each piece is composed with no wasted notes or filler – each note is just as important as the last in enhancing the atmosphere and making everything look, sound and feel epic. There's just no other way to put it. It's something you really need to experience on your own to get the best out of it. Words suck at describing it.
The basics are there, like the hacking and slashing, and spellcasting, and the bosses are also designed well enough. Now if only the level designs were more cohesive, the checkpoint system more ironed out, Gretchen's AI a lot smarter, and the quick time events less existent. Surprisingly, the flaws aren't that bad as you progress.
The basics are easy enough, like fighting and camera control, until the boss battles where there is NO camera control because the big bosses have to take center stage. It's only really an issue when you can't see both Gretchen and Heinrich.
Neat concept, excellent execution - seriously, what's not to like about the story?
The monster designs are pretty cool and kind of creative. However, colors are too dull and textures look like something out of a PS2 game.
The music is just fantastic. It suits the moments and even enhances said moments. Boss fights never felt so epic. God Of War, eat Knights Contract's dust. As for voice acting, most of it's good, but some of it sounds phoned in at best.
To get all the trophies/achievements, at least three full playthroughs are required, and one of them requires that you get an S ranking on every mission and THEN S rank the last boss. There's a fair amount to do after completing the game, but considering how annoying this game can get, I'm not sure if you'll get the 1000 Gamescore or Platinum trophy before permanent frustration kicks in.
It's fun to slash monsters to bits, but when it comes down to Gretchen, cheap ass one hit deaths and quick time events, forget it. Defeat is less a case of actual challenge and more because a boss knocked you off the edge with a cheap attack, or Gretchen got herself killed. No matter how much you adjust your platstyle to suit this handicap, it's still a pain in the ass to actually play this game at the best of times.
Knights Contract was a potentially good game, but it got bogged down by seeing how much frustration a company is allowed to be put into a game. Really, that's the game's only problem - take that out, and this would be a damn good game!