Knights Contract review
It's good, but oh god, those quick time events...
Should I choose this, or the fighting game with recognizable characters, or one of the two shooters?
Towards the end of February 2011 came a slew of games – Bulletstorm, Killzone 3, Marvel Vs Capcom 3, and this one right here, Knights Contract. Now, 3/4 you've definitely given a shot if you have a PS3 or 360 (and only 1 if you have PC), but 1 will be missed by all but the most curious of gamers, and this game right here is that 1 game. Maybe it's the lack of Marvel characters? Perhaps it's not a first person shooter? Or could it be the bad press, with the aggregate score in the low 50s on Metacritic and Gamerankings? Whatever the case may be, it's... well, just read on!
The story is that Heinrich, an executioner, is cursed with immortality, and some one hundred years afer the execution of the witch that cursed him, they meet up. He wants to get rid of the curse so he can die peacefully, but the witch, Gretchen, needs him to serve as her bodyguard because she has to kill six witches that an evil immortal tyrant known as Faust had ressurrected so that they can wreak havoc while he's out to finish collecting pieces of a gem of extreme power known as the Anima Del Monde. Just said a mouthful, didn't I? Don't worry, because for the first half of the game, you're given the story in a clear and concise manner. Seriously, Hideo Kojima, start taking some notes – THIS is how you pull off gripping storytelling with somewhat long scenes! Granted, he should stop after the twelth chapter, because the story ends up coming to a halt until.. the nineteenth chapter, pretty much. So yeah, if you're going by first impressions, the story is actually pretty sweet, but as you proceed, it comes to a screeching *bleep*ing halt, which makes you wonder why they bothered with said halt, all until it gets to story again... the conclusion, that is!
Knights Contract is a hack and slash game. Basically what you do is hack monsters to bits with your scythe. Unlike most games where you buy your combos as you gain XP from killing monsters, what you have in the first level is what you have in the twentieth, but it does demand strategy. No, not at Ninja Gaiden levels – OH HELL NO, this is actually possible without breaking 47 controllers because you're not required to have piano player-like dexterity in your fingers while dealing with rough as guts enemy AI. But at the same time, if you don't keep your wits about you, expect to die... a lot!
“But wait a minute, isn't Heinrich immortal?” Why, yes he is! “So how does he die?” He doesn't. He can, however, become temporarily incapacitated, unable to move or do diddly dick until you mash the X button infinity billion times. During this time, Gretchen will be more vulnerable. Folks, if she dies, you will THEN get a game over and will be sent back to a checkpoint... whether it's one of those save orbs you encountered or some predetermined place, who the bloody hell knows?
I bet you'll be wondering what Gretchen will be doing. Will she be an annoying bitch like Ashley from Resident Evil 4, or actually helpful like Sheva from Resident Evil 5? Both, actually. On her own, Gretchen doesn't do much, although at least Ashley had the sense to run sometimes – Gretchen just bloody runs into groups of enemies most of the time to cast some spell that at least staggers enemies.. if you're lucky enough for that to happen! Oh well, time to be a bodyguard and, umm, protect her. Because of this, you'll really need to adjust your playstyle so that you can keep Gretchen alive and yourself active. Told you it required some strategy.
But like Sheva, Gretchen can actually be helpful... as long as Heinrich gives her the “OK”. See, you're able to cast some spells, starting with six basic ones you get and can upgrade via XP as you progress, then four more advanced ones you can't upgrade as you progress, plus two more advanced ones you get from completing the game (though one of those two requires that you achieve an S rank in EVERY level and THEN S rank the last level – S ranks are achieved by pulling off really big combos and heaps of finishing moves in as little time as possible without dying). When the enemy is weak enough (you can tell if, when you target them, there's a red outline around their target icon), you can cast a spell, and if you press O at the right time, you can pull off a finishing blow, which kills them. Trust me when I say that as the game progresses, you'll be PRAYING for these moments!
But how can you fight without a battlefield? For the most part, the levels are designed like your typical action game – linear with some paths here and there. Reviewers tend to complain about bad level design, and although I'd agree as far as level 6 and 9 are concerned and also because the map screen could've been a little more helpful than just the outline and our positions, seriously, all it amounts to is that reviewers expected a completely linear game... honestly, there aren't too many level design woes, maybe aside from the aforementioned levels' tendencies to make everything look about the same, making it easy to get lost, but other than that, all it is, is that you're impatient and want everything given to you straight away. Sad, really...
Don't worry action fans, there are bosses in the game. For the most part, they're pretty standard action game fare, in which you take their patterns and attack at the right times, though remember, you must keep an eye on Gretchen.. nah, screw that, just carry her until you get on the offensive! But yeah, here's where her AI can be pretty bad, because when Heinrich kicks the bucket, she's a sitting duck! Yes, you can activate magic while incapacitated, but you can't target them, meaning spells can only activate around you.. and then she probably dies.
That's the least of your problems, because when you deplete the boss's last speck of health, it's time for a quick time event. YAY! Too bad these quick time events suck shit, because first of all, you have to have the reaction time of a *bleep*ing psychic person as you're given maybe a quarter of a second to react (and that's just on Knight/hard – if you're going for a platinum trophy, time frame is smaller on Hex Knight/very hard and Witchslayer/damn hard), and secondly, should you bugger up even once, they'll regain a third of their max health. This will probably have you screaming at the TV well before you finish your first playthrough, guaranteed.
So there are the quick time events, a few levels suck, and Gretchen isn't exactly smart. But I fail to see where this game is really really frustrating. I don't know, maybe it's because I have a decent idea of how to play hack and slash games, but never, did I want to destroy the controller over an unfair situation. Yes, I get pissed when I failed a quick time event and had to re-fight the boss for the third time, but I think other reviewers are taking this way out of proportion! I think what it is, is that this is just a hard game and people can't keep up – and the next second, they'll praise games like Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden for being hard as tits... just leaves me conflicted, you know?
Knights Contract looks pretty nice. The designs are very convincing as you go through medieval towns and mountains, giving you the feeling that “shit, we're in medieval times!” The bosses are also pretty menacing to look at. Ranging from an icy snake, to a fire and skull valkyrie, and to a spider whose thread is made of hair, you know you'll find these bosses awesome to look at. At the same time, the textures don't know whether they want to be from Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow, or Castlevania: Lament Of Innocence – seriously, some parts look fit for the PS3, but other parts make the game feel more like a PS2 game. Sometimes, the textures will be crispy clean, but other times, the textures look distorted and jagged. Colors are either crisp or just glazed with honey. This game could've used a bit more polishing, I reckon.
The sound of execution.
The soundtrack is bloody awesome, seriously. There are a lot of epic symphonic pieces throughout to give each scene a lot of depth. Even when the story stops progressing, it's still interesting to watch the cutscenes, just to hear the music for each of them. They're really well orchestrated pieces that have a hell of an ambiance, as it really enhances the mood of any given situation – a downtempo song for a serious moment, or a furious onslaught of horns and violins (and more) for a boss battle; just awesome. I won't say much about voice acting, except that it keeps your interest. Some of the voices, like a couple of the witches, just sound crap and like they just want to get out as soon as possible, but as you'd expect, they make the good voice actors just look better, that's all.
Would you sign it?
Knights Contract is a good game, but it's all executed in a way that just loves to push your buttons. It hates you, and wants you and your controller dead, especially on the hardest difficulty setting. It's hard, just like real life! Admittedly, there are some pretty shitty parts, but they're overcomable with determination.
Definitely one of the more interesting stories this generation. Just a shame that it loses a lot of momentum for most of the second half of the game.
The basics are definitely there, and it can be pretty fun taking down monsters and hulking giant monstrosities, but then there are some crappy “maze” levels and unforgiving to the nth degree quick time events. Oh, and Gretchen = dumb bimbo. 'nuff said.
It's sometimes hard to get combos right when fighting in the middle of a monster gang, as Heinrich sometimes doesn't want to hit that other monster. Quick time events sometimes don't proceed whether or not you hit a button the first time around just to be dicks. Other than that, controls are actually rather solid.
It's pretty half and half. On one end, it tends to look like a PS2 game rushed out of the door, with jagged edges, weak textures and cruddy colors, not to mention that it loves lagging, but getting past that lies the good side – some pretty kickass monster designs! Oh, and sometimes, textures are good and colors aren't depressingly bad...
Soundtrack is just excellent, no two ways around it. Voice acting is mostly good, except the few characters that just phone it in, but they make the good ones seem better by comparison.