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Knights Contract
Score: 68%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: NAMCO BANDAI Games America
Developer: Game Republic
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:
Knights Contract toys with the idea of being a great game. There are flashes of brilliance in this action experience, but most of them are rendered moot by a number of serious design flaws. However, Knights Contract has an intriguing premise and a decent story to back it up. This game's strengths are not enough to warrant spending the full price of admission, but they do make it worth a look.

The ruined world of Knights Contract inevitably invites unfavorable comparisons with last year's Bayonetta -- a better game about witches. However, great combat animations, flashy magic abilities, fascinating character models (the rogue witches in particular) and gory deaths help make up for the lack of freshness. Knights Contract has a bad habit of zooming in too close; the muddled textures don't do the game any favors. Also, the camera is stubborn about where it wants to face. To be fair, I've played similar games with worse camera problems, but it's still a slight issue in Knights Contract.

If I wasn't reviewing Knights Contract, I don't think I would be able to describe the quality of its sound design if someone came up and asked me to. That's because the music, sound effects, and voice acting are all completely unremarkable. Don't confuse that with "bad," because it isn't, at least not overtly so. One look at Heinrich will show you exactly how he should sound, and his voice actor delivers exactly that. Nothing less, nothing more. Gretchen, a more interesting and multifaceted character, requires greater dramatic range -- and her voice actress is more than up to the task. The music isn't the worst I've heard all year, but that's about all I can say about it. The sound effects try to amp up the violent action, but there's hardly a sense of impact to any of them.


Gameplay:
Knights Contract has one of the best setups I've seen in a long time. It takes place in the distant past, when witches did their utmost to aid humanity, as dictated by a special code. However, humans fear what they don't understand, and a power-mad tyrant named Faust sows discord among the populace. Among other things, he leads them to believe that the bubonic plague was caused by witches. This is not true, of course, but it isn't long before witch hunts begin in earnest. Witches are rounded up, publicly humiliated, and beheaded. As Gretchen (one of the witches) falls to the executioner's blade, she curses him with immortality. One hundred years later, you assume control of the executioner, Heinrich. It seems that, through the help of a friend, Gretchen has been restored to a corporeal form. She needs Heinrich's help; the other dead witches seek revenge on humanity, and the Witch's Code expressly forbids such behavior. So, she makes a deal with him; she will remove his curse if he aids her in her quest.

Knights Contract isn't vastly different from your average straightforward action game. You lumber around carving up legions of monsters while keeping Gretchen safe from harm. However, while enemies can incapacitate and even destroy Heinrich, they cannot kill him. Gretchen, however, can be killed. The object is to work together, using Heinrich's scythe and Gretchen's witchcraft to vanquish the rogue witches and their undead minions.


Difficulty:
Knights Contract's difficulty level is, for lack of better words, fickle. There are long stretches of easygoing combat scenarios, but there are too many moments in which Heinrich and Gretchen can be one-shotted. These moments usually come during heavily choreographed action sequences, but they are frustrating nonetheless. To add insult to injury, some of the collectible Lost Pages force you to go out of your way during these moments, which are difficult enough.

Knights Contract suffers from friendly Artificial Intelligence issues, but they're usually not severe enough to hinder the experience unless you crank the difficulty level. I don't recommend doing that, regardless of your skill level. Gretchen is an interesting character, and she's intelligent as long as she's part of a cutscene. During gameplay, however, she's incapable of making sound decisions on her own. She doesn't unleash her witchcraft attacks unless you command her to, and her level of battlefield awareness is woefully low. This is most apparent during the set-piece battle that leads up to your third boss witch confrontation. In this sequence, the streets are full of deadly lava pools -- and the young witch either doesn't see them or doesn't understand them. It would be laughable if it wasn't so annoying.

Some other moments of frustration can be tied into poor level design and sporadic save point placement. Lots of environments look similar, and several levels offer too many forks in the road that lead to dead ends. It's easy to get lost if you're not paying extremely close attention.


Game Mechanics:
Knights Contract is an escort mission in which no irreparable harm can come to the main character. The opposite may appear to be true at first; enemies are more than capable of gibbing poor old Heinrich. However, if you're obliterated, a bit of button-mashing will trigger a bizarre reconstruction sequence in which Heinrich is put back together, piece by piece. The vessel in which Gretchen has imbued her lifeforce is vulnerable to pretty much every conceivable hazard, though.

Apart from the premise of main character immortality, Knights Contracts rounds the usual bases for an action game. A simple economy system linked with upgradable skills and abilities has been commonplace in the action genre for quite some time now, and this game has no intention of changing that. That's just fine; the combat and magic attacks are on the side of simplistic, but they are fun to watch nonetheless.

Quick time events have arguably oversaturated the action genre, but if they're done right, they can add to the sense of excitement. Knights Contract possibly features the worst use of quick time events I've ever seen in an action game. While the dual finishing moves are easy enough to perform, the QTEs that occur at the end of every boss fight are poorly executed. Each window of opportunity is very short, and if you miss a command, the game hurls you back to its own designated checkpoint, forcing you to complete yet another phase of the boss fight before you're given the chance to try again.

Knights Contract could have been a great game if it was more generously polished. Some of the ideas are fantastic, and most of the others work just fine by default, but the finished product is just way too rough around the edges to earn more than a half-hearted recommendation.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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