Knights Contract Review

By Jeffrey Matulef - Posted Mar 02, 2011

Knights Contract subverts the hack-and-slash genre by making its lead invincible, shifting the focus to protection. Sadly, it winds up being a 16 hour escort mission with poor AI, irritating bosses, incessant load times, punishing quick-time-events, and bland level design. Successful combos and a finishing moves pack a lot of oomph, but even their flourishes can't hide Knights Contract's blemishes.

The Pros
  • Satisfying combat
  • Intriguing premise
  • Bosses look inspired
The Cons
  • Quick-time-events after boss fights
  • Frequent load times
  • Weak chapters where characters are separated
  • Boring level design

Knights Contract Review:

Having released Enslaved, Majin & the Forsaken Kingdom, and now Knights Contract, Namco Bandai seems to have developed a fetish for new exclusively single-player, partner-based, third-person action/adventure IPs. Unlike the other two, Knights Contract places far more emphasis on combat. Though what starts out fresh and original degenerates into a derivative mess full of frustrating sequences, rote level design, and sloppy mechanics. Knights Contract is like its bosses: beautiful women that turn into enormous, grotesque monsters. It starts off alluring ... then it gets ugly.

The Faust and the Furious

The story is an offshoot of the legend of Dr. Faust. It stars Heinrich, an executioner cursed with immortality after beheading the witch, Gretchen. Now, Gretchen's witch sistren have been resurrected by Dr. Faust and are hellbent on getting revenge on humanity. Gretchen is the only witch who sees the good in humans so she teams up with Heinrich under the stipulation that she'll end his immortal curse if he helps her.

It gets off to a promising start with an appropriately grim tone and novel gameplay concept. Knights Contract plays like a cross between the witchcraft-based hack-and-slash of Bayonetta (right down to summoning guillotines and iron maidens during finishing moves for boss fights) with the partner-based system employed in Ico. Since Heinrich is immortal, he cannot die in game. Getting diced into a bunch of giblets only renders him immobile while the player rapidly mashes a button until he's reassembled and ready to get back into the thick of things. Gretchen however is mortal, so protecting her is essential.

While the player doesn't have direct control of Gretchen, her spells can be used in conjunction with Heinrich's melee attacks for some truly impressive combos and finishers. Her witchcraft can lay traps, squeeze foes in a thicket of thorns, and shoot phantom spikes from the ground among other things. It's an interesting approach to the genre and can be fast, powerful and spectacular when it works.

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What Manner of Witchcraft is This?

While Knights Contract's core combat loop is rewarding, there are several instances where it deviates to embarrassing effect. Bosses in particular may look impressive, but several are poorly designed leading to unfair deaths. Especially irritating is that each major boss encounter ends with a lengthy quick-time-event and even one mistake results in the boss getting a whopping third of its life back (except the final bosses which lead to a game-over). The button presses remain the same each time, but the timing window is so unforgiving that it results in a lot of trial and error before these patterns can be memorized and the bosses put to rest.

Later chapters separate the characters which might sound like a refreshing change of pace until you realize that neither character is much fun to play on their own. Gretchen's melee attacks are slow and Heinrich's scythe is too weak. These chapters are mostly remixed versions of previous levels that drag on for hours.

Even at its best, Knights Contract suffers from some rather damning issues. Load times are extraordinarily frequent, rearing their ugly head from such mundane tasks as flipping a switch or walking down a hallway. While the core combat is mostly solid, you can't block and dodging is well, dodgy. The camera can also be a bother, making it impossible to tell what's happening when spells are cast. Also, more control over Gretchen would be appreciated as she tends to do things like run headfirst into battle with only a sliver of health.

Visually the game is falls short. While there are a handful of memorable settings like a snowy mountain cave full of molted snake skin, or Rapunzel's castle entangled by endless amounts of golden hair, they're rendered poorly with a dated engine that makes everything a little too purple. Interiors are largely nondescript, making it all too easy to get turned around.


Always Read the Fine Print

Knights Contract is the saddest kind of game: one rife with potential, but shoddily constructed. Both its story and unique approach to combat give it a distinct flavor, but it never follows through on its ambition. Its intriguing narrative quickly gets bogged down in a cliched story of one-note villains in a quest for power. While its combat is gratifying, it's too clumsy to master and too many sequences are built around cheap deaths, frustrating QTEs, and recycled level design. Knights Contract is a game about an immortal knight with a deathwish. After playing through his story, I can see why.

Still want to play it? Why not rent it at Gamefly?