The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Knights Contract’s Heinrich is the antithesis of your
typical video game protagonist. He’s old, arthritic, and scarred from
head-to-toe. He walks with a limp, and every word he utters carries the
sorrow of a lifetime of depression. He’s unlikable – intentionally so,
perhaps – but the reasoning behind his state of mind and the means to
cure it drives his story forward.
Heinrich once served as
an executioner that specialized in beheading witches. Through periodic
flashback sequences we see Heinrich carrying out the orders of Faust, a
power-hungry dictator hell bent on purifying the land. One of the
witches touched by Heinrich’s scythe, named Gretchen, showed no fear.
With her head resting gently on a wooden stump, she casts a curse on
Heinrich before he can lop off her head. Heinrich became immortal. This
may seem like a blessing, but when we control Heinrich for the first time,
he’s lived enough.
When I stepped into his tattered garb, my first
instinct was to gift him with the death he sought. I lowered my guard
and let a pack of monsters tear the flesh off of his hulking frame. They
left nothing but his two legs – cut off just below the knees. The
disturbing spectacle didn’t last long, however. By jamming on a button I
reunited flesh with bone and brought him back to fighting form. Death
cannot stop him.
His scythe strikes are slow and sloppy, an
appropriate fit for his appearance. His foes, which range from
armor-clad knights to skyscraper-sized snakes, could make short work of
him, but he doesn’t fight alone. Gretchen is resurrected,
and as fate would have it, she is forced to work with her killer.
duo works well together, each offering strengths where the other has
weaknesses. Gretchen is a powerful witch who can entangle foes in a
magical briar, summon meteor showers, and make razor-sharp blades appear
from the earth. When she’s had enough (as dictated by a power meter),
she can grow to giant’s size and crush a foe in her hands or between her
thighs. The spells she casts are satisfying, violent, and just a hair
shy from being as outrageous as those unleashed in Sega’s beloved witch
The player controls only Heinrich’s physical
movements, yet handles the attacks for both characters. Heinrich’s
abilities are mapped on the face buttons; holding down the right trigger
transforms the buttons to Gretchen’s attacks. The battles are fast
paced, and even the smallest of encounters can be a heart-pounding
challenge. Heinrich's sword slashes can be chained together easily enough with timed button presses and an occasional analog tap. His attacks always landed where I wanted them to, and his movements telegraphed nicely to combo timing. Even though Gretchen's mechanics are mapped closely to Heinrich's, making her spells reach desired targets requires great effort, and a crab claw-like grip on the controller, as multiple shoulder buttons must be held prior casting a spell.
Heinrich’s melee attacks don’t deal nearly as much
damage as Gretchen’s magic, but he has a deep list of combo chains at
his disposal – very much in line with other genre heavyweights like God
of War and Devil May Cry. Performing well in combat rewards the duo with
valuable experience points that can be used to upgrade all of the
spells. Game Republic did a great job of balancing the upgrade
progression. Each step up delivers a significant boost.
matter how powerful the duo becomes, the challenge revolves around
keeping Gretchen alive thanks to her incompetent AI. She stands in fire,
runs headlong into a boss’s grip, and performs so many ill-advised
actions I’m convinced she could never cross a street on her own. If she
perishes, it’s game over.
With her bumbling motions taking center
stage, the game devolves into a ten-hour long escort mission. The only
way to heal her is for Heinrich to pick her up and weave through hostile
forces like an NFL running back until her health regenerates. Coming to
her aid isn’t so easy, either. When Heinrich falls in battle, it takes
time for him to reanimate; foes wisely use this lull to beat the snot
out of the most defenseless witch to ever walk the earth. Equipment
found in the world can make her more durable, but nothing improves her
Clashes with demons also run the risk of ending
abruptly due to archaic design, such as an instant game over if Heinrich
is knocked off of a ledge. This happens all too often, especially
during boss fights. Worse yet, players must deliver the final blow to
bosses via quick-time events. If you don’t nail all of the sequences
correctly, the boss is rewarded one-third of its health back. Once
depleted (again), you have to try the same quick time sequence over.
and Gretchen’s journey is tiresome, but when the game works the way it
should – with Gretchen being far removed from harm’s way, and Heinrich
navigating ledge-free areas – the duo creates a wonderfully chaotic
storm on the battlefield that empowers the player with the feeling of
Even when the game seems to be working against
me at every inopportune time, the drive to see the fate of Heinrich and
Gretchen made me push forward. I’m glad I did. I didn’t see the ending coming. It's a satisfying reward at the end of a punishing journey.
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