Game Over Online ~ Knights Contract

GameOver Game Reviews - Knights Contract (c) Namco Bandai, Reviewed by - Thomas Wilde

Game & Publisher Knights Contract (c) Namco Bandai
System Requirements Xbox 360
Overall Rating 55%
Date Published Monday, March 7th, 2011 at 06:30 PM

Divider Left By: Thomas Wilde Divider Right

If you pay attention to gaming forums of any kind, from the most violently illiterate to the professional and erudite, certain trends develop. Sooner or later, someone posts a "things you hate about video games" thread, and on the first page of that thread, someone's going to bring up escort missions.

Very few games have ever done the escort mission well. The stereotypical example is one where you must defend a mouthy, complaining escortee who, for all the actual help he's being, might as well be a grapefruit with a face drawn on it. Dead Rising's idiot survivors, that bit with Emma in Metal Gear Solid 2, a couple of stages in Dead to Rights, certain missions in the Grand Theft Auto games, Goldeneye, the President in Perfect Dark, and half the licensed action games on the planet are all guilty of this, to cite a few examples, and it often serves as that last kick in the ass that shoves a mediocre game over into being bad.

There aren't many ways to do the escort mission correctly. The usual methods are by making the escortee completely invincible (i.e. Bulletstorm, Silent Hill 4), extremely capable (i.e. Alyx Vance), or controllable, so you can shove them somewhere out of the way (i.e. Manhunt, Resident Evil 4). In other words, the only way to make a good escort mission is to ensure that it's not really an escort mission. It's the global thermonuclear war of video game events; the only way to win is not to play.

This is not something that occurred to anyone involved with the making of Knights Contract. There is a distinct possibility that in a field that is already overrun with failure, Knights Contract is the worst possible spin on the concept: an entire game based around a terrible implementation of an already flawed mechanic. It's to the point where I wonder if it was based on a dare.

You control Heinrich, a former executioner and current wandering swordsman, in a vague sort of medieval Germany. He killed an innocent woman once and was cursed with immortality, leaving him unable to permanently die. Now he's stumbled across a plot by another immortal, Faust, which involves a number of resurrected witches attacking humanity.

One of those witches, Gretchen, has come back to stop her sisters, and she undertakes the titular contract with Heinrich. They're now more powerful together than they ever were apart, and the game involves tracking down each of the witches and hacking them into tiny bits.

Knights' Contract is a hack-and-slasher from the guys who made the Genji games, and to be absolutely fair, it has its moments. Heinrich has a pretty standard-issue moveset, involving a giant scythe and a variety of ways to swing it, and you have the ability to use Gretchen's magic as a sort of independent combo extender. What makes Contract more than a mindless button-masher is the ways you can work Gretchen's spells into a combo, and it's actually a fairly elegant control scheme as these things go.

If that was the entire game, it'd be unremarkable but often entertaining. The problem is that Gretchen is not simply the half-naked, deeply vulnerable escortee in this game. She is actually your health meter.

Heinrich can't permanently die. You can get ground into chuck by enemies fairly easily, but getting back up is just a question of mashing the A button for a (really obnoxiously long) period of time. The only failure condition that involves Heinrich himself is if you drop into a bottomless pit, and well, you know, it's a bottomless pit. He'll probably be falling for a while.

If Gretchen dies, on the other hand, that's a game over, and Gretchen likes to die. The entire game is a series of elaborate methods by which she commits suicide, and sometimes, rarely, if you're lucky, you figure out a way to stop her. Sometimes it's by running straight up to a boss just as it launches a massive attack. Other times, she gets ensnared by normal enemies' bendy wooden limbs, or thrown into a lava pool that kills her by the time she thinks that she could maybe be wading out of it. Occasionally she gets thrown off of cliffs or gradually whittled down by a crossfire, with evasion or defense never actually entering her head at any time.

In effect, it is as if my health meter has an independently functioning death wish. It is easily the single most frustrating escort mission I've ever seen, and that's saying quite a lot. I have no idea how anyone could possibly think, after getting past the early design stages, that Knights Contract was in any way a good idea.


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