In the world of video games, there's no shortage of third-person action adventures which mix hack-and-slash combat with extreme levels of bloody violence. However, Namco Bandai feels it has something unique to bring to the table with its new title, Knights Contract. The brutal combat may seem familiar, but a medieval setting and visual design that mixes thatched roofs with the beauty of nature brings a touch of originality.
Knights Contract is set in Germany in the Middle Ages and follows the story of Heinrich, an executioner of witches. He executes a witch called Gretchen, who possesses the body of a young girl and curses him for all eternity. Having already had her life cut short once, Gretchen is upset to learn that a new evil has descended upon Earth, threatening to end her life once more. That evil takes the form of the Harmonculous, vile monsters created by chief villain Dr. Falust. She decides to enlist the help of Heinrich and his strong physical abilities to tackle the threat head-on. This, of course, requires spilling lots of blood and chopping up some demons.
You take control of Heinrich, with Gretchen working alongside you with her magic powers. The gameplay is standard hack-and-slash action. You work your way through the world, destroying the Harmonculous by chopping them into a bloody mess with your scythe. You have several different attacks at your disposal, such as heavy, light, and special, which you can chain together to form combos. Attacks are extremely gory, with heads, limbs, and masses of blood flying around the screen. This is accompanied by over-the-top visual effects, with bright flashes of light and explosions accompanying the sweeps of your scythe.
Though Gretchen is largely controlled by AI, you can issue commands to her during battle. She is able to launch magic attacks against enemies, as well as protect you with spells while fighting. One of the spells we were shown surrounded Heinrich with large spikes, which drove their way through all the enemies near him, leaving them in two halves in the floor. You can also execute combos with Gretchen's powers. Up to four powers can be equipped at any time, and you gain new powers over the course of the game. Despite her abilities, Gretchen is vulnerable to physical attacks, and there are times when you have to protect her from enemies.
As well as combat, there are platforming sections and puzzles to solve. One section we were shown saw Heinrich being chased by a large demon. He had to jump over obstacles while avoiding attacks from it. Large demons also form the basis of boss battles. They require you to follow sets of quick-time commands, which cause Heinrich to launch a range of visceral attacks. Visually, Knights Contract is a mix of medieval castles, houses, and knights amidst majestic mountains and vivid scenery. The cobbled streets and thatched roofs of villages look detailed, while the bright visual effects of Gretchen's magic attacks make them look much more brutal. The Harmonculous also have an interesting look, taking on many different forms. Some are grotesque monsters with oversized arms and visible spines, while others are heavily armed knights equipped with steel armour and axes.
At this stage, it seems that much of the game's focus is on combat; we've yet to see much of how the story and the relationship between the two protagonists develop. However, Namco Bandai has promised that more of the game will be shown off at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, so keep an eye on GameSpot for more on the game in June. Knights Contract is due out in 2011 on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.