Knights Contract Hands-On
We team up with a witch to find out who's really responsible for the Black Death.
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Knights Contract bears some resemblance to Game Republic's recent title Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom by giving you a companion to help you along your quest; however, the similarities do end there because the pace is much faster and its content darker. It's a hack-and-slash set during the Middle Ages in a fictional European nation where the residents are being consumed by the Black Death. The story follows Heinrich, an executioner who once killed witches that were accused of being responsible for the plague on humanity. One hundred years later, Heinrich still walks the earth, cursed with immortality and searching for a way to die.
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Because of the game's pacing and frequent cutscene storytelling, it's easy to get wrapped up in what's going on with Heinrich and the witches, who are somehow back again in various forms. Apparently, the last witch Heinrich executed was Gretchen, who cursed him right before he brought the blade down on her head. She is now resurrected in a younger woman's body and needs his help to destroy the other witches who have also come back for an entirely different purpose. It seems that all the other witches who have been wronged (we know of at least two) are out for revenge and looking to find a way to destroy the humans, whereas Gretchen is trying her best to stop her sisters from wiping out the human race. When Heinrich and Gretchen meet again, she seeks his help as a guardian and promises to lift the curse once he helps her take care of the other witches. However, there's a bigger story that would explain the occurrence of the Black Death; one that involves Dr. Faust, the man who initially gave the order to exterminate the witches.
Though Heinrich is immortal and can't die, he can become incapacitated if you take too much damage, and you will need to press the A button or X button to revive him. Gretchen's frail human body can't take too many hits at all, so your priority is to keep her alive or you'll have to start from your last checkpoint. Your female companion is controlled by the computer AI; however, you can use the right trigger and the D pad to access her witchcraft to help you in battle. Most of the spells we unlocked offered elaborate ways of stunning enemies so that we could swing our scythe in their direction. Enemies we've encountered consist of the walking dead, as well as walking trees that are controlled by some sort of evil magic. Your blade goes through relatively easily, and combat is swift and smooth as you tear up anything that gives you the evil eye.
The story is broken up into episodes, and there are save points in the levels so that even if you are defeated, you aren't set back too far. To regenerate health faster, you press the right bumper to hold Gretchen in your arms. This allows the two to heal and keeps her from getting hit. Some quick-time events will appear in boss fights, as well as combat, depending on what kind of combos you pull off with the witch. But for the most part, you'll be mashing those buttons and using Gretchen's powers. Each time enemies die, you collect their souls that can then be used to unlock additional witchcraft.
Whether or not the story hooks you in, the gameplay is easy to pick up and fun. There are three levels of difficulty to choose from, but for the most part, it's a straight-up hack-and-slash. You do have an auto-lock to keep enemies in view, but it's fun to just wail away at the grotesque creatures that keep coming at you. The time frame of 17th-century Europe is fascinating--if somewhat depressing--to be exploring in, and we're curious to see how it all pans out.
Look for Knights Contract when it is released on February 22.