Knights Contract – first look

It’s not exactly a common thing to encounter a game set during one of the most horrific and miserable periods in history: that of the Black Plague, where a massive portion of humanity died grotesque deaths. Knights Contract is certainly brave and original in this approach. It’s unusual to be playing a fantasy-themed hack-and-slasher and see piles of decomposing bodies everywhere – oh, wait, that’s not unusual – what’s unusual is that it’s based on reality, not some myth or ancient piece of literature. It adds a certain extra creepiness to its vibe we can appreciate.

Above: Where there be plague, there be PLAGUE MONSTERS

Despite the grim setting, Knights Contract isn’t some bleak horror game – it’s steeped in arcade flourishes, magic, and weird monsters. You play Heinrich, a mountain of a man who made his trade lopping off heads as an executioner. In this version of historical Europe, witches are real, and for a time they were beloved members of the community, healing the infected in their direst moments. Then comes along Dr. Faust, a seedy character who for mysterious reasons convinces the people that witches are bad, and so Heinrich, “just doing his job,” obeys orders and lops off witch head after witch head.

For his heinous crimes against witch kind, Heinrich receives a curse – to be forever immortal so he can live with regret. So in an interestingly different quest, your motivation is to remove his immortality so he can die in peace. To do this he teams up with Gretchen, a witch who promises him that if he helps her stop the remaining witches, who have turned against humanity, that she can grant him mortality.

What this means for gameplay is that Knights Contract, in a similar vein to Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, is a third-person hack-and-slasher where your job is to protect your AI partner. The difference here, though, is that you can’t die – you’re immortal after all – so you can only be temporarily disabled. Even if your body gets ripped to pieces, a quick few seconds of button mashing regenerates your dismembered parts. It keeps combat flowing, but it also puts Gretchen in danger, so you’ll want to avoid becoming incapacitated.

Heinrich’s main weapon is a wicked-looking scythe that folds on a hinge. It provides the usual combos, while Gretchen offers support with spells. Yet she isn’t some auto-casting AI – you have complete control over her casting, so really she’s like an extension of Heinrich. Her spells have a decidedly Bayonetta flavor to them, with huge solid formations of spikes and whatnot erupting from the ground, or magic temporary weapons that she summons.

Above: Om nom

In one sequence we saw a boss battle against a witch who transforms into a bizarre, giant monster that kind of looked like a fleshy alligator with no jawbones (its long snout flopped around like rubber). Heinrich battled it in a courtyard where the beast would perch on a bell tower before launching into the air and charging like an enraged bull. The technique for taking it down was to use Gretchen’s spells to anchor the monster’s legs in blue, glowing magical chains so Heinrich could get up to it and hack away with his scythe. So the game aims for tactical combat by requiring the proper use of spells combined with physical attacks.

Above: There it is, in all its disturbing glory

Knights Contract is set for an early 2011 release on PS3 and 360, so we’ll probably get a chance for some hands-on time at some point to see how it plays.

Nov 9, 2010

Matthew Keast
My new approach to play all games on Hard mode straight off the bat has proven satisfying. Sure there is some frustration, but I've decided it's the lesser of two evils when weighed against the boredom of easiness that Normal difficulty has become in the era of casual gaming.