Knights Contract Preview
This week Namco Bandai held its Ignite media event in San Francisco where it trumpeted its new company-wide strategy, the core of which is partnering with talented game developers. One of the most interesting titles to come of its partnership agenda was action-adventure title, Knight's Contract. Created by Game Republic, the developer behind the entertaining Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom and the not-so-entertaining Clash of the Titans, Knight's Contract tells the story of a mortal man cursed by a witch to live forever.
At first glance that doesn't sound like much of a curse, right? Well the deal is, once upon a time this particular guy (Heinrich) was an axe man. No, not a frizzy-haired heavy-metal guitarist—an executioner. As the story goes, a race of powerful and unusually long-lived women once acted as healers but became persecuted until watching these women die horribly became the public's favorite past time. Heinrich was ordered by a man named Dr. Faustus to behead these women, but when called upon to execute a certain witch named Gretchen, he was cursed to live forever.
It's at this point that the demo started, with a tutorial set in a quaint medieval village. Time hadn't been kind to Heinrich and he was a sour looking older man whose face and arms were covered with ugly scars. As Heinrich, I entered the village looking for a place to stay the night only to realize it had been decimated by the Black Death. Immortal and thus undeterred, I walked on and ran into a peculiar little man by the name of Minukelsus, apprentice to the legendary alchemist, Paracelsus. Wearing a shabby hood and creepy pointy mask, he begged me to stay away from the village, then seeing that I wouldn't, asked that I aid him and his “master” .
Grumblingly, I agreed but as we wound our way through the village we were attacked by undead (presumably once villagers) who came pouring out of the surrounding cottages. Lucky for me I was armed with a huge, bladed scythe which I swung madly and somewhat Kratos-like. Combat was very basic and easy to pick up, with the X and Y buttons executing weak and strong attacks, respectively. With the A button I was also able to do a roll evade and with the B button, grab enemies and then use the attack buttons to perform various stylish finishers. Combat overall was fairly fluid and it was easy-peasy to handle swarms of enemies coming from all sides. Upon their defeat, these crowds of zombie-ish enemies emitted pink glowing orbs which I was told are used in the game like currency to buy weapon upgrades.
With an immortal hero, I wondered how Knight's Contract could create any sense of tension. Well while Heinrich can't die exactly, he can weaken and if he takes one too many hits, he moves more slowly and can actually fall apart – literally. If you make the mistake of allowing that to happen, you mash the A button for all you're worth until he revives. It’s a momentary inconvenience but the real tension, the sense of jeopardy if you will, comes from protecting Minukelsus' master (mistress?), who turns out to be the woman you were meant to execute years ago, the witch Gretchen. Unlike you, Gretchen is indeed vulnerable and you have to watch out for her. Thankfully though, she isn't just additional baggage; she can actually use her witchcraft to help you. When you need Gretchen's help, you can hit the right trigger to enable witchcraft, then choose from the types of witchcraft you have equipped by hitting the A, B, X or Y buttons. As you progress, you collect different types of witchcraft and you can equip up to four different types of witchcraft at one time.
During the demo, I fought my way through the village and then thought I was really going to test my mettle confronting a boss, namely the creepy looking bone witch Straeggle. She approached, seeming to be bleeding from her eyes and it was up to me to take her out. I was just getting ready to teach her a lesson when I was asked to stop and let someone else play. Curses!
Despite this disappointment, Knight's Contract looks as if it will be something fans of titles like Nier and Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom —heck, maybe even God of War—will enjoy. I for one am looking forward to playing more and finding out what happens to Heinrich and Gretchen and getting to check out the upgrade and witchcraft systems. With its release date a mere three weeks away, the game’s looking polished and ready to offer hours of fun, if not especially inventive, hack 'n slash gameplay. Look for Knight's Contract on PS3 and Xbox 360, February 22, 2011.