Knights Contract

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Knights Contract

Bob Dylan once sang, “He not busy being born is busy dying,” but if you can’t die, you’re probably bogged down slaying heretics. In Knights Contract, you are Heinrich, a hulking, scarred-up medieval executioner and Black Death survivor roaming Germany. A century ago, Heinrich snuffed some wrongly accused witches at the behest of a sketch-ball king, and one of his victims, Gretchen, cursed Heinrich with immortality right before she kicked it.

When the witches return from the afterlife, most of them are hellbent on making all humans suffer, but Gretchen just wants everyone to chill. After meeting up with her old pal/murderer Heinrich, the two form an alliance: Gretchen will reverse his curse if he helps her.

Defeating the evil witches involves hacking-and-slashing your way through mobs of bloody zombies, purple spiders, tree beasts, and floating wizards that are more or less recycled in subsequent levels. They’re all rendered in the game’s overarching, rich visual style — a sort of twisted take on 17th-century Europe — and the (mostly) A.I.-controlled Gretchen sticks by Heinrich’s side, offering magic spells to augment his brute strength and giant scythe. Though there’s fun to be had in combining slicing and magic to whip up cyclones of points and blood for 20-some hours, the difficulty fluctuates wildly from boss to boss and henchman to henchman, with hair-ripping results. 

Because Heinrich can’t die, taking too much damage renders him incapacitated, at which point you’ll have to wail on the A button — until your bone nearly pops from your thumb — to revive him. And because Gretchen isn’t immortal, Heinrich has to multi-task to protect her: cradling her in his arms like you’re walking into a honeymoon suite restores her health, but leaves you defenseless. This balancing act sets up an interesting challenge: if you’re downed as she’s being attacked, you’re basically left to pound A like crazy so you can get up and defend her.

Perhaps the biggest issue with Knights Contract isn’t what it does, but what it does too much. Constant loading screens (even during intense fights) dull the pacing of a storyline that begins simple but winds up nosediving into a bloated, convoluted mess by game’s end.

You’ll find some bloody good times scattered throughout the journey, but not nearly as many as we’d hoped.

On Xbox 360

+ Fighting with magic can be enjoyable; the Heinrich-Gretchen mechanic is mostly pretty cool.

+ An army of memorable, over-the-top bosses.

- Too much loading; too much A-spamming; story ultimately tanks.

? Do we really need a fire level following an ice level?

6.0

 
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