|System: Xbox 360, PS3|
|Dev: Namco Bandai Games America|
|Pub: Namco Bandai Games America|
|Release: February 22, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
The first two issues are intimately related. Boss fights can be a hair-pulling exercise in frustration as you struggle to avoid unreal barrages of insanely powerful attacks and watch in disbelief as Gretchen walks purposefully into them. The "RB" button is supposed to call Gretchen to you, but you can mash the RB until your index finger goes numb and still she'll be hanging out in the middle of a pool of hot lava or standing immobile under an oncoming lightning strike. When not actively trying to get herself killed, she'll drive you nuts urgently shouting, "Heinrich!" whenever you get a few steps ahead of her. What's funny is that late in the game, when she and Heinrich temporarily separate and you take control of her alone, she proves she's just as resourceful and lethal as he is. So...why did she need him in the first place?
Just as infuriating as the reluctant AI is the confusing level design which sends you through village streets, sewer tunnels, and castle hallways that all look (respective to their level) exactly the same. For people with no sense of direction, this is a nightmare, especially since the game often asks you to go back to someplace you were before. The map is no help at all, since it doesn't reorient itself with you and most importantly, doesn't show your objective. As a result, it's all too easy to spend a good half-hour just running around and around, trying to figure out where you're meant to go next and seriously examining the real extent of your motivation to finish the game.
Interestingly enough, the first two issues are greatly reduced provided you play the game on easy difficulty. I played all the way through on the default "Squire" difficulty and then for grins, started over on "Page." On default, you'll get two hours in and wish you were never born, but on easy, Knight's Contract plays like a different game. Yes, the AI issues and possibility of getting lost are still there, but everything else is cranked back to a reasonable level that allows you actually enjoy yourself. Ultimately, it appears the game's problems would have been minimized had the development team not made such a grievous error in judging its default difficulty.
It's really too bad this happened because overall Knight's Contract has a lot of good things going for it. It has fast, intuitive combat, cool, creepy environments, splashy visual effects, good music, solid voice acting, and a story that's fairly fresh, as far as action games go. The sad thing is that all that is undermined by bumbling AI, absurdly difficult and frustrating bosses, and a maze-like approach to level design. Anyone thinking of buying the game (or if you have it and are utterly frustrated with it) know that it's possible to overcome many of its faults just by changing the difficulty setting. That said, Namco should realize their mistake; default settings are critical and once gamers have gotten a bad taste in their mouth from a game, even changing difficulty might seem like more work than it's worth.
CCC Freelance Writer