Kontrakt – Review
Follow Genre: Top-down twin stick shooter
Developer: ShotX Studio
Publisher: Ultimate Games
Platform: Switch, PC
Tested on: Switch

Kontrakt – Review

Site Score
2.8
Good: Unique 2.5D visuals
Bad: Poorly implemented aiming controls
User Score
1.5
(2 votes)
Click to vote
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 1.5/10 (2 votes cast)

Originally released on Steam in 2018, Kontrakt is a late arrival on the Switch. At first glance, the top-down twin stick shooter, developed by ShotX Studio and published by Ultimate Games, appears to be a Hotline Miami clone. However, the title aims to set itself apart by introducing a dark and twisted story about schizophrenia. This isn’t an easy subject to tackle, so ShotX Studio is to be commended for attempting to implement mental issues in a game like this, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. How does Kontrakt hold up?

Story

The story behind Kontrakt is actually more interesting than the narrative provided by the game, as the lead developer behind the game is a victim of schizophrenia himself, and the game is themed around the mental disease as well, providing ample opportunity for the developer to put his personal experiences into the story. As such, Kontrakt’s main selling point is that it is themed around this psychiatric diagnosis, and the developers promise a dark and twisted story. While this sounds interesting in context, the game fails to deliver on this promise. The story is delivered entirely through the internal monologue of protagonist Leo, a schizophrenic hitman, as well as through his wooden, stilted interactions with the rest of the game’s cast. Chief among the other characters is Mr Chao, the man who provides Leo with his hitman contracts. The dialogue between Leo and Mr Chao pretends to be deep and philosophical but when looking into what’s actually being said, it turns out to be shallow nonsense. As such, Kontrakt’s story is easy to dismiss, which is a shame given that, conceptually, the game would’ve been a fantastic vehicle to deliver the subject of schizophrenia to a mainstream audience.

Graphics

The least we can say about Kontrakt’s visuals is that they are interesting. The game features low-res black-and-white character sprites, which seem rotoscoped rather than traditionally animated juxtaposed against colorful backdrops brimming with lighting effects. The game makes great use of color and isn’t shy to show blood splatters. The 2.5D art style is easily the game’s strongest point, although that isn’t saying much, as the rest of Kontrakt isn’t much to write home about, as you’ll see in the gameplay section of this review.

Sound

If we were to rank the various elements that make up Kontrakt; the game’s soundtrack would be in second place, slightly behind the visuals. There is no voice acting and the sound effects aren’t anything to write home about, but the original music is quite good. The game also implements a jukebox feature in Leo’s apartment, enabling you to listen to your favorite tracks from the game, provided you’ve unlocked them through gameplay.

Gameplay

As we mentioned, Kontrakt is a top-down twin-stick shooter in the vein of Hotline Miami. Each level is presented as a hitman contract and the objective is to take down specific targets. Naturally, Leo has a variety of tricks up his sleeve to ensure that he is able to deliver. Apart from the weapon arsenal at his disposal, he is able to dodge bullets by sliding, sense who his targets are, even if they are hiding among innocent bystanders, and he can also slow down time to deliver slow-motion kills, thanks to the adrenaline rush he gets from murdering. At the start of each contract, he can choose his starting weapon as well as up to two upgrades, such as a silencer which prevents his shots from drawing the attention of enemies in adjacent rooms. Should Leo run out of bullets, he can take on enemies in hand-to-hand combat with his trusty hatchet, after which he’s able to pick up the weapon held by his enemy and continue his murder spree.

Between the missions, Leo returns to his apartment, where he reflects upon his actions as a hitman. This is where the schizophrenia element of Kontrakt really comes into play, with shadowy figures taunting him. These shadowy figures also appear during the contract missions occasionally, but they don’t really affect gameplay apart from that they can sometimes be confused for enemies. The apartment scenes act as a way to progress the story and attempt to showcase Leo’s struggle with schizophrenia. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a missed opportunity, as the game treats this theme as an afterthought, rather than making it one of the game’s major features. Given Kontrakt’s lead developer’s experiences with schizophrenia, it’s disappointing to see that so little of this shines through in the finished product.

That’s not the only place where Kontrakt fails to shine. The game suffers from a very poor execution of its control scheme. Moving Leo around is easy enough: the left control stick makes him walk in the direction of your choice. However, aiming is a different story entirely. Kontrakt is a twin-stick shooter, and as such, aiming is done with the second control stick, but Leo is only able to look and aim in four directions. Adding insult to injury, he will automatically turn sideways when you’re not continuously holding the right stick, even if you were facing up or down beforehand. Given the fast-paced and frantic nature of some of the levels, this leads to frustrating and unfair deaths fairly often. Additionally, pressing the ZR trigger to shoot or the Y button to attack doesn’t always register properly. We can’t rule out that the above issues are in fact deliberate, though. Perhaps these were implemented to represent Leo’s internal struggle. If this is the case, however, then the game isn’t clear enough about this -and we’d consider it a cop-out too. Whatever the reasons for the clunky and awkward controls, the result is a game that is more frustrating than fun. Given the wide range of superior alternative top-down twin-stick shooters available, it makes Kontrakt a title that’s difficult to recommend.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, Kontrakt turns out to be one of those titles that seems interesting as a concept, but fails to deliver when it comes to execution. The schizophrenia theme is presented as one of the game’s unique selling points but it fails to come to fruition, and the poor implementation of the control scheme makes for a game that can’t even fall back on fun gameplay. This is a Kontrakt that you shouldn’t sign up for.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 1.5/10 (2 votes cast)
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Rating: -1 (from 1 vote)
Kontrakt - Review, 1.5 out of 10 based on 2 ratings
SebastiaanRaats


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