Sunday, April 15, 2012
XBOX 360 GAME REVIEW: The Witcher 2
The Witcher 2 is not a normal video game, and it is not a normal fantasy. It subverts the old high-fantasy stereotypes even as it employs them. The elves that you'll meet in Temeria aren't charming, ethereal forest-dwellers, they are guerrilla insurgents raining death on humans from the trees. The dwarves, typically cheerful, hard-working sorts, live in a city of worn rock that runs off the fumes of their former industriousness while its current inhabitants drink, joke and fornicate. the many different kingdoms are in the on the precipice of war, led by despotic kings who play their personal vendettas out on the battlefields at the expense of their armies' lives.
And who are you, amongst all this? You're Geralt of Rivia, a stoic and distinctly un-heroic monster hunter with a few memory problems and a faintly inexplicable way with the ladies. Though sworn to impartiality on matters of the state, he is drawn into this advanced political maelstrom by a series of regicides that brand him a criminal and pull him back into his own, forgotten past. The Witcher 2 is a game for adults, and not just because of all the sex and violence. It expects you to be intelligent and interested, to care about the political machinations, racial tensions and complex history of its world. Plenty of games shield you from their lore, afraid that it may scare you off. The Witcher 2 drops you right in the thick of it, and expects you to deal with it.
Since its release on PC in May last year, the Witcher 2 has been drawing envious glances from console owners. The Enhanced Edition for Xbox 360 includes around four hours of new gameplay and an interface redesigned for consoles, with everything else intact. Impressively, CD Projekt RED has managed to port the whole experience over to six-year-old Xbox 360 hardware with only a minimum of technical compromises. If you've got access to a consultant quality PC, it is fairly self-evident that's the version you should plump for, but Xbox 360 owners needn't feel short-changed by this rather competent port.
Underpinning The Witcher 2's ambitious fantasy is a sword- and magic-based combat system that is one of the best around, delivering challenge and flexibility alongside the straightforwardly violent finishing moves and lethal strikes that are the backbone of all good melee combat. Dipping into stylish slow-motion to select spells, bombs and traps from a radial menu, you chip away at groups of enemies through plans and intelligent positioning rather than simply hacking through them with silver or steel. Spells ignite, confuse or trap your foes, where oils and enhancements change the properties of your blades.
Getting used to the layout of these myriad functions on the 360 pad takes a good hour. in the beginning your fingers are forced into unnatural positions when you try to bring up the radial menu and keep your targeting reticule locked onto a dangerous enemy at identical time, but soon such difficulties are behind you. The Witcher 2 has absolutely no control problems on Xbox, but it does still suffer from a lack of clarity in menu-heavy activities like crafting and alchemy. a very detailed in-game journal offers a refresher on everything you could need to know about the characters, locations and recent events, but there are some elements of the actual gameplay that could be better explained.
For one, it is useful to realize that running away is occassionally a better concept than trying to stand and fight. Combat is challenging, and reliant on good preparation; taking the extra time to craft bombs, traps and potions that will help you in specific battles often pays dividends.
The Witcher 2 is full of excellently-designed quests, from the grand machinations of its central plot to side-quests that deal in ghost stories, missing persons and humorous mysteries. Spend time in taverns and get into a fist-fights or gambling debt, and you might find Geralt led into something bigger. Investigating a single murder might uncover a long trail of cause and effect. These well-written diversions mean that Geralt never feels like an errand boy, and the choices that you make – minor and major –affect the course of the narrative in a way that feels natural and organic. You're never told to choose between good and evil, filling some invisible morality meter. Instead it feels like what you're doing in fact means something.
it is in the cities that the contrast between The Witcher 2 and other, cleaner, more aspirational and austere fantasies is most apparent. Games occassionally create places full of marble palaces and gorgeous architecture, wide streets and bustling town centres. These, meanwhile, are ramshackle, grimy places where the tension between humans and non-humans constantly threatens to bubble up into mob violence. As a witcher – a mutated human, essentially – Geralt finds himself somewhere between these two racial camps, and many of the decisions that you make over the course of the game feed into a much bigger racial conflict that goes utterly current monarchs and recent resentments and sometimes feels like it is etched into the very stone that the cities are built from. The Witcher 2's history and lore is built into its world and geography as effectively as it is written into characters' dialogue.
Next to the PC version, one of the most technically accomplished games around, this Xbox version can't aid but look a little compromised, even if it is amongst the best-looking games on the console. The lighting and colours aren't as dynamic, and fog usually encroaches on your view of the brilliant outdoors. there's also occasional stuttering, frame-rate drops and texture pop-in, all of which are greatly improved by installing the game to the Xbox's hard drive. These things don't undermine The Witcher 2, but they do serve as a reminder that PC players are playing a slightly better version of this great game.
In every compelling way, The Witcher 2 on Xbox 360 is identical subversive and note worthy fantasy that it was on the PC. There are some minor technical and graphical blemishes, but they don’t detract from what is one of the best RPGs of recent years, and the extra content adds value. This is an ambitious and absorbing game that’s not just superficially “adult”, but genuinely mature.