PC snobs may have suggested that it wasn’t physically possible, but the Xbox 360 port of CD Projekt’s bleak and brilliant The Witcher 2 is a real thing of beauty. The Polish developer have said publicly that they’ve essentially re-built the entire game from scratch to fit Microsoft’s hardware, and that isn’t mere marketing smack talk; you’ll feel as if you’re playing an exclusive after about five minutes. A series of savvy, tit-for-tat technical substitutions behind the scenes have resulted in a game that’s almost as good-looking as its PC forbear, and the visuals will startle you; with the possible exception of Id Software’s delectable Rage, it’s the best looking game on the system. Throw in the substantial new content (originally DLC on the PC) and an interface that almost totally belies its origins as a PC game, and you’ve got something that’s every bit as essential as it was last year.
If not more so. Despite an utterly ham-fisted new tutorial that manages to make the simplest of tasks seem all but impossible (our advice: do it twice) the feat of making so many controls fit so comfortably onto the Xbox 360’s joypad cannot be underestimated. Occasionally the same button will be used twice and your first couple of combat encounters will probably err on the unfortunate side of haphazard, but if there’s one test for evaluating the success of a control scheme, the 360’s Enhanced Edition nails it: it all feels second nature in considerably less than an hour. There are a couple of other issues – the imperfect auto-save system should basically be ignored by all but the most adventurous, and a periodical bug which stops you from being able to meditate remains – but this is a top-flight console game, through and through.
For all of his moral duplicity, Geralt of Rivia is still an effortlessly appealing hero too – part Jason Bourne, part Han Solo and part North By Northwest’s Roger Thornhill – and the universe’s rich literary origins inflect absolutely everything. Paupers and bandits speak in various forms of unique guttural slang, and quest logs and character biographies read as if they’ve been torn from the pages of an ancient novel. It still remains one of the most morally inscrutable RPGs ever made, and nothing ever boils to an elementary choice between right and wrong. There are sour and caustic repercussions involved at every turn, and assessing the potential fallout from each decision you make is one of the game’s most invigorating pleasures. If playing up to the fantasy ideal of the indomitable hero is what floats your boat in games of this ilk, take that vessel and punch a hole in it. You’ll never be loved. You’ll only ever be regarded as morally ambivalent, at best.
At certain junctures, The Witcher 2’s intensely austere plot makes Skyrim look like Fable, and the one comparison that everyone has been scrambling to make recently – involving HBO’s molasses-black Game of Thrones serial – is genuinely fitting. This is a game that panders to nobody, and CD Prokekt are totally unapologetic about the fact that this is a game for adults only. This doesn’t mean that casual gamers aren’t catered for – there’s a very palatable ‘Easy’ difficulty setting – but this is a ceaselessly coarse and grisly adventure that demands a very considerable amount of your patience and your attention… and rewards both, every bit as generously. But at no point during The Witcher 2 does it ever feel as if it’s grafting slavishly for your love, and that’s precisely why you’ll love it. Dearly.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition is available now on the Xbox 360 and PC.
Watch the “True Hero” trailer for Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings below: