The Witcher 2
Assassins of Kings: Enhanced Edition
Warner Brothers Xbox 360
If you're an ardent reader of Playable, you may have picked up that the sword and sorcery fantasy genre is not my favorite. Look, I liked Lord of the Rings as much as the next guy (except Legolas, because fuck Legolas.) Thing is, in a gaming universe filled with Street Fighters, Drift racing, and crazy anime girls with giant boobs street fighting and drift racing, The concept of Galapnig the Gallant traversing the mystical land of Ogihrer riding his trusty fucking steed Wyldwind just doesn't get me excited. I guess I need to rethink this though, because I thought Dark Souls and Skyrim were absolutely fantastic... and so is The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.
Picking up right where the original Witcher left off, Geralt of Rivia is acting as the bodyguard of King Foltest of Temeria. (Did you just read that sentence? THAT'S why I hate this shit.) Well, things being as they are in video games, Foltest gets himself killed, and Geralt is on everyone's most wanted list. And here the plot synopsis ends, because from here on out, the story you get won't have the same details as mine. Depending on actions and choices you make in-game, the path will branch out, leading to multiple endings.
Those choices aren't as simple as good or evil either. Plenty of times, the decision you think makes sense at the time may have consequences you weren't quite expecting. It's that open-endedness that makes the world of Witcher 2 so interesting. Unlike so many corridor-style games that hold your hand throughout, you really feel that you have control of the story. And what a story it is; there's a lot going on around you, and not all of it pretty, which is exactly what makes the game so gripping.
While the story kicks ass, the gameplay also holds up its end of the bargain, despite not being the easiest control scheme to pick up right out of the box (in all likelihood a byproduct of trying to translate controls originally for the PC). Geralt handles well, and the combat is satisfying. Because this is an RPG, the role-playing hasn't been forsaken, as there are plenty of ways to upgrade Geralt's magic ability and his stabbiness proficiency.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings offers a rich world, an intriguing storyline with plenty of in-game choices affecting said storyline and a solid and deep crafting mechanic. What's not to like? Truthfully, not much. Yes the graphics aren't quite up to par to its PC forbear, but that's hardly reason enough to skip The Witcher 2, which is shaping up to be one of the stronger titles in recent memory, even if it's a fantasy game. | RDW
Ridge Racer: Unbounded
PS3 (review copy) Xbox 360
You don't get much more arcade-racier than the Ridge Racer series. Whenever a new Ridge Racer game comes, you know what you're going to get. A drift-heavy, slickly-designed arcade racer, with a subtle Japanese feel to the presentation. With a new Ridge Racer on the horizon, we get practically none of that, which is actually a good thing.
Taking cues from contemporaries such as Burnout and the criminally underappreciated Split/Second, winning isn't solely decided by who slides sideways the best. Instead, winning depends on who can best crash the fuck out of their competition. Drifting is still a big part of the game, but instead of an on-rails slide, it requires a little more focus on speed and braking, which, dare I say it, makes it a tad more realistic. As you drift, you'll build meter, which not only gives you a speed burst, but also adds the bonus of damaging any unlucky sap you hit from behind while boosting. The carnage wrought, while familiar to veterans of current racers, is definitely quite the departure for longtime RR fans. The game itself controls well, with slick and intuitive controls, though early difficulty spikes may lead to some frustration before hitting your stride.
The grittiness of Unbounded (along with the presentation) will remind you of other current racers, which may be the biggest issue with the game. This really feels like Ridge Racer in name only, with so many things that had been hallmarks thrown out the window. Nostalgia fans may feel betrayed, but those who don't look back with rose-tinted glasses are getting a competent racer that keeps pace, though it may not outlap the rest of the video-game racing pack. | RDW
PS3 (Review Copy) Xbox 360, PC
The first Prototype had a lot of cool ideas, an interesting (for the time) premise, and visceral carnage – tons and tons of visceral carnage. Alex Mercer's experience in viral-monster-filled New York was two parts super-bloody, with Akira-esque mutations, and one part less-than-perfect execution. While Mercer handled well, and could kill with the best of them, his defensive options didn't always match up. Well, new protagonist James Heller has learned from most of Mercer's mistakes, to bring you an improved, yet still imperfect, jaunt through New York.
One year after the events of the first Prototype, it appears the denizens of New York are once again under the grips of the virus that previously turned so many of them into raving zombie-like monsters. The Military (spearheaded by dickbag biowar wing Blackwatch) quarantines NY in the wake of the newly-dubbed Mercer virus (the virus formerly known as Blacklight). It's here we meet marine James Heller, who has a personal grudge against Mercer, and a rage boner so large even God of Wars' Kratos may tell him to chill for a minute. New York is split into three zones: the red zone (where the Blacklight/Mercer virus spreads unfettered), the yellow zone (the Blackwatch-controlled area where infection is light) and the heavily Blackwatch-occupied (yet disease-free) green zone. Heller will be traversing all three areas, because...well...Mercer gave him the same powers he has, and a cryptic "all is not what it seems" message.
The combat system is improved over the original Prototype. If Mercer was the mild-mannered guy given god-like bio-stabby powers, Heller is the career killer given the same. Combat is much refined; while the offensive side was one of the original's highlights, the defensive skills (especially the bio-shield) have been greatly improved, so even when Blackwatch tries to stack the deck against Heller, he can stand his ground. Mission structure is familiar to anyone who's played an open-world game, but unfortunately many missions have a similar structure. Sneak into an enemy stronghold, kill people, escape. Wash, rinse and repeat. The story mode is pretty short, but luckily there are a good amount of side missions and doodads to hunt down to keep the killfest going.
Prototype 2 took the interesting premise of the original, and while not really adding many new ingredients, the formula has been improved. Sure, not all the wrinkles have been ironed out, but the open-world killing field still gets plenty right, making it worthy of a playthrough. | RDW
PS3 (review code) Xbox 360
With a distinct art style that may not be everyone's cup of tea, and only eight characters, one could easily dismiss this title, but you would do that at your own risk. The fighting mechanics are spot-on, with a heavy emphasis on combos and team-building. The small cast is mitigated by the fact that you are able to choose the number of fighters on your team. The default is three, but sacrifice a character for higher health and damage output. If you're feeling nasty, go with only one character... one who gets massive damage bonuses and super-high health. Upon playthrough, Skullgirls is very reminiscent of Marvel Vs. Capcom 2. You know, the game that for the better part of ten years was integral to the then-on-life-support fighting game community.
If you're interested in fighting games, but have never graduated past simple button-mashing, Skullgirl's tutorial is worth noting. More than any before it, the tutorial really teaches you the mechanics of not only Skullgirls, but also fighting games in general. It's here you learn things like the concept behind mix-ups, and how to defend against them, and all the little things that build the foundation of a strong fighting game player. Unfortunately, as helpful the tutorial is to teh noobz, the training mode – where serious fighting game players spend a lot of their time – is where the game stumbles slightly. Many fighting games have several states you can place your training dummy in, so you can practice all facets of attacking (or defending, if you so choose). Skullgirls doesn't, which is a bit of a bummer. Also missing is an in-game move list, though the fellows at Reverge have made it readily available online. Hopefully those things can be added in a future update.
With a lot of fighting games having been released recently, now more than ever it's easier to get lost in the shuffle. Skullgirls overcomes this with excellent gameplay, and the overall understanding is that this is the fighter made by the fighting game community for the fighting game community. So anyone from absolute beginner to Justin Wong should be playing this game. | RDW