Game of the Week: The Witcher 2

Pieces of nine.

Weeks like this don't come around too often.

We get gluts of quality releases, of course, and plenty of hard choices when it comes to what to spend our hard-earned money and free time on come Friday. But this week sees the release of two absolute titans. They're not exactly similar, and they're far from perfect, but they have a couple of important things in common.

They're both adult, not just in terms of language, violence and nudity but also seriousness, ambition and fictional scope. And they're both long-form, resolutely single-player adventures of a sort that's recently seemed threatened with extinction.

There's not a multiplayer mode in sight, and the only way these games seek to defend themselves against short shelf-lives or trade-in ignominy is through sheer wealth of absorbing, crafted content.

Whether you game on consoles or PC you can play a worthy epic this weekend, and if you do both, you're spoilt for choice.

Rockstar's L.A. Noire unusually - and laudably - credits the sofa crowd with an attention span. This episodic detective thriller may have showboating production values, but it's a slow-burner; it repays patience with a compelling evocation of place and time and a surprisingly serious attempt to tackle the social issues of post-war Los Angeles.

"One of Rockstar's greatest talents is for transposing iconic slices of pop culture - Miami Vice, Spaghetti Westerns or the gangster rap myth - into games with perfect tone and timing and an uncanny sense of cool. In L.A. Noire, it has performed its most surgical transplant yet," I wrote in our L.A. Noire review.

"L.A. Noire is slow but quietly engrossing; its mechanics are suspect, but you can't fault the ambition, attention to detail and commitment that went into its making. It risks stumbling over its own earnestness at times, but it's saved by its star... That star is Los Angeles: as bizarre, threatening and fascinating in this virtual 1947 as it is in the real world today."

In my review, I noted that L.A. Noire was heavily inspired by writers like Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy, albeit filtered through their famous movie adaptations. This week's other grown-up epic needs no film director as intermediary; it comes straight from the page.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

A few years ago, writing for another publication, I travelled to a wintry Warsaw for a preview of the first Witcher game. I'd never heard of the low fantasy works of Andrzej Sapkowski on which it was based, but I understood that they were a big deal in Poland.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings trailer

I was struck by the national pride and intense connection with the subject matter displayed by the developers at CD Projekt. Here was a studio emerging from the journeyman workshops and humble niches of the Eastern European game scene with big ambitions and a distinctive voice - for which Sapkowski's gritty folklore formed the perfect platform.

With this sequel, CD Projekt has shown that it's ready to take a seat at the RPG top table.

"Fans of RPGs should consider The Witcher 2 a must-buy," said Quintin in our Witcher 2 review. "There's simply no competitor that can touch it in terms of poise, characterisation and storytelling, or the way in which it treats you not as a player - someone to be pandered to and pleased - but as an adult, free to make your own mistakes and suffer a plot in which not everyone gets what they deserve.

"Everybody else should approach excitedly, but with a little caution. The Witcher 2's opening ten hours are as impressive as they are clumsy, and a little patience is needed until the game hits its stride. What a stride, though. What bravery and gravity. With a little time investment, this game offers everything the fantasy genre can be."

And almost everything CD Projekt can be. Almost, but not quite, not yet. BioWare and Bethesda should watch their backs; the Polish underdogs have their own designs in this game of thrones.

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