Gears of War Ultimate Edition review: “Hell yeah, baby, everybody wants to see The Cole Train play”

The Gears of War series is one of improbables: Improbably large men with biceps and calves thicker than one of my thighs, improbably insane weapons (the chainsaw bayonet, anyone?) and improbably overwhelming odds but from the moment I played the original GOW way, way back in the mid-2000s on my Xbox 360, I was hooked.

Yes, it was a game oozing with bromance between muscle-bound soldiers Marcus Fenix, Baird, Dom Santiago and Augustus “Cole Train” Cole as they took on ugly, ground-dwelling foes known as the Locust on the planet Sera, but it was loud and proud and embraced that bromancing and machismo wholeheartedly. Also, you can chainsaw enemies in half.

Gears of War came out at a time when most action games were first-person shooters but Epic Games eschewed that for third-person and it worked incredibly well. You could almost feel the thud as Marcus and his pals slammed into cover. Frankly, GOW wouldn’t have worked as a FPS.


Same scene, different console: Embery Square as seen on the Xbox One ...

Same scene, different console: Embry Square in Gears of War Ultimate Edition looks much more battle-worn and decayed than the Xbox 360 version [top]

Developer The Coalition (which is made up of many of the staff who worked on the original Gears of War) has given Gears of War more than just a touch up with a palette knife: This is a game that has received a major graphical overhaul, including completely redone cinematics, and while the remake of such an influential last-generation game may have lost some of the impactful lighting that the original had, GOW is a stunning looking game that properly realises the vision that Epic games had back in 2006.

The original game had an almost blurry look to it [compare the screenshots of the Xbox One vs the Xbox 360 images] and never has Marcus Fenix and the rest of Delta squad looked so human and so emotional [Baird, especially, looks much, much better].


More realistic: Delta Squad looks more human in the Xbox One version than in the Xbox 360 one [top]

More realistic: Delta Squad looks more human in the Xbox One version than in the Xbox 360 one [below]

This new-look Gears of War is the exact same game as it was almost 10 years ago: a cover-based shooter where walls and knee-high barricades are your friend, although there is the addition of some content that only appeared on the PC version.

It’s the same story line, the same characters, the same game code, the same kill the right number of Locust so you can progress, the same thrill you get when you nail an active reload. It just looks much, much nicer thanks to the gruntier (I’m sure I just made that word up) Xbox One – and I don’t have a problem with that. This is a game that isn’t afraid to embrace its strengths.

There are some game play tweaks, which are nice additions: It now has drop-in, drop-out co-op play so a player can join in mid-mission when you need some help taking on the Locust hordes and you can now change weapons while you roadie run, which is helpful.

Look at those eyes: Marcus Fenix looks much more human in Gears of War Ultimate Edition.

Look at those eyes: Marcus Fenix looks much more human in Gears of War Ultimate Edition.

That said, you also get the same quirks that the original had. Gears of War was made at a time in video game development when quick saving wasn’t common so GOW Ultimate Edition has the same uneven checkpoint system the original had meaning if you die before you trigger the next one, you’ll be chewing through those same Locust again.

The “You take one path, we’ll take the other” game mechanic also feels a little old, and yes, squad AI is still whacked at times where squad mates will get in your way as your fire your weapon or take a while to catch up when you race ahead. I had to replay the first encounter with a Beserker several times (almost to the point of giving up) because Dom wouldn’t get out of its way, killing him, or the Beserker itself didn’t respond to the noise I was making. That was frustrating to say the least.

As far as re-masters go, Gears of War Ultimate Edition is a mighty fine one that holds up tremendously well despite being nine years old, and it’s testimony to how good a console shooter the original was. It was also a game that tried to mix up the shooter formula of the time – and it worked. I still remember the first time I encountered the terrifying Beserker or came face-to-face with Theron guards in the original. Playing GOW Ultimate Edition bought back those memories for me.

Look, for fans of the original here’s the chance to play the game again on your fancy new Xbox One console. For gamers new to the series, it’s a chance to finally play a game that would go onto to establish itself as a foundation franchise for Microsoft.

*Thanks to Xbox NZ for a downloadable copy of Gears of War Ultimate Edition. Multiplayer servers aren’t online for the public yet so I didn’t test the multiplayer which, to be fair, is probably just as well: I sucked at MP when the original Gears of War came out, I doubt I’ve got much better since then.

It’s a Mad World: Gears of War Ultimate Edition trailer

Gears of War Ultimate Edition is out on Xbox One later this month, but Xbox want to create lots of feels and emotion right now with its new trailer which uses Gary Jule’s fantastic Mad World song as the accompanying soundtrack.

Now, the new trailer isn’t a direct recreation of the trailer Microsoft produced for the original, Xbox 360 version of the game but its opening footage is from the original game – it them kicks into the new, shiny updated version.

While I still think the original Xbox 360 trailer is the better of the two at creating an emotional bond with the gamer, you can’t deny that GOW Ultimate Edition is looking pretty sharp.

It’s hard to believe, too, that the original Gears of War came out 10 years ago, in 2005. That’s like a lifetime in video games, isn’t it?


Halo Master Chief Collection review: Finishing the fight again (but in 1080p)

When Halo first launched on the original Xbox, I’m sure I wasn’t the only person that  didn’t expect it to become the gaming phenomenon it has, but now, thinking back, it’s probably no surprise that Bungie’s console shooter has had the impact on FPS games, both in campaign and multiplayer, that it has.

Halo: The game that started it all.

Halo: The game that started it all.

I don’t actually think I finished Halo. I don’t know why that was but as the years passed, and more Halo games were released, I got more into the series, invested in what a seven-foot tall super soldier, the Master Chief, and his female AI companion Cortana got up to and faced as they traveled the galaxy saving it.

Halo Master Chief Collection brings together the four games featuring the Master Chief and I didn’t play through to completion each of these tweaked Halos – but then with the Master Chief Collection I don’t have to. The games have been given the 1080p treatment and frame rates lifted to 60 per second.

Halo 2 Anniversary: Feels all the loves in this compilation package.

Halo 2 Anniversary: Feels all the loves in this compilation package.

Thanks to the unified menu system, where everything is accessible from the one place, players can select any chapter from any Halo game and play it at any time they want. This means you can play Gravemind from Halo 2 Anniversary then jump to The Silent Cartographer  in Halo Combat Evolved before fast forwarding and taking the fight to the Prometheans in Infinity in Halo 4. It gives Halo fans a choice as to how they play the series, and I like that. I can play Halo the way I want to play it, and I like that.

I’ll also confess to starting each chapter in Halo 2 Anniversary just so I could watch the new cut scenes created by Blur Studio especially for Halo 2 Anniversary, which are, quite frankly, stunning.

Just how stunning they are is even more evident when you press the select button on the Xbox One controller  and travel back in time and view how the game originally looked.

Doing this really shows you just how far in-game cinematics have come in 10  years. It’s quite jarring, to be honest, but sometimes switching to the original view is functional: I actually found myself switching back to the original graphics in some levels because I was able to see enemies better. Strange, huh?

Of the four games in the package, Halo 4 is probably the least impressive visually in this package, but that’s  only because it was already an outstanding looking game when it came out on the Xbox 360.

Sound, too, has been given an update, with the sweeping orchestral score having been remastered and weapon sounds re-recorded so they pack more aural punch.

I haven’t had a chance to dive into the multi player (darn work keeps getting in the way) yet but HMCC brings together all the MP maps and their additions, again all in one place, and I only have a couple of niggles about the overall experience.

Halo 4: One of my favourite Halo games.

Halo 4: One of my favourite Halo games.

One is to do with Halo 2 Anniversary’s checkpoint save system, which still annoys me.  The problem I have is that the Halo games aren’t generous enough with its checkpoints.

Example: During one of the early missions, after battling through countless grunts, Elites and a couple of Hunters, I selected “Save and Quit” from the main menu, intending to come back to where I left off later. When I started again I expected to be at the point I finished, so imagine my surprise when I had to restart the level from a point about 15 minutes previously. The “Save and Quit function” had saved at the last checkpoint,  rather than the point I was at, which is frustrating to say the least.

Another niggle is while everything content-wise is unlocked and ready to access from Day 1, strangely the co-operative Spartan Ops won’t be available till December ,  as will the episodic TV-style Halo Nightfall (not that I’m that excited about that, anyway). And for some reason, if I do want to just watch the cut scenes of Halo 2 Anniversary on their own or access content from Halo 2’s in-game terminals (which are dotted about the game world) I have to launch an external app called the Halo Channel, which means you’re taken out of the game. It’s jarring to say the least.

Halo Master Chief Collection represents an opportunity for Xbox One Halo fans to play the series they love on their new fandangled games machine.

But it’s more than that: It’s something of historical guide, I think, as to how the Halo series (and FPS games, in general perhaps?) have evolved both technically and narratively over the years.

Here is the chance for fans of the series who have watched Master Chief and Cortana develop as characters almost to the point that they’re a couple who can’t live without each other, to relive it all for a modern age.

I’m confident the Halo Master Chief Collection will help sell a fair few Xbox One consoles, and with exclusive titles Sunset Overdrive, Forza Horizon 2 and now MCC, the Xbox One is now starting to hit its stride.

Forza Horizon 2 review: Going on a road trip, baby

Off-road: Where we're going we don't need roads.

Off-road: Where we’re going we don’t need roads.

Microsoft’s Forza Horizon 2, a car game that has racing in it, has had an interesting effect on my car-mad teenage son. I’m bike-mad, he’s car-mad.

Anyway, after driving exotic sports cars around Italy – France and Italy are the  playground for this second Forza Horizon game –  during the game’s road trips, my teenage son proclaimed his future plans.

“When I’m older I want to go to Europe and rent a Lamborghini. How much would it cost to hire one of those?” he asked. “Probably quite a lot,”I told him. He contemplated for a little bit then said, “You’ll have to come with me then.” Good lad.

The original Forza Horizon never really connected with me: Maybe it was the North American setting but for some reason Horizon 2 has captured my attention and made me want to keep exploring, keep racing and keep gaining XP so I level up, win more championships and seek the final challenge. The basic premis is that you have to win the right amount of championship events to take place in the Horizon Festival’s final event.

In-car view: Perhaps the best view to drive from.

In-car view: Perhaps the best view to drive from.

As I write this, I’m sitting at level 26 (a low level compared to some of the people I’ve encountered), have raced in 32 championship events, and have had 53 collisions in one race.

Perhaps the appeal of a game like this is that I get to drive virtual representations of cars that I’ll never own, and there are 210 cars to unlock, ranging from luxury sports car, rugged 4WDs and American Muscle cars. I think, though, much of the appeal is that there is so much fun to be had outside of the racing. Just driving around brings its own rewards.

Everything you do in Forza Horizon 2 earns XP, and the more XP you earn, the faster you’ll level up: Do a nice drift around a tight corner, you earn XP; pass within a cat’s whisker of an oncoming car, you earn XP; smash a street light and take down a stop sig, you earn XP. Some  things earn small amounts of XP, others earn bigger amounts, and everytime you level up, you get to do a virtual Wheelspin which can reward you with credits or a new vehicle to add to the garage. Perks are the game’s skill tree, letting you tweak how you want XP to be earned doing different things.

Race time: each race gets you closer to the championship finale.

Race time: each race gets you closer to the championship finale.

As well as straight out race events – each championship event has four events to complete – there are also things called Showcase events, which add a bit of variety to the frequent A to B beat-the-other-car races. One of the Showcase events has you having to outrun 37 hot air balloons in a 1970s Lancia rally car. Another has you  having to sprint against a steam train. Another has you  having to beat a squadron of fighter jets to the finish line.  They add excitement to things and a touch of style.

The  game’s Bucket List, too, is a nice  diversion from all the racing, letting you do things like drive a luxury sports car like you stole it or have to gain the fastest speed through a speed zone.

Horizons 2 looks gorgeous, too, with the car’s appropriately shiny, European architecture and wide open fields, but I have to talk about the ambient weather effects and the day/night cycle. They are, in a word, amazing, adding immersion to the game. The sky goes dark and thunder booms overhead when a storm is approaching, clouds blackening with moisture. Rain drops splatter windscreens, streaked by wipers. Sunlight blooms and rainbows appear when the rain has gone. Playground Games has done an outstanding job.

The game’s makers say that Forza Horizon 2’s drivatars, which populate the game world, are based on the driving styles of real-life Forza Horizon players. All I can say is I pity those other FH2 players who have the misfortune of running into me on the roads of Europe, especially when I first started playing.

If you saw an Ariel Atom race car driving erratically through fields, slamming into trees, and generally slipping and sliding all over the roads, it was likely me.  In fact, I can probably guarantee it’s me.

Something that was frustrating about the drivatars, though, was that on the moments when you drove to the next region – the game’s road trips –  they turned it into a race, meaning at times several of them would collide with each other. I lost count the number of times a drivatar would race past me, pull in front then slam on its brakes, forcing me to crash into it. Perhaps  future DLC for the game should include a virtual insurance company to ring?

It’s testimony to how good a car game is – and Forza Horizon is an outstanding car game – when it grabs the attention of a gamer like me – one who isn’t a huge car game fan – and won’t let go. Forza Horizon 2 grabbed me after the first race – despite the cheesy, non-skippable intro sequence that just seemed a little forced – and I’m hooked.

And for Xbox owning car racing fans, this is a no brainer. It’s gorgeous, it’s huge, and it’s fun. Isn’t that what a car racing game should be?

Forza Horizons 2 is a game that will  capture your imagination, cajole you into racing one more event, and won’t let go. It’s set a very high bar for other car racing games to come close to. The challenge has been set.

It’s now up to other car racing games to accept the challenge.

Xbox NZ kindly supplied a digital copy of Forza Horizon 2  for this review.

GTAV: it’s not always about the story missions

It was the perfect afternoon for a drive.

I turned the convertible from the wide-laned freeway onto a mountain road, headed back towards the suburbs of Los Santos, the Pacific Ocean glistening to my right. Not a cloud in the clear, blue sky. Phil Collins, I think, was playing on the radio. It was the perfect day. Serene and calm.

I spotted what looked like a cyclist up a head, dancing on the pedals of his road bike, his body gently rocking from side to side as he made his way up the incline. A lot of small touches had impressed me before in GTAV but this one felt personal, this one resonated with me:  A tanned and fit cyclist, kitted out in sponsor-emblazoned  lycra, riding a sleek racing bike was out for an afternoon bike ride.

GTAVMichaelFranklinTrevorI slowed down and just followed him: transfixed at this virtual cyclist ascending a mountain road. I sped ahead and got out, activating the camera on my smart phone, hoping to get a good photo of what I’d seen. I snapped as he rode past. I’m sure he looked at me, strangely, but he kept on climbing.

Unfortunately, as I walked back to the car, a few hundred metres up the road, another vehicle drove past, wiping out my open door. My convertible now not only had the top down, but it only had one door. Still, this was a day where nothing could bother me.

I passed the cyclist again, stopped and took some more photos. He gave me another funny look as he rode past.

On the descent I followed quietly behind, the cyclist freewheeling and gliding down the hill, pedaling every now and then to keep his momentum up.

Nearing the bottom of the hill, as the road joined a larger road, there was a service station (gas station) and the cyclist rode into the car parking area, dismounted and pulled out his smart phone.  Mysteriously, his bike just stood upright by itself but that’s OK. This is a game: Sometimes I can suspend belief.

He was a well-tanned individual, slightly European looking, but he was acting weird. I took some snaps of him and his bike, but as I focussed in on the bike frame (I am somewhat obsessed by bicycle frames) I heard him talking to someone on his phone: It was the police. He was saying some like I was being an arsehole and could they get here.

I stood amazed. Here was a non-integral person in the game having an impact on how things were shaping. My mini map suddenly turned a shade of light blue and a blue and red dot appeared on the screen: I knew what had happened here. The police were on their way to have a chat to me about harassing the cyclist.

For the record, I didn’t harass him: I was just taking photos. It’s a pity I can post the screen shots here.

A brief chase ensued but I managed to escape the police by running through a few luxury homes down the road, avoiding their cones of vision and confusing the heck of them.

Some other things I’ve observed; if you almost run over a person in a car and you’re stopped at a set of lights, bystanders will sometimes run over, pull you out of your car and start beating the crap out of you. One of my friends on XB Live told me to stand next a police man and see what happens.  I haven’t done it yet but it’s on my list of things to do.

I also want to buy a dock so I can do scuba diving.  I hijacked a speed boat one morning and just travelled around the island, seeing how far I could go, what I could see. During one mission involving a submersible in the Pacific Ocean and playing as Trevor, while I waited for Franklin and Michael to arrive, a large shark circled, giving me a bit of a shiver. It was a biggun,

GTAbikeI drove past a house to see a man imploring his wife to stop throwing his golf belongings from the balcony to the roadside. “Who plays golf at midnight?” the wife argues as she throws another bag onto the drive. I gave him and his favourite iron a ride to the golf club and he said he wouldn’t go home until he’d had a “few drinks in me and her meds had kicked in”.

GTAV isn’t just always about the missions and the story but I have to say the game has an appalling attitude towards the depiction of women: They’re either prostitutes, stripper or disgruntled wives/girlfriends/aunts – and that’s really not good in this day and age.

To be honest, I didn’t really start seriously tackling the story missions until I’d explored for a few hours, and that’s where GTAV’s strengths are: Just exploring and trying things. The stats at the Rockstar Social Club says I’ve sunk 21 hours into GTAV and completed about 40 per cent of everything there is to do.

So, I say go forth and explore. You might be surprised what you find.

Watch Dogs game play trailer

We like videos here at Game Junkie 2.0: It means we don’t have to concentrate so hard and just have to look at the pretty moving pictures.

Watch Dogs, from Ubisoft, is looking to be pretty good – it has a real Person of Interest TV show vibe to it (Person of Interest is a TV show about a computer network that can predict crime before it happens and the two guys out to stop those crimes) – but, of course, I’ll wait to pass judgement  on it when I eventually play it (and it could be some time before I play it as I expect Grand Theft Auto V to suck up a lot of my free time).

Any way, here’s a 14-minute game play trailer from Ubisoft that shows how protagonist Aidan Pierce can hack just about anything around him to gain access to things. Watch Dogs (I refuse to do the underscore between the two words) is either going to be an amazing game or it’ll be a run-of-the-mill third-person game that’ll be swallowed up in the wake of GTAV.

Hmmmm, I wonder if GTAV will be so big that we’ll start talking about games as “post-GTAV”?

Time will tell I guess. Let me know what you think of the video.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is all kinds of special

Is this guy just trolling these two brothers? Nah.

Is this guy just trolling these two brothers? Nah.

I’ve tried not to spoil anything in this review. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (out on PS3 and Xbox 360 now, Steam at some time soon)  is something you need to experience for yourself, so if you’re in any doubt – as much as I hate to say this – stop reading now!

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is, essentially, a tale about loss and how two brothers deal with it. At least, that’s what I think it’s about.

I say it’s about loss because the game opens with the younger of the two brothers mourning the death of his mother, her headstone looking out from a hilltop over a calm sea. The boy sobs gently as he remembers his mother but his sorrow is short lived, as he soon has to help his older brother get his clearly ailing father to the village doctor – and their quest begins to search for the remedy.

Brothers is one of those games where quiet, contemplative moments are common (there are even benches dotted around the environment where one or both of the brothers can sit and soak up the stunning vistas, and they are truly are stunning) but it’s also one of those games that has a moment near the end so profound that it alters the whole shift of the game.  I wish I could tell you about it but it’ll spoil the whole game.  Let’s just say it’s a profound event.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a single player co-operative game where you control both brothers, at the same time in an effort to save their father, and while most of the time  you control the brothers individually, the game really shines when you have to combine the talents of the two to solve the game’s simple puzzles.

The left stick controls the older, stronger brother, while the right stick controls the younger, more agile sibling. The trigger buttons let each brother interact with the environment. It’s not a perfect control system – an hour or so into the game I was still managing to steer one or other brother into a wall or pillar every now and then – but sometimes it just shines, especially a moment when the pair have to control a gilder as it soars through the air.

It’s also clear from the beginning that although the pair speak in some nonsensical language (somewhat similar to the language spoken by Sims), the boys have very different personalities – and that comes out in they way the boys interact with their surroundings. When the pair come across a fellow villager tending to some plants, the younger boy slaps him playfully on the backside, while the older boy tries to placate him. The younger boy plays a villager’s harp beautifully, while the other plays it dismally.

brothers-a-tale-of-two-sonsThe game play is simple enough: environmental puzzles – for example,  in one location, the younger boy will turn a handle to open a gate while the older boy clings to a chain handing from a conveyor belt – ledge grabbing and climbing and as the boys’ journey continues they’ll come across a variety of landscapes and inhabitants, including rock trolls, the remnants of a battle between giants and a snowy wonderland.

In one scene as the boys traverse an underground mine (sometimes you can see trolls down below swinging pick axes), they come across a troll trapped inside a locked cage. The only problem is that the key to the lock is on the belt of a nearby guard, who stands behind two gates. As I guided the younger of the boys through the first gate then negotiated piles of human bones , I couldn’t help but smile as he started tip toeing across, careful not to disturb the bleached white bones for fear of attracting the attention of the guard troll.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons won’t take an age to finish – I think I finished it in around three hours (I wasn’t counting but it was done over an evening) – but I was captivated the entire time, even though the puzzle solving won’t tax those wanting to test their grey matter and the game play is a little safe at times.

This is a game that plays like it’s set in one of Grimm’s fairy tales and to be honest the control system only caused me problems during on chase sequence where I died once until I’d worked out the layout of obstacles in the boys’ path. This is a game that has an ending that comes as a surprise and one that shows the game’s makers weren’t afraid to push the boundaries a little and give gamers’ something to think about. The team at Starbreeze and 505 Games deserve any accolades they receive for this game: It’s one of the most memorable I’ve played this year.

You can probably tell I loved Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. It’s haunting, it’s captivating, and I could play games like this until the cows come home (I’m not sure what that phrase means, considering I’m not a farmer but I’m hoping it means that I’ll be doing something for a long, long time). I liked it. A lot.

As far as I’m concerned, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a must-play for gamer’s who want something different from the AAA blockbusters that tread the tried and true,

The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition interview

In a rather hastily organised interview (I was contacted on Monday night about it), this week I spoke with Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz, senior quest designer with CD Projekt’s The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition (Xbox 360). The game is out sometime next month and after talking to Mateusz (that’s him on the right) I’m quite intrigued in it.

The Witcher 2 came out in PC last month to critical acclaim and has sold close to (or sold) 1 million copies already. I played the original The Witcher when it first came out. It was pretty good, if I recall correctly. The interview may not make sense sometimes as I think Mateusz had trouble at times with my New Zealand accent while I had trouble understanding his strong Polish accent at times. Hopefully most of it makes sense.

I played the first Witcher on PC, which came out about 2007, and second Witcher game came out on PC in 2011. What is it about that game that gels with gamers?

I think that one of the most important things that we did right was the storyline. It’s mature and we have made it very non-linear.  I think that was one of the most appealing things to the players but we have also taken all the suggestions of the players had from The Witcher into account. We have changed the combat system, added new equipment, so I guess the players appreciated all those changes.

What were the main changes that players wanted to see?

The most complaints I heard about The Witcher was the combat system  not many people liked it. Most people thought it was too simple. Most people thought it was about clicking the right button in the right [he pauses to find the right word] tempo, the right momentum. They wanted something more action like and we’ve brought that to them.

So how have you made the combat better?

We have changed it completely, to be honest. We have … ah, in the Witcher 2 you can’t play in the vertical view so we don’t have point-and-click combat anymore. You also don’t have also those combat styles you had in the Witcher: which is simply swift and, ah,ah,  the Witcher used only strong strikes, or tough strikes or group strikes … so now you have strong strikes on one button and fast strikes on the other, and you make a combination of those two. Also we have changed the AI (artificial intelligence) of opponents. In The Witcher they were simply divided into groups of opponents, like strong opponents which were vulnerable to strong attack styles, if the Witcher used it, and tough opponents which had to be killed using the tough attack styles. In The Witcher 2 we have opponents more divided into the combat styles they use. So we have opponents with a shield,  we have opponents with two weapons, we have opponents with ranged weapons, etc. It’s not about using only fast strikes to kill opponents with two swords, for example, it’s more about thinking how to slow them down because they are very fast and how to immobilise them. So it’s completely changed.

Do you think with this new combat system each player could tackle combat differently from, say, another player because of all the options open to them?

Yes, certainly. We have added new abilities for the Witcher and most of the signs that he has now are really useful during the combat, I think. Not all of the signs in The Witcher were all that useful and besides the signs,  of course, you also have all the talents that improve your short combat  we have added finishers, we have added ripostes. Ripostes work, like, when you are blocking in the right moment you can make the Witcher perform a riposte, so it is a more action-like feature. Also, you have a lot of gadgets, you can also use bombs, which you create yourself, you can use traps, you can use lures to lure monsters  so you have a big variety of things to do.

Is The Witcher 2 a good mix of RPG and action game or is it leaning more towards an action feel?

No, no, we didn’t want to, you know, we still wanted it to be a pure-blooded RPG, so it’s more like a mix of action game and RPG and on the easy mode you can probably go through the whole game without much effort. This mode was made mainly for the players that wanted to concentrate on the story, on the dialogue, and on the plot, mainly. We didn’t forget about them because we know that many people who played The Witcher played it mostly for the story and don’t care for the action elements.

With the enhanced edition coming out on Xbox 360 next month, what challenges did developing the game for a console bring?

Well, you know, the architecture of the Xbox console is completely different than for the PC, as you may know, so it was a big challenge for the whole team because we hadn’t made any console games before. So we had to change our way of thinking and had to recreate the game anew, to be honest. It was not a simple port  we call it an adaptation in most interviews because we had to change many systems to make it user-friendly for console gamers. It’s simply not the same for PC gamers as console gamers. So aside from technical difficulties we wanted to change some things to make it more friendly for console gamers.

Do you think sometimes that games going from PC to console are sometimes `dumbed down’ to suit the different control system [of a console]?

Ah [long pause], you know what, we have also changed the control systems in our game, now that you mention it. For example, we have changed the mapping of the buttons because you could have played The Witcher 2 on PC and you could playing an Xbox pad but we have changed the mapping to be more intuitive for Xbox 360 players. Also we have made some changes to the camera system so now when you are running around the camera positions itself behind your back  you can move it  but it’s more natural now. I don’t know if I answered your question ...

Do you think that Xbox gamers will get the same experience as PC gamers – or is there one definitive version of The Witcher 2?

We have added a lot of new content, so on the one hand the game is the same quality as it was on the PC but I would say that it’s even better now because we have added all this new content, new movies  the CGI intro which you could have seen [I told him I had and it was very impressive] but we have added many other things. I think it’s going to be an amazing experience for console gamers. All the DLC and things that we have given the PC players is going to be on Xbox as well. Also, all the new things that we are providing the Xbox 360 are also going to be added into The Witcher 2 PC version.

Sounds like it was a huge undertaking to do all this? Sounds like there was a lot of work involved?

Yes, it was. I don’t think I can elaborate on that, it was really tough work to do.

What has been most satisfying for you in doing the console version?

Apart from all the new content, I’m really proud of the CGI  we didn’t do it  but I am really proud of it. It was created by Tomasz Baginski (a Polish animator, film director and illustrator and former Oscar nominee) and we’re really pleased to have it.  Also, we’re really pleased in being able to fix all the issues that PC players are having, also I’m really proud that we’ve made new quests  these are really large adventures.

Talking about quests, you are a quest designer, right?

Yes, I am a senior quest designer.

So for you, what did that involve? What were your day-to-day duties?

We had to design the new quests and implement them. So it was much like the process of creating the Witcher 2. We just started creating new content.  I had to address all the issues we had on the Xbox version but aside from that we had to design these new quests, we had to implement them and make fixes in them, we had to put all the new content in the game because we have added a new lot of cut scenes and movies, so we had to change the original content. So yeah, it was mostly that.

Is it difficult coming up with original quests when there are a few RPG games around now?

Are you asking me if we had trouble coming up with new ideas? In my opinion, in this universe, in the one that The Witcher 2 takes place, it has a really large potential that was as yet was untouched. There are a lot of RPG games out there but most of them are, in my opinion, high fantasy games or dark fantasy games ... ah, so it wasn’t that hard at all, to be honest. There are only a limited number of things which you can think of in a limited time but on the other hand this universe has so much potential because Geralt of Rivia  (our main protagonist), he’s not the normal type of hero. He is quite tired with the world around him so he’s not a saviour of the innocents, you know, he doesn’t rescue puppies from fires, so it’s really interesting to design quests from his approach. We’re not using the old stereotypes about where you have a simple quest and in the end you have a choice: one choice is good, one choice is bad. In our game we create different choices that aren’t right, they aren’t wrong, but they are just choices, which you must do, but you must face the consequences later. So I think it brings a different approach to the plot.

Can you ever see The Witcher 2 coming out on the PlayStation 3, for example, now that you have a history of working on consoles?

That’s a really good question but to be honest now all of our efforts are concentrated on the Xbox version because, you know, we haven’t finished it yet. So we really would like to but no decision has yet been made. That’s all that I can tell you. That’s the only thing I know, to be honest.

Where next for you after The Witcher 2 Extended Edition is finished? Any idea where you next project will go? Are you going to take a break?

No, no, we are certainly going to work on something but I’m not allowed to say yet. Certainly we not going to take a one year break [laughs].

E3 2011: Xbox press conference – where Kinect rules the roost

OK, here’s my take on the Microsoft Xbox press conference that was held today (4.30am New Zealand time, so no wonder I’m a little tired now) and it was a press event that had a raft of Kinect games on show and a brief glimpse of where the Halo franchise is going.

The 90-minute Xbox event was dominated by Kinect, with Xbox’s Don Mattrick introducing the “next wave” of Kinect titles which showcased the device’s gesture and voice commands.

The event opened with a demo of Modern Warfare 3, showing a diver planting a bomb on a submarine before joining fellow operatives in boarding a enemy vessel and shooting their way to the surface and launching missiles. Next up was Kinect – which was the focus of the show – with EA’s Peter Moore saying there would be Kinect support for upcoming Tiger Woods PGA Tour, Fifa and Madden games, as well as in The Sims 3 Pets and Family Game Night 4.

Next up was Ray Muzyka, from Bioware, who was there to introduce Mass Effect 3, a game he said will support Kinect voice in both conversations and in combat. Players will be able to converse with players using voice, rather than the controller, as well as order commands to your squad during combat.

Ubisoft’s Yves Guillemot introduced Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Future Soldier, which will have Kinect support for weapon customisation – you can build something like 20 million unique weapons using arm gestures or voice commands. The demo also showed how you can reload, aim and fire a weapon using gesture rather than the controller.

“Xbox where’s my voice commands, huh?”

Xbox Live’s Marc Whitten saids YouTube was coming to Live and you’d be able to use voice commands to “control your entertainment” (NZ doesn’t even have operational voice commands yet: when are we going to get that, Microsoft?). Microsoft’s search engine Bing is also coming to Xbox Live so if you want to search for a particular game – say, anything with Lego in it – you can go “Xbox Bing Lego” and it will show all matches.

Whitten says Xbox Live TV is going to the United States and around the world (including Foxtel in Australia) but will such a feature come to New Zealand, and if so, when?

Halo and Gears of War 3: for the hardcore gamers

Hardcore Halo fans weren’t forgotten with a trailer of Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary, a fully remastered and remade version of the original featuring the full campaign and seven multiplayer maps, and Cliff Blesinski and rapper Ice-T played a co-op level of Gears of War 3 where Dom and his team had to fight a giant, ugly, google-eyed sea monster.

Blesinski said thanks to the GOW3 multiplayer beta, this game would be the “best and most polished Gears game to date”.

Peter Molyneux came out for Fable: The Journey, in what seems to be a first-person, on-rails Fable with Kinect support.

“Fable has always been about you being the hero but we wanted to know how we can make you 100 times more involved,” Molyneux said. The next Fable game would bring “power and control to your fingertips”. The demo showed a guy controlling a horse and cart, holding his hands out in front holding the reins, then conjuring up magic and spells during some combat. He also slapped enemies.

Minecraft, the game that swept the PC world by storm, is also coming to Xbox 360 as well as two Kinect games for children: Kinect Disneyland Adventures and Tim Schaefer’s Once Upon a Monster.

Use the fork, Luke

The briefly glimpsed Kinect Star Wars from last year’s E3 was shown in demo form today, and the intro showed rancors, cloud city, clone troopers, speeder bikes, pod racing and space battles. “Lightsabre on,” the dude playing the demo shouted – and his blue lightsabre sparks into life. He used force push to move a tank and push droids out of the way. The demo ends with two sith appearing, and both duel wielding lightsabres.

Something that is really interesting to me, though, is Kinect Fun Labs, which Microsoft’s Kudo Tsunoda said would be available for download over Xbox Live today – and it is: I downloaded it this morning but haven’t had a play yet.

Fun Labs is a collection of Kinect tools that lets you scan objects so you can play with them in-game as well as do 3D painting using finger scanning. Fun Labs supports individual finger scanning as well as body scanning, which means you can create an Xbox Live Avatar that looks like you.

Kinect Sports is back with Season 2 and it brings six new sports, including skiing and tennis, plus in-game voice recognition and new gestures. The demo showed a woman playing golf and two testosterone-fuelled dudes playing a game of American football.

Dance Central 2 was also shown off, then Don Mattrick returned, saying that this year Xbox 360 would change living room entertainment forever and that “Xbox 360 will become the bestselling console globally”. He closed the conference by announcing a “new trilogy for the Xbox 360”, then the Halo 4 trailer played, showing a Master Chief on board a damaged spaceship  heading towards a giant white ring.

EA and Sony also have their press conferences today. I missed the EA one – I had to go to work – but did watch the Sony one on a most unreliable livestream. I’ll get my thoughts on Sony’s presser later tonight.

Nintendo’s is tomorrow, where it is expected to show off its next console.