Games

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

Despite being more or less superhumanly powerful and capable of affecting the fate of nations, the witcher always has time to exorcise the wraiths from an innkeeper's cellar or to hunt the monster under your bed.


Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Title: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
Price: $59.99
Format: Xbox 360 (reviewed), Playstation 3, PC
Players: 1
ESRB Rating: Mature
Developer: CD Projekt RED
Release Date: 2012-04-17
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The Witcher 2 is a lot of game. Most reviews of last year's PC release reported that it was a lot of very good game, and those reviews are right.

That being said, the game's prologue, a largely linear affair, does not do the game any favors. Featuring a number of hours of largely linear play, the prologue gives the impression that the game is largely just a simple action RPG. What it especially fails to do is convey the complexity and sheer size of the world that the game has to offer. Also, through the prologue's illusion of meaningful choices (the initial missions in the game can be played in any order, though that order doesn't actually matter at all), it suggests that the game is, like so many other RPGs out there, attempting to “pretend” at giving the player significant choices to make in the game world, but those choices don't really matter much in a game that will largely be following a fairly linear script.

This is misleading because The Witcher 2 does just the opposite, offering any number of interesting choices that change the game in tremendously significant ways. Indeed, the entire second and third act of the game, which comprise dozens and dozens of gaming hours, will be entirely different depending on choices made in the first act. The full scope of the game's plot absolutely cannot be experienced on a single playthrough. And the game's endings will vary enormously as well depending on choices made in those latter acts of the game.

Frankly, all of the complaints that gamers had with the limited outcomes offered by Mass Effect 3 would be well served to get a hold of The Witcher 2. This is the game that you may have wanted Mass Effect 3 to be, where life and death decisions matter to the balance of power in the world of Geralt of Rivia, and entire threads of the plot can be lost or gained depending on the manner in which you decided to handle things.

The latter end of the game is full of moments when you realize that something that you did hours and hours ago had a profound effect on what is happening now and that is a really refreshing experience in a medium that often makes such promises, but fails to deliver.

Those familiar with the first game will find that this new version of The Witcher carries with it some of its PC heritage and will also find that the decision to eventually release the sequel on a console was clearly an element that has shaped how the game has ultimately turned out.

The Witcher 2 retains its unusually complex alchemy and crafting systems, staples of the PC title that reward preparation for battle, rather than purely tactical, twitch-based action. Like the fist game, Geralt, as a witcher (a medieval monster hunter), depends on alchemical agents and the like to give him an edge in battle against mundane enemies and beasties from the netherworld. Thus, there is an entire menu system to wade through and time spent preparing potions and thinking ahead about what needs to be done before charging off to battle. This may come as an annoyance to console players, who are accustomed to their action being served up fast and furious. However, it is kind of what makes Geralt who he is and is part of what sets the game apart from other combat games with fantasy trappings.

That being said, gone is the complex and rather strange combat of the first game, in which Geralt had to switch fighting styles depending on opponents and had to time blows to strike during balletic pre-scripted combat animations. I am somewhat sad to see the system go, as it was entirely unique, and it may be a similar disappointment to PC gamers, as it is certainly a system built more for keyboard and mouse than controller. Instead, once combat is initiated, the game becomes a familiar console experience of skillfully and fully controlling third person combat.

Both choices seem good ones here, as the game's complexity is not fully dumbed down, but the acknowledgment that console play is different than PC play is a sensible one and makes the game move at a much faster clip than the previous installment.

What The Witcher essentially boils down to, though, is Geralt himself. The monster hunter is not an especially complex character, part Clint Eastwood (stoic, serious, and badass) and, oddly enough, part James Bond (quiet, though he is, Geralt is a cad, who will never turn down a bit of skirt, should the opportunity arise). White haired and yellow eyed, he is strangely compelling in his general neutrality to politics and the other shennanigans going on in his world. However, this outsider is drawn to individual plight and the people around him. Despite being more or less superhumanly powerful and capable of affecting the fate of nations, he always has time to exorcise the wraiths from an innkeeper's cellar or to hunt the monster under your bed.

The character driven quality of The Witcher and its intense focus on tight plotting is more reminiscent of JRPGs than the typical American-style of game (say, Skyrim), which tend to favor the player's ability to design their own hero and wander a world largely how that player wishes. That being said, the focus on a much more action-based combat system makes it feel very American. There is not much random battle here and, of course, no turn-based combat. For someone, like me, who prefers story over turn-based combat and action over generic template character design, it really is a mix of the best of both worlds.

Mostly, though, The Witcher shines most when it offers its own unique approach to role playing and choice. This is a game in which you can walk away from the final boss fight, and doing so or not, will probably depend on what choices you made all the way along in the game and what feels right based on the context that you have created for the plot. It depends on how you deecided to motivate Geralt. CD Projekt has proven that you can make a game with a character that has a complete background and motivations that belong to him as a result of their sense of the story, but also one that the player really has a hand in determining how he will ultimately deal with the problems put before him.

I have pretty much given up on long form role playing games, finding them too time consuming with too little pay off (I'm looking at you Skyrim), often featuring characters that feel vaguely inserted into a world to pass some time in and nothing more. While The Witcher requires a lot of commitment because it really is a whole lot of game, Geralt really feels like he belongs in his world and matters in that world, making the time spent there with him seem worth all of the effort.

9

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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