Heavenly Sword PlayStation 3
Published by: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Developed by: Ninja Theory
Release Date: Out Now
When a new console arrives you look for the first party titles to showcase what the console is really capable of. Resistance: Fall of Man was a good looking game and impressed in terms of how the game performed (with a great frame rate throughout) but from a visual standpoint it didn't have much of a wow factor. Heavenly Sword on the other hand does have that wow factor and shows that the PlayStation 3 is capable of so much more in terms of graphical quality. The game also makes a solid use of the Sixaxis controller's motion-sensing controls. In fact Heavenly Sword manages to shine in quite a few areas, although its brevity is a major source of disappointment.
Heavenly Sword is essentially a mass combat action game. You'll play as Nariko, the young woman who looks as though she is about to die at the beginning of the game. The events you'll play through in the game are those that have occurred in the days leading up to this opening moment. The storyline basically involves an invading King in search of the Heavenly Sword, a powerful weapon that once belonged to a deity. Whilst the sword can be wielded by a mortal, it proves to be fatal as the sword drains the life-force of the user and eventually claims their life. The Heavenly Sword is guarded by a clan which is led by Nariko's father. The evil King and his forces crush the clan and take Nariko's father captive with the idea that Nariko (who has been entrusted with looking after the sword) will hand over the sword to get her father back. Her father pleads with her not to hand over the sword. Through provocation however, Nariko decides to use the sword against her enemies and thus seals her fate.
Given that you'll spend the bulk of the game controlling Nariko who'll be wielding the Heavenly Sword against hundreds, if not thousands of enemies it's worth having a look at the combat system. Essentially there are three combat stances that Nariko can switch between during a battle. The default stance is the Speed Stance and here you'll simply have to press the square and triangle buttons (in a variety of combinations of course). The Ranged Stance allows you to attack enemies who are a small distance away from you. To perform Ranged Stance attacks you'll hold down the L1 button whilst pressing the square and triangle buttons. Finally there is the Power Stance, which allows you to land more powerful attacks although they do take longer to perform. To perform Power Stance attacks you'll hold down the R1 button whilst pressing the square and triangle buttons. Fighting enemies, particularly boss fights, will require you to switch between the stances and make good use of the games many combo moves. Performing combo moves is definitely the way to go as they not only enable you to acquire more combo moves but also to fill a meter that will enable you to do a special finishing move.
Occasionally you get a break from the hack and slash action and you'll get to do things such as operate a large cannon to defeat enemy catapults, solve a few simplistic puzzles (where you'll need to press certain buttons, primarily the X button, at certain times) and you'll also control Nariko's rather strange younger sister named Kai. Kai prefers to attack from range and is armed with a crossbow. Rather than simply firing her arrows with the press of a button, you have the option to control the flight of the arrow using the motion-sensing controls of the Sixaxis controller. You can also control the flight of the cannon balls, and thrown swords etc. during the course of the game. To be honest the motion controls in the game are an acquired taste. You'll either persevere with them and master the subtle movements required or you'll avoid them completely after a few failed attempts at using them. They are quite fun to use once you've mastered them however.
There's no denying that Heavenly Sword is the most visually impressive PlayStation 3 game so far. The visual quality of the environments and character models is very impressive, as is the number of enemies you'll see on screen at any one time. The game's cutscenes are superb and the quality of the facial expressions is probably as good as you're going to find in a console game. There are a couple of flies in the ointment however. The shadows in the game are rather unnatural and the way the characters' hair clumps together is actually quite poor given the graphical excellence elsewhere in the game. The frame rate is generally OK but there are times when it splutters. You'll also notice some minor screen tearing issues. Load times are unfortunately, rather long and if you fail a mission you have to wait for the whole thing to reload and sit through the preceding cutscene once more. These minor complaints certainly aren't anything to worry about but they do tarnish an otherwise graphically excellent game.
Deaf gamers will be able to enjoy Heavenly Sword, although the game isn't as good as it could have been in terms of catering for deaf gamers. The game is subtitled but they are turned off by default. All of the main dialogue is subtitled. The subtitles are just plain white text however. There are no character names or portraits placed alongside the text. There are many peripheral comments that are not subtitled and whilst these omissions aren’t critical to the storyline, the amount of dialogue you'll miss out on is disappointing. All tutorial messages are shown in text. Objectives are shown in text. You'll see button icons appear to show when certain buttons need to be pressed. Items than can be used (such as the jars that have to be smashed for you to regain your health) will glow to show that they can be interacted with.
Heavenly Sword is a game that's pretty satisfying from start to finish. The problem is that from start to finish isn't that long. On the normal difficulty setting you're looking at 6-7 hours which is probably at least half of what you would expect the game to last. Such is the brevity of the game that you may come to the conclusion that the game would be better served as a rental rather than a purchase. Playing the game through on a harder difficulty setting gives the game some replay value so if you are the kind of gamer who likes to replay games on harder difficulty settings then the brevity is not so much of a problem. But if you're after a game to show what your PlayStation 3 is capable of and you enjoy mass combat action games, then the game's disappointing aspects are not so difficult to overlook and you'll enjoy what Heavenly Sword has to offer.