Heavenly Sword PS3 Review

Ask a large number of PlayStation 3 owners what the console needs and an almost endless echo of “games” will come back in reply. This writer has got to admit that £425 was a lot of money to spend on a system that hasn’t exactly hit its stride as of yet. Still these are early days, and in the PS3’s first year comes Heavenly Sword, a Sony exclusive and a hopeful big hitter for the console.

It’s really quite obvious that no expenses were spared during the development cycle of Heavenly Sword, and if we heard that people involved in the game were done for robbing a bank or two, we’d be as surprised as we have been with 2007’s wet UK summer.

Take the story as an example: a decent enough yarn in itself, although add in tremendous voice acting and some of the most emotive characters ever featured in a game and you have some rare filmic qualities. You’ll know what the cast of characters are feeling without them evening opening their perfectly formed mouths, such is their eerie expressiveness. The lip synching is also mostly spot on, assuring that the characters on your TV screen are very much alive and are nothing at all like the undead zombies featured in Resident Evil or Dead Rising. Of course, we don’t intend to offend any of the other gaming characters out there with the previous sentence, but the likes of Nariko, Kai, King Bohan and company have surely set a new standard for spookily real character faces.

The production values may have cost a fortune, and for good reason, but you are probably wanting to know about the game right about now, and we don’t blame you, as Heavenly Sword is a game that has been along time coming, originally an Xbox project before becoming a hopeful gamer magnet for Sony and their third console.

Primarily you’ll take control of Nariko, a redheaded female with some really quite major issues. Her dilemma is brought on by wielding the blade of the titular Heavenly Sword in the early stages of the game. Interacting with the sword in this manner isn’t clever as the wielders life is then slowly drained (perhaps the weight of the said weapon is the culprit) until succumbing to death. Joining Nariko is the catlike Kai, a female archer whom is also playable at certain points in the game. Whilst Kai is certainly likeable enough, she’s also one of the oddest characters we’ve come across, taking serious situations and turning them into games, eating worms, and requiring a good shake every now and then to bring her back down to earth.

Nariko’s combat sections are both beautiful and fierce. Beautiful thanks to the graceful and flowing animation, and fierce because of the satisfying sound effects and the heavy hitting animations. The combat system is a rather good one, and Nariko is certainly equally skilled in both defence and attack, making her a more than efficient wielder of a very big and un-lady like sword.

Indeed, when Nariko gets her hands on the life sapping blade, you’ll be learning a few new tricks. The Heavenly Sword allows Nariko to switch between one of three stances – speed, power and range – with the whole idea being to use the right stance in the correct situation. Counter attacks are possible, although you have to match your colour coordinated stances with the colour of your enemies attacks to do so, with the same applying for blocking (although we did seemingly block power attacks in the speed stance etc). Nariko can also unleash all hell on her enemies courtesy of the Superstyle attacks, which are basically fancy finishing moves that need charging up, and as we’d expect from the stylistic combat system, they’re a great spectacle.

Make no mistake about it, Heavenly Sword is a button masher with enemies that seem to be flying off the “dumb” production line, such is their poor intelligence. The enemy AI actually makes Forest Gump look like Einstein, standing around you in mass numbers and doing little else of any real note (even on the hardest “hell“ difficulty setting which is unlocked upon completing the game). If you don’t intend to mash your fingers into bloody stumps, the game does have a combo system to get to grips with, and with genius use of the SIXAXIS motion control you can even leap into the sky and continue your pummelling at a height, which is particularly useful against the bosses in the game.

SIXAXIS motion control isn’t limited to the above though, as you can also pick up everything from corpses to swords and lob them at enemies, you can do this quickly, or for additional control there’s also the fantastic aftertouch system to literally get to grips with. Aftertouch allows you to steer your thrown objects into victims with some very responsive and enjoyable motion control. Aftertouch motion control is also employed during the sparse amount of puzzles (there should be many more of these and more diversity in their solutions) in the game as well as the cannon sections, although one of the best examples of its use is when you are handed the control of the weird and wonderful Kai, as then you get to play some Twing Twang.

Kai plays in a completely different manner to that of Nariko, rather than a big manly sword, the oddball character is a master of the bow and arrow instead. Kai is also a very acrobatic character, allowing you to leap over objects with a charismatic bound and when enemies get too close she can leapfrog or knock them aside to once again get the range advantage that an archer requires. It’s when you utilise after touch with a travelling arrow that things get really interesting. Closely following each arrow with a superb camera system that isn’t dissimilar to views featured in House of Flying Daggers, you can then direct arrows towards your enemies using motion control with the full intention of penetrating some flesh or some very explosive firework barrels. Initially this is difficult, although when an arrow goes straight through a head or a barrel, you’ll truly feel like you have achieved something, and it’s certainly much more satisfying to direct the course of these pointy projectiles using motion control opposed to using the stick (which is an option if the motion control just doesn’t suit you).

Top all this satisfaction off with some lovely graphics (frequent nasty screen tearing though), fierce sound effects, a great soundtrack (some of the music is a little depressing though) and some decent bonus content, and you have one of the finest games on Sony’s third system. We could give into the hype and stretch our imagination further than elastic and say it was one of the greatest games ever, but that would be bending the truth (the brevity and the lack of exploring are our main complaints). As telling a lie is a sin, lets just say it’s a beautiful game that is deserving of an even better sequel.