First Impressions: Heavenly Sword

December 11, 2009

I almost didn’t get to have any impressions about this game at all. Heavenly Sword, a £6.50 second-hand bargain from a branch of CEX in my hometown, crashed every time it attempted to install game data to the hard drive of my personal PS3. It was only when I brought it into work and fired it up on the non-commercial platform of my dev kit that I got it to run. Perhaps the latest PS3 firmware clashes with a game that was released just over 2 years ago – but that’s pretty poor if that is indeed the case.

Once I’d finally managed to get past the initial setup, I found a game of contrasting quality. For a game that arrived early in the PS3’s lifecycle, Ninja Theory should be congratulated for the astonishing facial animation in its cutscenes. They even surpass the quality some games are producing today, which is really commendable considering the pace of growth in the industry. Hang your head in shame, Assassin’s Creed 2. Hand in hand with the animation, the voice acting is generally high, and characters are memorable. The evil general shown in the picture above, Flying Fox, is particularly well voiced – pitched halfway between sneering derision and total insanity. Surprisingly, perhaps the weakest performance is given by Andy Serkis (of Gollum fame) for big baddie King Bohan, at least in the opening chapters of the game.

In terms of actual gameplay, the bulk of my first few hours consisted of hacking, with a side order of slashing. Red-headed main protagonist Nariko is a nimble minx, somersaulting and back-flipping between her encroaching foes with ease and grace, and then unleashing a variety of combos to take them down. Essentially, unless you can be bothered to memorise a variety of moves for aesthetic purposes, this boils down to mashing two buttons over and over until your enemies lie at your feet. This receives an extra layer of complexity when you take receivership of the eponymous Heavenly Sword, splitting combat into three seperate stances, but it remains to be seen whether this is to the detriment or benefit of the combat.

Other gameplay mechanics in the opening sections are much more exciting – particularly when you are tasked with covering your clan’s retreat with an enormous cannon. Sending huge globes of metallic death into a swarming army is great fun, as you watch showers of bodies fly in the air with each direct hit, enforced by some rumble feedback in your controller.

But it’s the over-enthusiastic use of Sixaxis that frustrates in the early part of the game. I imagine the Sixaxis motion control technology was new and novel at the time, and Ninja Theory tried to incorporate it by adding Aftertouch, which allows you to guide missiles, such as arrows and shields, after you have thrown them. Unfortunately, the Sixaxis technology is more an afterthought than a fully fledged feature of the PS3 controller, so these sections are fiddly at best and infuriating at worst. I’m praying the rest of the game incorporates these sections sparingly.

So, a mixed bag then. An early showcase for the PS3’s power, certainly, but a fairly basic gameplay experience. I’ve barely scratched the surface of Heavenly Sword however, and I certainly haven’t reached the ‘hook’ point, so any firm conclusions would be premature. I’m hoping the gameplay receives as much polish as the visuals further into the game.

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