Heavenly Sword PS3 Demo Impressions - 06/08/2007

Firstly, the demo now available on the PSN is around a year old. It's the same section shown repeatedly in trailers and gameplay footage from 6-12 months ago, and as such, the game has been optimised and polished since. Which makes the demo we have all the more impressive.

Firstly, the demo now available on the PSN is around a year old. It's the same section shown repeatedly in trailers and gameplay footage from 6-12 months ago, and as such, the game has been optimised and polished since. Which makes the demo we have all the more impressive. The demo takes place as Nariko, the gorgeously animated fire-haired heroine, recovers after an encounter with King Bohan, the evil guy in the game, and his army. It is revealed that the King has captured Nariko's father, and, as she possesses the Heavenly Sword, a weapon capable of huge destruction, but eventually fatal for the beholder, she sets out to seek vengeance, etc. etc.

Weighing in at almost a gigabyte, it is one huge demo, and considering it takes under 10 minutes to complete, closer to 5, you can really see why Blu-Ray is such an essential asset. People are slagging off Sony and Ninja Theory for the demo's length and its size, but it's honestly one of the most rewarding 5 minutes of videogaming I've ever played. People ask for the demo, then moan when it's too short and a year old. If 1GB is a 5 minute demo, you can see perhaps why the length is shorter, as a 30 minute one would probably reach about 3-5GB, and the one took long enough to download as it is.

The first thing that struck me personally was the graphics. After seeing the latest trailers, the foreground of the demo and the cut scenes, which appear to have been heavily compressed for download, the start was a little underwhelming. This was further emphasised by the screen-tearing and frame rate drop which, while it goes away after you make the decent from the start of the level, needs to be addressed for launch, if it hasn't been already. However, as you press X to jump onto the now infamous rope-sliding scene present in the trailers, everything looks beautiful, particularly the scenery and backgrounds.

The combat though is where the game truly shines. You use a combination of L1 and R1 to change stances, with R1 boasting powerful, close combat moves capable of breaking through blocks, and L1 using ranged attacks with Nariko's chains. The neutral stance is very defensive, blocking most attacks, and using fairly weak sword stabs and swipes. Blocking is a key part of the game, but yet, there's no button for it. Instead, enemies glow a certain colour before attacking you, and this indicates which stance you should use to block it. The power stance allows you to prevent the stronger blows, neutral blocks almost everything but causes you to recoil after more powerful attacks, and the ranged stance can block nothing.

This innovative way of doing things creates intelligent combat, where button mashing will ultimately lead to your death. It's just about possible to get through the demo without learning any combos, but if you don't switch stances, the enemy will simply block your attacks with ease. This leads to drawn out combat situations, which is a really refreshing change. In the demo there are only really two battles, one on the high pillar, which you later send crashing into the metropolis below, and down in the rubble afterwards, but each takes a good while to fight through the ten or so enemies. Even on the high pillar, knocking some off the edge leads to them crawling back up the side, creating a real feeling of being surrounded on all sides.

Fortunately there is a great dodge move in the game. You just use the right analogue-stick to roll out of the way of enemy attacks, before unleashing your own attack. You can also launch counter attacks just after blocking, which often spawn real time 'cut scenes' which are more just zoomed in, altered camera angles. They look and feel great, and don't happen too much to make them annoying. Similarly, you can switch to your ranged stance and press triangle to launch staggered enemies up in the air. Once they are in mid-flight, if you push the SIXAXIS upwards, you can jump up and perform some great looking aerial combos. These are a little hard to do with so many enemies on screen, but really allow you to show off on the weaker foes in the demo.

You can grab enemies or objects with X, and hurl them at other items or people, which is also cracking fun, and generally the feel of the demo was challenging, yet very enjoyable.

I may have been drawn in by the hype of course, but surely then you would be under whelmed, like so many forumites who have been complaining about the demo. To me, it showcased just what I expect and want from the final release of Heavenly Sword. It may not run at the 60fps that Ninja Gaiden boasts, but it looks at twice as good for it – the same way Forza looks sub-standard compared to others, all for a higher frame rate which many don't notice.

I'm not a particularly huge fan of the genre either, give me a gun and grenade any day, but Heavenly Sword already looks like a technical and innovative achievement for Sony's PS3. Plus, there are loads of awesome SIXAXIS options, such as the ability to move the camera with it, use it in combat, and for aftertouch after an attack. But, they are options! No forced SIXAXIS here.

One area to draw criticism is the button-pressing scenes, where you mash the buttons shown on the screen to play through what is essentially a semi-interactive cut scene. I think people need to remember that Heavenly Sword is more about fighting in fairly traditional stage-like arenas than platforming, and while the button scenes will undoubtedly get much tougher as you progress, they're just a chance to get a quick thrill without making combat too repetitive which would surely happen without any such linking areas.

For a year old demo as it's rumoured, it's fantastic in my view. You have to remember that if developers have to release huge demos for the public, they have to take time away from making the actual game, and as we are all praying Heavenly Sword doesn't slip, anything they can give us should be much appreciated.

We can't wait for the final build, and will bring you a review once it releases over here.

- Mike Hazleton



Sony CEE
Ninja Theory