Heavenly Sword Review - 24/03/2008

So through the mists of time comes Ninja Theory's new platformer-cum-hack 'n' slash game, Heavenly Sword. This is a game that has turned many heads since it was announced, primarily due to it being a big contender against the might that is God of War.

The first thing that hits you as the game starts is how beautiful things look. The rendering of environments is something truly brilliant. They seem to take on a look that almost could have been from a landscape photograph. The characters are equally well designed with amazing attention shown to every detail. Nariko, the game's protagonist, has some of the best animation available on first gen PS3 games. Her hair moves almost naturally; I say almost as at times even if there is no wind visible anywhere on the landscape it will move as though it has its own life. But the best character animation is for King Bohan, the game's evil tyrant; he looks impossibly close to Andy Serkis who plays him splendidly.

Heavenly Sword's story is well written but ultimately two-dimensional. Playing as Nariko your clan is wiped out by King Bohan in his quest to claim the Heavenly Sword, of which they are the sworn protectors. This causes Nariko to take matters into her own hands as she breaks the clan's oath in the name of revenge by wielding the Heavenly Sword itself. This then leads to a quite predictable path where Nariko takes on Bohan and his forces almost single-handedly.

Some of the backdrops are amazing.

Story aside, the gameplay doesn't fair as well as hoped. The game is split between two characters: Nariko and her mentally damaged, adopted sister, Kai. Nariko's sections make up the bulk of the game and offer some very good gameplay for the most part. The problem is that, although there are a few different combos to unlock, the combat is unvaried and repetitive. There are three combat stances that Nariko can use, when in possession of the Heavenly Sword: speed, ranged and heavy, each of these having their own uses, and each enemy solider you come across is only susceptible to a certain stance. You can tell which stance to use to counter your enemies' attacks by a handy coloured hue around them as they attack. If the hue is blue then you must use the speed stance, if orange then the heavy attacks - this feels very limp however in execution, mainly due to it being a complete dressing up of simple button bashing.

Boss battles don't fair so well either, they are heavily scripted and it really shows. Each boss has a preset attack pattern which increases in power as his or her health lessens. This would be okay if we were looking at a low cost PS2 game for a tenner, but we're not, we are looking at a fifty pound game here! Take the battle with Whiptail; her attacks consist of a shot of water then a tidal wave. As her life bar is depleted those attacks just become more frequent, supposedly upping the ante but really just making the battle more annoying and boring.

The animation is superb, but there is a lack of variety in character models.

But things to brighten up with Kai's missions. About 50% of them set you up as a sniper protecting a person or a wall. These missions are excellent. Firing arrows into the on coming soldiers, picking them off one by one. But the real fun comes with Aftertouch. I bet you remember Aftertouch from the Burnout series where you can move your car into oncoming drivers after a crash, and this is very similar. What you need to do is hold square and guide your arrow into a target. This small feature gives the game a really big satisfaction factor when using Kai, as you will find that as men come running at you blind fire is the best course of action. But when using Aftertouch time slows, giving you the chance to hit each target for a straight kill.

The graphics of the game are something truly to marvel at. The environments have a class of their own looking like something out of a movie. A lot of them have a photo quality finish to them giving even more of that HD shine. The character models, at least on the side of the main characters, look amazing. Nariko has the most detail; it really is some of the best human features seen on a next gen console. But the foot soldiers that you will come up against throughout the game aren't so pleasing. Though they still look impressive and are worthy of note there is very little variety in their models, meaning that you will see the same bloke a couple of hundred times as you journey through the course of the game.

Nariko's an instant hit with gamers.

There is nothing like Heavenly sword, it has the production valves to be a great game. But gameplay has been sacrificed for awe factor, and this really is a massive shame. Heavenly Sword had the best possible start but seems to lose its way. All in all, it's a game worth having in terms of cinematic glamour, but gameplay sorely lets it down.

- Alec Hilton



Sony CEE
Ninja Theory