Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Review: Heavenly Sword

I recently had the chance to play Ninja Theory's Heavenly Sword, one of the PS3's proud exclusives in its early days. It was a short affair (I managed to finish the entire game in just two afternoons) but one that certainly did not feel short thanks to its grandiose scale. Comparisons will automatically be made with God of War and as the combat follows many of the same patterns, the main difference being the lack of a block button. I found this decision to be quite frustrating, as to block enemies' attacks you have to be not attacking.

Call me crazy, but when you're surrounded by a mob of highly trained, blade-wielding fanatics, all gagging at the chance to put your head on a satay skewer, asking the player not to press the attack button is somewhat short-sighted. You are given a brief coloured flash to indicate what kind of attack the enemy is about to perform, but I found it was often too late and I was already locked into an attack combo, leaving me no choice but to take damage. The dodge ability ended up being far more useful, but unfortunately did not allow me to witness the game's pleasing counter-attacks. Speaking of which, the combat animation is all superbly polished to the point where you can sometimes forget that it's you that's pressing the buttons. I guess you could call it a button-masher in that respect.

heavenly sword,nariko,battle,ps3

The game's strongest point is easily is cinematic presentation. Andy Serkis (also known as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings movies) played a heavy role in the story side of things, acting as writer, motion capture director, and of course voicing the gloriously grotesque King Bohan, the game's main antagonist. The professional edge really shows. I am usually not one to advocate the use of cut scenes as I feel they betray the core essence of what makes games -- well -- games, but these performances were so brilliantly displayed that I could not help but enjoy every minute of them. Some other outstanding performances came from Anna Torv as the feisty heroine Nariko, and Lydia Baksh as the childish-yet-determined Kai. These interesting and often hideous characters all interact in ways that set the scene instantly, aided by some truly groundbreaking facial animation despite the game being nearly 2 years old now. This is something all story-based games can learn from.

heavenly sword,nariko,battle,ps3

Eventually I found that Heavenly Sword became somewhat repetitive. The dramatic archery and cannonball-guiding sections were used too many times and with too little variation, and combat was reduced to mashing the same buttons over and over again. I actually managed to beat the end boss by using little more than the triangle button, and the finale was a little anti-climactic as a result. With this in mind, the game's short length probably acted in its favour as much more would have left me growing weary.

All in all it's a fairly standard by-the-numbers affair, but it is executed with such style and finnesse that its flaws can be overlooked for a short while; just long enough to see it through till the end.

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