Heavenly Sword Review! Dig & Gil Play Twing Twang!
Posted by Diggler & Gil - 24/9/2007 16:41
|Heavenly Sword is here! We'll avoid story spoilers though, what with that being pretty much the only reason to play the game...|
Heavenly Sword is one of those long-awaited, high-profile video game releases you almost can't believe you're finally playing. Ever since our very earliest glimpses of the PS3 oh so many moons ago, Heavenly Sword has been right there at the forefront, like some kinda beautifully rendered digital mascot. In fact, it was the very first PS3 game I ever saw in motion, and I'm probably not alone.
With its gorgeously detailed visuals, stunning animation, and oh so brutal combat, early sightings of the game set expectations high for not just the title itself, but the PS3 platform as a whole. It became the one game everyone wanted the machine for. Even at the height of the PS3 backlash - that infamous E3 press conference to be precise - Heavenly Sword still stood out like a beautiful mirage. A priceless spectacle, amidst yells of "Riiidge Racer!" and ill-advised $600 price announcements. Even the haters agreed.
To say hype was riding high for Ninja Theory's stylish button basher then, would be a wee bit of an understatement. Sucker finally in hand, one has the utmost urge to pinch themselves as a result. Dear god. Am I dreaming? Is it real? Is it finally here??!
Is it...ya know...any good?
|Sword's true highlight are its splendid use of cut-scenes. The general ambience comes off very Lord of the Rings in fact|
It sure is real folks, and it is indeed here. But...good? Hmmm. That would be a far trickier question to answer I'm afraid. In fact, I may need help on this one. Perhaps that from a fellow PS3 owner in a similar boat. Because in all honesty? I am pretty damn torn...
Gil: I cannot agree more. The hype and sheer expectation for this game is probably as high, if not higher than that of a new addition to the acclaimed God of War series. Comparisons between the two games are almost unavoidable in fact, with their blatant similarities in both genre and play-style, but with God of War 3 still a long way off, Heavenly Sword seems - on the face of it - a worthy substitute for the time being. With the endless Microsoft buzz and constant 360 war cries from every direction, I, as a Playstation 3 owner, desperately need something of my own to shout about after all.
With Ninja Gaiden Sigma long dispelled from my mind (that is one tough son of a bitch), I was anxious to see what this redheaded beauty was capable of as a result. Would it stand up to God of War as the premier Playstation beat 'em up? How is the much-talked about "digital acting"? What about that storyline we've heard so much about?
Hell, is it just worth the 60 bucks?
Much like you though Dig, having now completed it, I am also in two minds. I truly admire everything that the game attempts to do, but it just falls short in some pretty damn critical areas.
Let's start with the good. Graphically, I believe we need to highlight the quality of the cut-scenes. The "performances" of both King Bohan (Andy Serkis) and central character Nariko (Anna Torv) most definitely live up to the hype. From the tiniest of facial wrinkles to the glimmer of light in their eyes, the stark realism really does contribute to the immersion of the story in a big way, and they are without doubt the best digital actors yet seen in a video game. The problem is, not every character is up to that same standard however, with Bohan's lackeys Whiptail and Roach both particularly big let-downs.
In terms of actual gameplay graphics, praise continues though. The environments are incredibly detailed in particular, and come off gorgeously colorful next to the typical greys and browns seen in so many next-gen games. Nariko's combat animations are superb for the most part too, and some slowdown and occasional screen tearing aside, all come off incredibly fluid.
|Ace graphics and sound are let down by an awful framerate and a smattering of bugs and glitches. Sound for instance, regularly choked and spluttered on my 5.1 rig|
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said regarding her red hair. At odds with the smoothly choreographed fighting touted above, you're greeted with what looks like bizarre, jaggy tentacles erupting from her scalp. I dunno about you Matt, but I found it rather distracting.
The old "octopus-on-a-head" syndrome, aye. Personally the hair was never that big a deal for me though to be honest. I was way too busy staring at Nariko's err...eyes, to worry about anything else.
Graphically, the game is incredible, I'm with ya there, but for me it has a distinct whiff of the unfinished about it. The aforementioned screen-tearing and slow-down bog it down way too much in my opinion, and it's almost impossible to admire the splendid views on offer as a result.
Still, how about those cut-scenes, eh? You are right, we've never seen anything this good in a game before. Truly a title that blurs the lines between game and film, so much so that you literally can't tell what is real-time and what is CGI here. The stunning facial animation is joined by - for me - perhaps the best damn video game voice acting I've ever heard. It's actually nuanced. Subtle. Human.
Sure, Andy Serkis does his loud, shouting villain thing with evil aplomb, but it's the more eerie, solitary moments with Nariko that impressed me even more. Stuck in purgatory for a significant portion of the game, she regularly talks directly at the camera in an alarmingly real - and kinda freaky way. I've never seen anything like it, and it actually sent chills down my spine.
Goddess of Bore
It's a shame that while such sequences look and sound so ruddy good then, when it comes down to good old fashioned gameplay, Heavenly Sword is...well, sorta bland to be honest. It's essentially just a fairly competent button basher, with a somewhat simplistic (and 90% automated) block and counter system shoe-horned in, which you can master in about 10 minutes flat.
It's far from awful, but after all these years, I guess I was just hoping for something a little more advanced really.
Gil: I hear you my friend. I think the word "shallow" sums it up perfectly. By removing both a block and jump function, I forever felt restricted and at a loss of control. The counter system is actually kinda cool though I thought, and the groin-bashing animations do indeed kick arse, but it doesn't take long for repetition to kick in sadly. Wielding the heavenly sword itself, Nariko has three specific stances at her disposal, and the concept looks good on paper, but you unlock all three almost immediately, and since you're using nothing but this weapon for 95% of the campaign, variety is hardly the name of the game. This vastly limits the replay value, which is no good thing considering how damn short it is.
It's not all about Nariko however. Sandwiched between her stages are younger sister Kai's crossbow sections, which I found surprisingly enjoyable. Switching from melee to ranged combat for these levels does spice things up a bit, particularly as Kai's projectiles can actually be maneuvered mid-air using the motion sensing capabilities of the Sixaxis via an innovative new feature known as Aftertouch. Guiding arrows to their targets may not be realistic per se, but proves damn fun...especially when you score a headshot or a painful shot to the balls.
|Wielding the titular heavenly sword grants you with three stances, each with their own combos and counters. Additional weaponry would have been nice, but thankfully Kai sorta saves the day on that front|
I especially loved the 24-style split screen effect used in some of these levels, namely those found in a certain escort mission on a bridge.
That all said, I did have some minor problems with the Sixaxis controller on some of these stages. It just isn't quite as accurate as it should be at times. Perhaps it's just the speed of the projectiles, but occasionally the motion sensing came off a little patchy. Did you notice that?
Yeah, the motion control is a little hit or miss, but you can
turn it off in the options screen if you prefer the bog-standard analogue sticks. I must back you up though and say that although I truly despised 'em at first, once I got the hang of Aftertouch, I (somewhat surprisingly) dug the heck out of the projectile sequences though. More specifically, I really liked Kai's levels.
In fact, she is undoubtedly the highlight of the entire game for me - a bizarre character that is hard to describe, and very entertaining in every one of her "scenes". Nariko may have the slammin' bod, but Kai's the one with personality, and it's rare to see such a barmy and hilarious video game character who never grows old.
|Heavenly Sword uses a heavily simplified and pretty much fully-automated blocking system. As a long-time Ninja Gaiden fan, this comes off particularly disappointing and child-like, and I'd advise any serious hardcore gamer stick to that for their PS3 beat 'em up thrills|
Ultimately though, despite Heavenly Sword's strong narrative, colorful characters, and impressive sights and sounds, even Gollumy Kai couldn't save the game for me I'm sad to say. While I had fun in places, I just never shook the feeling that this was Genji with cut-scenes. The glitchiness, the repetition and the abysmal length (five hours, tops), make me ponder just what the hell Ninja Theory were doing for all those years.
Apparently sequels are being discussed, and I genuinely hope they get off the ground due to the unbridled potential here. The world is fab, with ample room for an absorbing experience and more fab storytelling, no doubts there. But as for this first installment? Rental time only I'm afraid. Sorry folks.
And Gil, get your ass back on Ninja Gaiden if you know what's good for you.
Gil: Before I get back to the eternally frustrating Sigma, I'll round things off by saying that although Heavenly Sword is indeed a deeply flawed game, its gorgeous visuals, incredible sound, exquisite presentation and that ludicrous motion captured acting we just can't shut up about are all without a doubt a step above anything else out there right now. While perhaps not one for the hardcore gamer, it's a fine title for the casual player in my opinion, and a decent showcase for the PS3's graphical and control capabilities. I too hope that a sequel is in the works, one that corrects those various flaws we touched upon, and further expands on the glimmer of potential hinted at here.
In closing, I would whole heartedly recommend people rent the game...or better yet, buy it off me.