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Review: Heavenly Sword

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The long awaited Heavenly Sword has finally arrived. Since those first clips and images appeared on the net, I knew this was a game that I would be interested in. It has received much scrutiny over the web because people are expecting so much from Sony’s black beast. I try not to expect much of anything. I take games for face value and Heavenly Sword is highly underrated.

The leading female character is not only significant in the prophetic storyline, she is also a sight for sore eyes. Not since Tomb Raider was launched have we seen such a powerful female lead in a video game. Nariko, our leading lady, is cursed by the prophecy of the sword. She was supposed to have been born a male and grow to fulfill the prophecy of the Heavenly Sword. When she was born as a female, she was outcast from her tribe and trained in secret by her father who is the tribe leader. These are the kind of story elements that I truly enjoy. When someone overcomes adversity to become a hero is always a wonderful thing.

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Graphically, I can honestly say that Heavenly Sword is a first generation benchmark for the PS3. The game is absolutely gorgeous. Not only are the animations, environments and lighting jaw dropping, but the facial animation is the best I’ve seen on a console to date. Only Gears Of War has achieved such a level of detail in facial animation. Those experts over at Weta Digital motion captured body and facial movements for added realism. Add to that some beautiful facial textures and you have complete graphical synergy. Nariko is a beautiful model. Her expressions and movements are very dramatic. The whole presentation of the game is very cinematic which in turn, gives us somewhat of a movie/game experience ala Gears Of War.

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The real fun starts when you actually start to play the game. The controls are VERY responsive. There are three types of attack stances you can use. There’s Speed Stance, Range Stance and Power Stance. Speed Stance is high speed dual wielding action. You equip the two blades of the Heavenly Sword and perform really fast combos. The Range Stance is similar to God Of War. You perform long range slicing attacks with the blades at the end of long chains. Lastly is the Power Stance. In Power Stance you use the combined blades of the Heavenly Sword to form one huge sword. These are the most powerful and devastating attacks that Nariko has in her arsenal. There is also Aerial Combos that can be performed while Nariko is in mid air flight.

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Some of the games elements require you to timely press buttons to perform scripted events. Again, somewhat like God Of War. For instance, if she’s sliding down a rope and some point has to jump to another rope, you’ll be prompted to do so. I don’t think this is a bad thing as again, it’s fun to watch. There are also long ranged projectile weapon attacks called Aftertouch. These are accomplished by using the Sixxaxis wireless motion abilities. The attacks are really cool but I don’t like the fact that with the motion control, you can steer the projectile into the enemy. Huh? Motion controlled arrows? Yeah, it didn’t make sense to me. I think Ninja Theory was forced to put some kind of motion control in the game and this is what they came up with. I’m sorry but steering the projectile into the enemy takes all the fun and difficulty away from using projectiles in the first place.

Sound and voice acting were, as expected, on point and cinematic. Andy Serkis from LOTR fame loaned his body and voice for this game and this is something that should be done more often. The soundtrack however, is truly epic. Thanks to Nitin Sawhney we have a soundtrack that is equally matched to what you might hear in an epic blockbuster film. The music truly helps to tell the story and define the characters.

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It seems that Ninja Theory put a lot of effort and polish on this game and it shows. They combined the elements of video game and film production to give the game an added value. I commend them on their efforts. All in all, I’m very pleased with Heaven Sword. I think it’s a great first gen PS3 title and it can only get better. I was slightly disappointed with the shortness of the game, but even more so with the ease of play. Anyone can pick this up and destroy it in 5 hours. I think if they increased the difficulty and actually had more game content, it would have received higher reviews from other sites. There is however, a harder version of the game available once you beat it. I just wish it was available from the start. It still has plenty of great content and cinematic expertise to keep you drooling the entire time. It very much plays out like a feature film. In a nutshell, it’s short and sweet. That’s not always bad either. Problem is, this short and sweet costs $59.99.

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