Goddess Of War... Sorta.
I liken the Playstation 3 to a Michael Bay movie: it's flashy, it has a big budget, it's got all the latest technological mumbo jumbo, and it will undoubtedly go on to become very successful. But it's also a pretty lonely endeavor. It's hollow, it's not entirely satisfying, there are other similar experiences out there that are almost assuredly better, and at the end of the day you wonder whether or not forking over the cash to participate was really worth it
To be honest, that opening paragraph was more of an opportunity for me to bash Michael Bay than the PS3, because though a movie
doesn't really have the opportunity to grow and become something better with time, a video game system does. Thank the mighty Thor for that, because otherwise the PS3 would be about as appealing as watching Tyra all day. And for those of you who aren't aware, that is not very appealing at all
The Michael Bay analogy can also be applied to Heavenly Sword, an action/adventurer exclusive to Sony's behemoth. It's pretty, has a lot of explosions and yelling and testosterone (Or rather, estrogen? Estrosterone?), but it's quick and shallow and doesn't really offer a deep, worthwhile experience.
You play as Nariko, a scarlet-haired warrior who could give Chuck Norris a run for his money
. I realize a Chuck Norris reference is decidedly dated, but I'm sticking with it regardless. Deal with it. Nariko and her clan, which includes her father and her spunky adopted sister Kai, are at war with the deliciously weird King Bohan. The King is after a mystical weapon known as the Heavenly Sword, which the clan has sworn to protect. There's a catch, though: whoever uses the sword will be granted great power, but at the cost of their own life. Some stuff goes down
, and Nariko ends up using the sword to defend against Bohan and his armies. It's not particularly engaging material, but it gets the job done.
What is engaging, however, is the presentation of the game, which is fabulous. A lot of work went into cutscenes, animations, music, voices, and even physical performances, and it shows. The game plays and feels more like a movie most of the time, and it's easy to become involved in the otherwise straightforward plot because of this. One of my favourite elements of the presentation is none other than Gollum himself, Andy Serkis, who plays King Bohan. (Many of the main characters were voiced and physically performed by actors using motion capture technology) Serkis brings a completely bizarre and hilarious touch to Bohan, who easily stands out as the most interesting in the whole game. Screw Nariko- I want to spend more time with this guy
Unfortunately, you're stuck with playing as the fiery fighter-chick. But what Nariko lacks in depth and character, she more than makes up for with attitude and raw physicality. The game was obviously inspired by God of War, and Nariko brings as much tenacity as Kratos does- and she wears a skirt just as well
Nariko can hack, slash, bash and forcibly throw
her way to victory. The game's most unique detour from the normal action experience is in the way the Heavenly Sword is applied to combat. It has three distinct combat styles: speed, range, and power. Speed, the default stance, combines quickness with moderately damaging attacks. Range allows Nariko to attack enemies from afar, a la Kratos' Blades of Chaos, albeit with much weaker attacks. And power mode allows you to dish out mega damage at the cost of speed. Essentially, it's like all the different weapons normally found in a hack 'n' slasher combined into one
. The catch is that the enemies all have the same three attack styles as well, and in order to successfully block or counter-attack Nariko must be in the corresponding stance. Enemy attacks are colour coded, so you'll know which stance to use in order to block and subsequently lay down the law
It's a bit frustrating at first, but once you get the hang of things it becomes quite a fun detour from traditional actioner gameplay. Nariko can also perform a plethora of combos and stance-specific maneouvres, but the most fun probably comes from picking up and throwing things, on account of any projectile in the game being controlled by the Sixaxis controller. Pick up a shield, hit the button, then tilt and lean the controller as the game shifts into slo-mo, the camera following whatever object you've lobbed as it veers towards your enemy's head. Or, you know, their other... head. You can even pick up and throw the freshly slain soldiers who were felled by your blade only moments ago. Think about that, let it sink it a bit. When you're ready to keep reading, continue to the next paragraph.
There are some puzzles included in the game, but they're seldom encountered and are easy to complete. That's not surprising, though, as Heavenly Sword is very much about man-, or rather woman-power, not brain muscle.
Apart from controlling Nariko, you'll also occasionally take over as Kai, a seemingly innocent sprite with a decidedly not-so-innocent giant bowgun. She can shoot arrows at enemies, which you control using the Sixaxis, and... that's about it. Thankfully, you don't play as her very often. The game also throws in those interactive cutscenes (once again, like in God of War) where timed button presses are required. I must admit, I'm getting a little sick of such a simple gameplay mechanic in these supposedly next-gen games. This
isn't the next generation, folks. (Although, this
just might, in fact, be the next generation)
The game's biggest fault lies in its length: it's way too short. (I just realized that if you were to say the same thing about a man, he could take great offense to you doing so) Honestly, it couldn't have been more than 4-5 hours for me to complete it on the default setting, and that was taking my time. A lot of games nowadays suffer from this problem, but Heavenly Sword seems to be the biggest offender: huge, cutting-edge presentation but not much of a game to go along with it. It really sucks when you have a decent title on your hands that doesn't even last as long as some movies
I also noticed some framerate issues in certain levels where there are, literally, hundreds if not thousands of enemies on-screen. It's forgivable considering the circumstances, but it's never pleasant to have slowdown, and it's even a little bit ironic on such a monster gaming rig as the PS3.
If there ever was a perfect rental game, Heavenly Sword is it. It's flashy, exciting, great to look at, great to play, but ultimately there isn't enough here to warrant many repeat visits (if any at all). The presentation is stratospheric, and while quality is definitely more important than quantity, the best games are the ones that have both in abundance.
+Awesome- no, really, awesome- presentation
+Fun, unique action gameplay
+Throwing things (especially people) with the Sixaxis
-Shorter than this review
-Shallow puzzle elements
-Dammit, seriously, why couldn't it have been longer?*
* That's what she said.