Review by Nelo_Portgas
"Most likely one of the most beautiful games ever made"
Many games choose one concept as their predominant trait and focus mostly on that. For example, Halo focuses on gameplay. It has massive heavy gameplay that millions of people love. But focusing on one aspect in turn leads to negligence in other areas of a game. Staying with the Halo example, that leads to the story element being put in the background.
In this game, Heavenly Sword, the developers Ninja Theory have chosen to focus on the story and the presentation of that story. That in result, heavily affects the gameplay.
Beginning with the most obvious part, the graphics. The one thing that you use to judge the book by its cover. In this case, the cover is looking mighty appealing. Graphics to blow your mind, partially at least.
Talking about the package, what you see in preliminary videos is a beautiful woman with legs longer than long and an attitude that would make you cry for mommy.
The characters themselves have excellent fluidity. If you notice, their movements actually slow down when needed to be slowed down. Like real people, its not blocky movement but like watching a fish swim through water.
Lest be forgotten, the facial animation of the characters easily surpass those of Half-Life 2, which was usually considered the epitome of character expression. Half-Life 2 built it, but Heavenly Sword surpassed it. Truth be, all these realistic characters are only possible so because of the WETA animation studios.
Each individual story character has a unique actor attached to themselves. Their voices are used and their facial expressions, their own body movements. Thats why nothing looks fake and creepy.
All this though only applies for the main characters. But the dispensable foes by the thousands arent forgotten either, each one has ragdoll infitted and you will see literally thousands of them on screen at the same time. Showing off thousands of people at the same time is quite the feat in itself but at letting you beat the crap out of them at the same time? Marvellous.
All this carnage is set against beautiful locales. Say what you may about the game, it has excellent artistic vision and it is implemented exquisitely in the background. From gladiatorial arenas to mountainous and expansive areas covered in snow. Quite surreal.
For all this beauty though, you get some minor inconveniences. There will some areas of the game that will suffer from framerate drops. Now, unlike what you'd expect, it doesnt happen during hectic scenes, where a lot of action is going on. But rather, it happens when you're walking through areas. I believe it may be because the game has to load up an entirely new area and the loading process makes the framerate drop a smidgeon below the accepted level. This fault keeps it from getting a perfect ace.
Simply put, the gameplay in this game is unacceptable. Not because it is broken (like Lair) but rather because this IS the Next-gen arena and the standards bar has risen by quite a lot.
The game is built on basic hack-n-slash style but with the added touch of a somewhat elaborate countering system.
The basic combat has three stances to choose from. The Speed Stance, which is the standard mode of fighting, the Power Stance, which increases the power of each of your blows but slows you down, and lastly the Range Stance. The Range Stance is used to block arrows and has the longest range, although the lowest power.
Each stance has its own distinct colour and and the countering system is built on this. Every time an enemy attacks, they will emit a colour, say orange. An orange colour means that to block/counter this attack, you need to be in Power Stance.
This method of analysis always keeps you on your toes regarding what attacks your enemies are actually using or otherwise you can get chopped pretty bad, pretty fast.
The hack-n-slash levels are interrupted by odd levels of shooting. Be it either catapults or arrows (using a secondary character). As standard, you can control where your projectiles will go by using the Six-Axis. Controlling with the Six-Axis can get quite frustrating if you do not have the patience of learning it, but luckily Ninja Theory learnt from Lair and the motion sensing is optional. You can choose to control the aftertouched projectiles with the analogue sticks.
As said earlier, there will also be battles with thousands of enemies on screen at once. This wont be the usual Dynasty Warriors romp with a perpetual fog covering the sides but an all out beatdown, in a good way.
And those were all the good things. The bad things include massive long loading times. Yes, you have the option to skip certain scenes but then you'll be stuck with staring at the screen for 20 seconds, which is quite unacceptable.
You have no control over the camera. You can pan it left and right by the triggers but it isnt something that comes intuitively. That results in you being, at times, attacked by enemies that are off screen.
Also the fact that some scenes can NOT be skipped. Thats a major hindrance when you cannot beat some certain boss and you watch that piece of dialogue, excellent as though it may be, over and over again.
The game in its entirety will last you no more than 6 hours on a first playthrough. That is also not cool. Yes, the game has a hard mode and some unlockable art/videos but it is easily accomplished. At most, it lengthens the life of the game by 5 or 6 hours. Not enough when you pay full price for, that is, not enough if you value quality by how much time you spend on it.
On the other hand, if you value quality by how good of a sound it has, this is probably the best thing in the world. It is quite excellent to say the least.
The voices, as mentioned earlier, are by professional actors who know how to convey emotions to move the player.
The soundeffects are made by the same studio that provided soundeffects for the movie, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Tells you something about the quality of work they do. In other words, sword strikes sound genuine, so do nuts cracking and so do windswept plains.
The very best part in this category though, is the soundtrack made by Nitin Sawnhey. Now its understandable if you never heard of this guy but he makes absolutely brilliant tunes in a mix on the culture of the Indian subcontinent and modern electronic methods. Unfortunately for me, Ninja Theory hasnt released the soundtrack so therefore I cant buy it, but if I could, I'd buy it in a heartbeat. Its that good.
Its very nice to see western developers finally putting some thought into their soundtracks for games, it makes me very happy.
Most likely the most emotional story in a videogames I have ever seen. I tell no lie.
The story revolves around the titular Heavenly Sword, a magical sword that gives amazing powers but also ends up killing the wielder.
The sword is protected by a clan, protected so man may never use the sword. They are hunted throughout the land by the "evil" King Bohan who wants the sword for his own collection, as you could say.
But as it happens, the protagonist of the game, the beautiful Nariko, chooses to wield the Heavenly Sword. And thats the story. It may sound quite cliche but the presentation of the story and the execution is quite unique.
I believe the characters are so believable because we have the amazing actor Andy Serkis (Gollum from LotR) being the acting director. He knows motion capture and he is quite a talented dramatic actor, as can be seen when he plays King Bohan. Quite humorous too.
Truly, if you a story fan, you need to a least rent this game to see what I am talking about. In all seriousness, story telling has reached a new pinnacle in the gaming industry. Take my word for it, I'm good on it.
All in all: 8
As said in the beginning, some game choose their focus. It is obvious that Ninja Theory chose the focus of this game to be the artistic value. Amazing music, beautiful visual and a gripping story. Certainly, games are becoming art. But games are still that, games. They need to be playable. Because of the .. softness of the gameplay, this game is not perfect. It is highly enjoyable and a good romp, but certainly, not enough.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/01/08
Game Release: Heavenly Sword (EU, 09/14/07)
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