Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Heavenly Sword (PS3) Review

I've already related how I got fed-up with this game and how it popped up tutorials when I was trying to do things. Well here's a small retraction, the game does pause on these pop-ups (good), but you can't get rid of them unless you do what they tell you to regardless of whether you want to or not (bad). Now here's a fuller review from the start.

So far like the other PS3 games Heavenly Sword needs to load some data onto the hard drive, unlike the other two games I've played this seems to take an age. Once the loading is done, you're at the main title screen. Initially, of course, you can only start a new game later you can continue one.

Another loading screen and you're dumped straight into a battle, a pop-up tutorial tells you about Square and Triangle and needs you to press them to get rid of this annoyance. Perform enough kills and you get the Circle option to perform an instant kill; yep you have to do this. Knock a few more of these out and you'll still be overwhelmed from an unexpected quarter and 'die'.

This leads to a new area where you look back at all the events leading to that battle and nicely done it is too, each chapter is depicted by a giant sword rising Stonehenge-like around you with each section shown as a sunburst-style device on it. You can replay any chapter/section simply by selecting the sword and mark or head into the menu to check out the extras such as animations and galleries you can unlock.

At this point I'm going to complain about loading, load to get to the main menu, load to get to the sword plain, load to get to the next chapter mark. Die and you get another load to restart that point it's all sadly familiar and, to be blunt, not what you'd expect from a next-gen console.

Graphically it's great, though for most of the first half you're so far away from the main character you can't really appreciate it. Performing a Circle kill zooms you in, but it would have been nice to have some control over the camera, other then pan left/right. And sadly on my SD/50Hz television I did see some small stuttering at times. On a similar note sound/vision syncing on the cut-scenes can be broken if you pause them during speech, but can be occasionally reset by re-pausing again.

Top marks for characterisation though, the main character Nariko has facial animations rivalling FF:Spirits Within and you've got to fall in love with Kai who's a fruit loop (every game needs one); even the main enemies are well-realised. The cannon-fodder tend to be samey, but they are an army so what would you expect. They don't all use the same moves either and when surrounded they don't all perform the Hollywood 'attack only one at a time' you can get hit by multiple enemies simultaneously.

Importantly despite the initial opening this isn't solely a square/triangle and circle button-bashing fest, once you get the eponymous Heavenly Sword you suddenly need to master it. By default you're in "Speed stance" when anyone attacks you and they have a blue halo around them you will automatically block them provided you're not attacking at the time; if they have an orange halo you need to hold R1 and shift into "Power stance"; yellow/white and it's L1 and "Range Stance". When you have multiple enemies attacking using all three types and sometimes even mixing their own attacks simply blocking becomes more challenging. Now add in the fact that if you counter at just the right time you perform a powerful blow you now enter a waiting game - watching the enemy, carefully switching stance, and debating whether to let the block happen or attempt to counter it while looking for gaps for you to simply attack.

Sword-play isn't the only style on offer, you soon get to "play" with Kai and her repeating crossbow as well as firing off some cannon balls as Nariko and it's at this point the motion sensitive Six-Axis kicks in. Hold down the firing button and everything slows down as you steer the projectile by tilting the controller. Gentle movements are all that are required and once you get the hang of it it's really great fun. Saying that at certain points you need to activate gongs/buttons using flying hats and that just smacks of pointlessness

So overall it's graphically excellent with a well-told story; the flying hats grate, the tutorials annoy, and the loading screens simply shouldn't be there, but it's playable; not an 'Oh my god you must play this or die', but by no means a 'Burn the unclean game'. 6/10