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October 1, 2007
Heavenly Sword - PS3 Review
Release Distributor Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
20/9/2007SonySonyNinja Theory1None
Media HDD Space Resolution Sound Format Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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Nariko's hair looks stunning!
The Playstation 3 needs some big titles. Sony know it. Gamers know it. Retailers know it. Fortunately while there has been a drought of good games since the systems launch in March Sony are ramping up their releases in the lead-up to Christmas. After several delays we now have what is certain to be one of the biggest titles - Heavenly Sword.

The storyline in Heavenly Sword sees Nariko, a fiery red-haired heroine, embark on a quest for vengeance against an invading King and his army. The story builds around the ancient Heavenly Sword which once belonged to a powerful deity. It can never be wielded by a mortal without it draining their life-force, killing them within hours. When the invading King Bohan (played by Andy Serkis) destroys the warrior clan that guards the Heavenly Sword, the clan leaderís daughter, Nariko, takes up the sword in a desperate fight for survival. Nariko must now pay the ultimate price as she embarks on one last mission of vengeance against the King and his army before her life is finally drawn to a close...

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Yes folks, these are in-game graphics.
When it comes to weapons Nariko has a standard sword at her disposal or, for the majority of the game, the powerful Heavenly Sword to take out enemies. Towards the end of the game Nariko also has access to one big-assed rocket launcher to sort out large groups of enemies. If that's not enough Nariko can even pick up objects from around the level to throw at enemies (chairs, fruit, defeated foes). Nariko can also take three different attack stances/styles. Speedy attacks are the default, but by pressing the L1 button she can entered a ranged attack mode, and by pressing R1 a more powerful attack mode. As you can imagine each will be useful under different situations depending on the enemies attacking Nariko at the time.

As well as the third person action sections which make up the majority of the game there are points where Nariko will take control of cannons to take out invading armies. There really is nothing like firing the cannon into a group of soldiers rushing towards you only to see them fly into the air by the dozens as a result of the blast. But the foot soldiers aren't your concern as the cannons should be used to take out the approaching catapults, or foot soldiers with barrels of gunpowder. To make the game more interesting the developers have included an 'After Touch' which essentially slows down time and allows you to 'guide' the cannonball to the target using the Sixaxis' tilt sensing. It actually works surprisingly well and, while it may defy the laws of gravity and physics, is a credit to the developers and a bonus for the game.

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Nariko looks gorgeous close-up.
Heavenly Sword also includes quite a few context sensitive events. In one section (which many of you may have seen in the recent demo) Nariko has to run along some massive ropes. She accelerates along them by quickly pressing the X button, and as each rope falls away must jump to the side to land on the next solid rope before increasing speed and jumping to the next. Finally when she is about to land on the platform full of enemies ahead a press of the square button will take out one of the nasties upon landing.

During some of the missions you will control Nariko's close friend Kai. She's a feisty little one, can jump over objects such as crates and barrels with the press of the X button. Should she get too close to enemies she can fend them off with a quick press of the square button. While she doesnít wield a sword or any hand to hand weapons she is equipped with a crossbow to take out enemies. Much like Nariko's cannon you can also use the motion sensing 'After Touch' with the arrows to guide them to the enemy locations.

I must admit that while I initially had reservations about the After Touch in the game - primarily due to so few games using the Sixaxis' tilt sensing so poorly, Heavenly Sword is actually the first game that really seems to benefit from it - with one small reservation. When you're sitting up and holding your controller flat this works perfectly - unfortunately when I play video games I'm quite often half sitting and half lying in a bean bag which means my controller is positioned with the shoulder buttons towards my ceiling. As soon as you fire a crossbow, or canon in this game the projectile heads straight for the sky as the game think's you're tilting the controller up. Annoying, but one that is probably hard to avoid.

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Modeling is very impressive.
So every game has its problems, and Heavenly Sword is no exception. Certainly the biggest issue I have with the game is the length - we completed it in under 7 hours. For a game that has a RRP of $109.95 (which is $10 more then other PS3 games - what gives Sony?!) it doesn't equate that to good value for money in our book even if you do unlock a harder "Hell" mode upon completion. Sure, you can play through the game several times - and you will certainly want to - but it's probably not enough in this day and age especially when you factor in that there is no multi-player (online or off), no special or unlockable game modes (how about a Time Attack or something?) and no extra characters or costumes.

In terms of other issues I would have liked to see the Quick Time Events become randomised rather then the same every time you have to combat an enemy. By making them the same the game relies more on you memorising the sequence of button presses then timing it right. The game also includes a bit of loading between level restarts that I would have like to see reduced - it doesn't get overly irritating, but it would have been nice to either reduce or eliminate it.

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Surrounded by enemies!
Graphically, Heavenly Sword manages to impress on so many levels. Close up the main characters such as Nariko, Bohan, and Kai all look wonderful. The animation is simply superb and the motion capturing has paid big dividends for the cut scenes. In fact, I would say this is as close to a cinematic experience then we've ever seen in a console game. The characters each have unique personalities, look splendid and have as much emotion as most actors in a real movie.

Another massively impressive feature of the games graphics is the scale to which everything takes place. Firstly the battles. It is not uncommon to see hundreds of enemy soldiers rushing down the hill towards you (particularly when they are storming the fort you are defending). Fire some cannon balls in their direction and they'll scatter for cover or go sailing through the air from a full impact. The second impressive thing in terms of scale are the backgrounds and locations. You won't be running down small corridors with little or no view of the outside world, but will be placed in wide open expanses outside with views as far as the eye can see. It doesn't matter if you're looking at the building right next to you, or the one in the far distance the detail, and purpose for each building has been worked out to the smallest detail.

Sadly the graphics aren't perfect with a couple of very minor issues arising. Even running at 720p the system does struggle occasionally with some screen tearing (which is where one part of the scene - say the top half - moves before the other part - say the bottom half) evident during some of the more panoramic scenes, or the level where Kai is running around the walkway in a coliseum styled building looking for the guard tower. There are also some small frame rate hiccups both during cut scenes and during the game - they're only small and occasional, but not the silky smooth experience I was expecting. What surprised me more was that even during some of the cut-scenes there were clipping issues with Nariko's hair passing through her sword, or through parts of her body. It doesn't happen often, but it is there.

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Nariko is using a powerful attack.
As one would expect the audio in Heavenly Sword is also, well, heavenly. Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 there is some solid use of surround sound throughout the game, particularly when you're in the middle of a massive battle with hundreds of enemy soldiers surrounding you. Weapons clash, debris crumble, explosions have plenty of bass and the soldiers shout out. Of particular note is the voice acting which, led by Andy Serkis as King Bohan is spectacular. What really makes this interesting is that each of the characters has a unique personality.

Heavenly Sword is, we believe, the first true indication of the power of the Playstation 3. While there have been impressive games previously this title takes it to the next level in terms of scale and production value. There are a couple of small technical issues, and the length of the game (or lack of) is disappointing. Having said that this is a title worth adding to your collection. Engrossing, entertaining and exciting. What more could you want?

Review By: Dave Warner

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GRAPHICSMassive battles, gorgeous cuts scenes and direction, small issues such as screen tearing and clipping disappoint ever so slightly.
SOUNDEverything is Hollywood quality - music, effects and voiceovers.
GAMEPLAYSome great battles, plenty of moves, variety in gameplay too.
VALUEI'm sorry. $AU110 for 7 hours of game time? Not enough in my book. Still, it is bloody entertaining.
OVERALLHeavenly Sword should be a 90%+ title as it has some fantastic visuals and audio and the gameplay is entertaining as hell, but it's just so damn short. Still, despite the length, if you have a PS3 this is a game well worth checking out.

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