Heavenly Sword

Year: 2007
Platform: PlayStation 3
Developer: Ninja Theory
Genre: Action
Review Date: 4/6/11
Rating: ***

Disappointing. I really, really wanted to like this game, which is basically a female version of Kratos from the superb "God Of War" (2005). It has everything I could possibly want in a game. Unfortunately, even with a stunning lead character, fantastic animation, exquisite cutscenes, top notch voice talent, gorgeous locales and architecture, and the immense processing power of the PlayStation 3 hardware, it comes up woefully inadequate. How did this go so terribly wrong?

First of all, the loading times are excruciating. What is it doing that takes so long? Next, you're thrown into a tutorial battle that culminates in the death of the main character, Nariko (Anna Torv). The tutorial is confusing and the action is constantly interrupted by onscreen prompts that are difficult to dismiss. Then afterward, you lose all the powers you just learned, since the rest of the game is told as a flashback. This leads to even MORE irritating onscreen prompts that continue to regularly disrupt the game flow several hours into the game. The worst is during Kai's first mission, when a prompt comes up that obscures all of the ninja that are attacking you. They continue to attack you while you're trying to read it, and you can't make it go away! The game gives you very little control over the camera, which is unfortunate since the environment is so beautifully detailed and you're constantly being attacked from all sides. Evasion controls are placed on the right analog stick instead of camera control, which seems like a poor design decision to me.

While the animated cutscenes are gorgeous and the character models are painstakingly detailed, their impact is spoiled by bad writing, atrocious dialog, and ridiculously over-the-top performances. King Bohan (Andy Serkis) is a completely irritating comic book villain who mugs for the camera, spews intolerably sarcastic bile, and dramatically overemphasizes everything like a flamboyant tart. The other villains aren't any more palatable, and the only characters who seem to take anything seriously are Nariko and her father, Shen. Nariko's childhood friend Kai is mildly interesting, but again, overdone to the point of annoyance.

The hack-and-slash gameplay is very reminiscent of "God Of War," as the Heavenly Sword (sometimes) consists of a pair of blades that can be swung around on chains. Nariko's combat animations are smooth and exciting to watch, but overall the action comes across as dull and repetitive. One interesting gameplay mechanic is called "aftertouch," which allows you to guide projectiles in slow motion to help reach their targets. However, there's no point to it other than to break the monotony of the gameplay and incorporate some obligatory Sixaxis action. The game also incorporates quick time events (QTEs) which require you to hit a sequence of buttons as they flash on the screen. This certainly isn't new to the gaming world, but it's particularly annoying in this game. The sequences are overly long, you don't get enough time to react to the prompts, and you don't get to see any of the cool action that's going on during the sequence. The boss fight with Flying Fox is infuriating, and you're sent all the way back to the beginning of the chapter if you mess up (where you are further punished with a painfully long reload time). After attempting this battle six times, I finally gave up in disgust. Sadly, I doubt I'll ever play the game again, and it's certainly not compelling enough to justify buying a PS3.