Developer(s) – Ninja Theory
Publisher(s) – Sony Computer Entertainment
Director(s) – Nina Kristensen, Tameem Antoniades & Andy Serkis
Producer(s) – Matt Hart
PEGI – 16
Released in 2007 following a slew of questionable launch titles for the PlayStation 3, such as Lair and Genjo: Days of the Blade, Heavenly Sword was a game that helped to shed light on the appeal of the console early on and can be seen as an earlier example of how cinematic video games came to evolve into what they are today, excelling in the story and doing fairly well to impress in terms of gameplay at the same time. It received a mixed reaction from critics at the time, but in my opinion, whilst not being among the best titles on the system in the end, certainly does hold up well enough.
Graphics – 8.5/10
The game’s visuals, whilst not doing exceptionally well to stand out conceptually, certainly stood out technically at the time, and as such, it did an exceptional job of displaying what the PlayStation3 was capable of on the graphical level in the console’s infancy. Motion capture was used extensively on the project for each of the actors to interpret facial expressions as well as possible, including from the motion capture master Andy Serkis. For the number of enemies that also appear on the screen at any one given time, the developers took care to make sure the frame rate didn’t drop as dramatically as what players could’ve possibly come to expect. It doesn’t hinder gameplay too much.
Gameplay – 7/10
Speaking of gameplay, Heavenly Sword is a linear hack n’ slash game similar to games like God of War and Darksiders, complete with a variety in weapon types, special abilities, and quick-time events. Indeed, the game does require a certain degree of strategy to deal with different types of enemies, in that swift attacks must be used to best fight against agile enemies, and powerful attacks must be used to best fight slower and heavier enemies. The principle is prevalent throughout the entire game, especially in the boss fights. There are also instances in which the player controls an alternative character, who wields a bow, and they can use the PlayStation 3’s SixAxis controls to steer arrows toward enemies, which I particularly enjoyed.
Controls – 10/10
Although the small drop in frame rate can hinder the game to a small extent, the game’s control scheme itself poses no problems. Again, it was quite impressive to me how the developers implemented the SixAxis controls as well as the conventional controls. Everything moves as fluently as needed and the controls pose no unnecessary complication either.
Lifespan – 5/10
Clocking at around 4 hours, the game’s lifespan falls short of even hack n’ slash games that had come and gone before it. The game excels in technical visuals, gameplay, and story, and these are the aspects in which the developers showed off the budget, but for me, it would’ve been better spent making sure the player had as much to do in the game possible for as long as possible as opposed to being left as what a linear and one-dimensional experience it turned out to be
Storyline – 8/10
The story of Heavenly Sword centers around Nariko, a young warrior of a small tribe fighting against the forces of a relentless ruler named King Bohan. Nariko’s weapon, the titular Heavenly Sword, is actually a divine relic and a form of sentient life which Nariko suffers from an inner conflict with that culminates as the game progresses, similar to how the ring of power works in Lord of the Rings. She makes it her resolve to master the sword and use it to liberate her clansmen and drive King Bohan back. The story blends together elements of comedy, tragedy, and drama, and makes for a particularly engrossing experience in this respect. Andy Serkis’s performance as King Bohan, in particular, is outstanding, with excellent acting and well-written dialogue to compliment him. Though his character is nowhere as conflicted as his portrayal as Monkey in Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, the intentions of King Bohan are made clear from the start, and Andy Serkis flawlessly conveys it.
Originality – 6.5/10
Though the game certainly stands out in terms of story, it fails to stand out to any great extent in the respect of either gameplay or conceptual design, and the experience suffers somewhat as a result. The main focus on a game should always be on the gameplay and making that stand out more than any other element of the game, and it’s evident that wasn’t the case with Heavenly Sword. It feels very much like the story was the primary concern of the developers, and although the gameplay is not terrible by any means, it could’ve been better given more of a focus.
However, for as many criticisms I have cited over the course of the review, Heavenly Sword is a game with a moderate amount of variety, and is still pretty enjoyable to play regardless. Its story is worth experiencing a single playthrough for, and it seemed to set the precedent for more games that were even more enthralling in terms of story on the PlayStation 3.