Is Sony's latest big game PS3's killer app?
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If, like me, you think that the PlayStation 3 desperately needs a few good games, then Heavenly Sword is undoubtedly one of the most important games of the year. Not only is it an original property in a genre that Sony has had a lot of luck with over the past few years, but it's only coming to the PS3. It saddens me, then, to have to admit that I didn't like it nearly as much as I thought I would.
Let me qualify that. Heavenly Sword is not a bad game. It's actually quite good, and there are a lot of things about it that I really like. But Ninja Theory has made a few boneheaded decisions that greatly detract from the experience and they serve only to highlight how limited the original premise is.
In some ways, the main problem facing the developers of any primarily action based game is how to keep the experience fresh. How do you create a game where you're essentially repeating the same few moves over and over for hours on end and still make it interesting? Ninja Theory has taken two roads: expand the story and add extra gameplay.
The first tack was a good move. The team went to Andy Serkis (yes, Gollum), who not only oversaw the dramatic parts of the story but also stars as the game's villain, King Bohan. Bohan is after the Heavenly Sword, an enchanted blade that was once used to fell an evil entity known as the Raven King. After offing the Raven King, the sword passed to a wandering clan, headed by a man named Shen, the father of our red-headed heroine, Nariko. Now Bohan is after the sword and Nariko is all that stands in his way.
Okay, so it's not the most original premise, but where Ninja Theory scores points is in its execution of this simple plan. The story is straightforward and yet it ticks all the right boxes. The movie interludes use a more detailed engine to bring to life the Weta-produced scenes and Serkis and most of the rest of the cast deliver a story that kept me entertained throughout. You can even go a bit deeper through the animated shorts unlocked as you collect tokens during gameplay.
Bringing the characters to life is one thing, but the main challenge is crafting an enjoyable combat system. Ninja Theory has mostly got it right. You'll start the game with a relatively underpowered blade but things start to become more interesting once you pick up the eponymous sword. The big draw here is the stance system, which allows you to position yourself for speed, range or power attacks - dependent on whether or not you're pushing specified shoulder buttons.