Heavenly Sword was released back in September 2007, six months after the release of the PS3 console. It was a highly anticipated game for PS3 owners due to the promise of cinematic storytelling and action, as well as its format-exclusive status. The crop of PS3 exclusives was, at that time, somewhat limited – and with developers pulling out of exclusivity deals left, right, and centre, Heavenly Sword was considered a rare opportunity to own something that the Xbox360 crowd would miss out on.
The cinematic promise was met head on by Heavenly Sword, delivering exactly that, but many found the game lacking compared to the hype that had surrounded its release. The reality is, Heavenly Sword did achieve what it set out to do, but having being chopped down from the originally planned trilogy, the game was left suffering slightly from not having too definitive a structure.
Though it received mostly positive reviews ad reasonable sales, the game never really captured much attention. This could well have been down to the timing, released only shortly after the Xbox360 Elite model and only shortly before the release of the more hotly anticipated release of Halo 3, moving the spotlight firmly onto the Microsoft crowd.
Playing primarily as Nariko, daughter of a warrior clan leader, Heavenly sword sees you hacking and slashing your way through a highly imaginative and immersive story. The concept is simple – hack up all the enemies on screen, kill a boss, rinse and repeat. But what Heavenly Sword does is add little slices of brilliance to an already tried-and-tested formula to create an experience seldom seen in other games of similar substance. Using the Sixaxis control system of the PS3 to guide cannons and arrows to their targets is a particularly memorable section – a very simple yet clever and enjoyable way of using the control mechanism, and fabulous fun to replay.
//The creation of beauty
What really makes Heavenly Sword so captivating is the story, and the characters you meet whilst working through it, along with the cinematic approach to the narrative. The voice acting is brilliant, the script flows and the story is driven along with out having to be pushed or pulled. It all smoothly glides form one level to the next, helped along by some of the most awe-inspiring cut scenes you’re ever likely to witness. Facial expressions are captured phenomenally by Heavenly Sword, everything is bright and crisp to look at, and the characters are truly brought to life by their brilliantly delivered dialogue. One of the most astounding achievements of the whole game is how much of a presence each character has. We are all familiar with how actors can own the stage in plays and films, but often in games this is harder to pull off. In Heavenly Sword, however, each actor demands your attention; the dramatic direction from Andy Serkis and the filmic quality of the scripted sequences ensures their presence is appreciated.
Interestingly, characters in Heavenly Sword share similar physical characteristics with their voice actor counterparts as far as facial animation is concerned. Motion capturing was used to translate movement into the game with great effect, and the characters’ faces give away the actor behind the proverbial mask. Nariko is played by Anna Torv, well known for her role as FBI agent Olivia Dunham on the TV series Fringe. The in-game character Nariko is a perfect digital representation of Torv – the resemblance is astounding, and further demonstrates the attention to detail with regards to the overall presentation.
The story draws players in with all the above tools and with its accessible humour, most memorably emerging from the relationship between King Bohan and Roach. The whole thing often seems more like a film than a game, but it still maintains its playability. The comparison between the two media is all too common, but it’s fantastic to see a games developer showing film directors how it’s done, rather than the other way around.
The story may be short and the combat occasionally tedious, but it doesn’t damage the enjoyment of playing the game. That’s because Heavenly Sword isn’t about playing a game. It’s mostly about experiencing a narrative.
It’s representative of what games seem to be evolving into: works of art. Few other titles provide the player with such beautifully crafted storytelling, presentation and entertainment. Still one of the strongest games on the PS3, Heavenly Sword is a true Hollywood blockbuster, in game form.