Heavenly Sword is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated titles coming to the PlayStation 3 this fall. With a mix of stunning visuals, amazing voice acting and sound, uncanny capturing of facial animations and an interesting plot, it seems like developer Ninja Theory had everything down pat. However, one huge question remained for a lot of gamers out there (myself included). All that other stuff is great–but how does it actually play?

Yesterday, we got a chance to find out when Sony released a demo on the PlayStation Store. The demo starts out with a cut-scene of heroine Nariko and her sister Kai (who will be the other playable character later in the game) looking on as their family is taken in by King Bohan’s men to be imprisoned. (King Bohan being the antagonist in the game) After the short scene, you are thrust into a gorgeous world. Nariko is on a cliff overlooking the world that is lush with detail. Waterfalls gently flow down the mountains in the distance, while a rainbow is visible if you take a look on the left. After you’re done ogling the stunning environments, you go to the edge of the cliff to trigger a quick-time-event (QTE). This is fairly reminiscent of games like God of War or Resident Evil 4 in which you hit a button when it comes on screen to do something pretty amazing on-screen. In the demo’s case, it all looks amazing, but it lacks a sense of danger. Even if you screw up a button press, it’s not game over, you just flub a particular part. Also, the button combinations never changed during the demo, so even if you really screw it up, there’s always next time. Of course, this is all just a demo, so we hope that Ninja Theory has addressed these issues.

After you get through the QTE, you’re right in the action. Heavenly Sword has a similar button set up to God of War, as in, the square and triangle are your attacks. What Heavenly Sword does to differentiate itself is through the different fighting stances. To go into range stance, you hold the L1 button, for the power stance, you hit R1, and your default stance is speed. These all come in handy in the demo. When you’re getting cornered by enemies, going into the ranged stance will deal a little bit of damage to all of the surrounding enemies, allowing you to get some breathing room. The speed stance seems to be useful for taking out most of the unshielded grunts in the demo, while the power stance will be needed to open up those with shields. The three different stances all seem to be something that players will appreciate when playing the game this September. It has a way of involving you in the game constantly by making you think about the type of opponent you are up against and what stance would be best to dispose of him.

Aside from the stances, the actual combat itself is pretty fluid, free-flowing and gets you in the groove of the battle. That is in no small part due to the fact that the animations, for the most part, are smooth from one slash to the next and switching from one stance to the next is seamless experience. Aside from being a pretty gorgeous fighting system, it’s also damn brutal. You have your normal combos and attacks, but the other addition to the combat, “superstar” moves, sends the brutality to critical mass. While fighting, you accrue some style points that fill up a circular meter displayed on the HUD. When this is filled all the way, you unleash a superstar move. In the demo’s case, it involved swinging one guy on your blades and beating his buddies around with his now dead body. Another one that was seen was where Nariko would straddle an enemies head, punch then to the ground, turn him on his back and then snap his neck. Gruesomely awesome.

The demo ends after you fight off one more horde of enemies. Yes, this demo is extremely short (clocking in at about 3-7 minutes depending on how well you do) but if the combat that was experienced in this demo is any indication of the final product, color me impressed. Don’t take my word for the game, though. Download the demo off the PlayStation Store and experience it for yourself.

Heavenly Sword is slated to come out in September 2007. Console Monster will continue to bring you coverage of this game up until the eventual review.

Updated – Preview Code

And as promised, here’s that updated coverage. Whilst most of you had to play the same demo 8-9 times to get a general feel of the game, I was lucky enough to get my hands on some actual preview code, allowing me to play the entire second chapter of Heavenly Sword. So taking over where Art left off:

When you’ve managed to bash out some more enemies, you proceed through the smashed gates and run up a rather impressive set of a stairs to a few long range enemies. These guys have arrows ready to blast at you. This is when the long range stance will again come in handy. You have to have good time, and wait for the arrows to come launching at you, when you then switch to your long range stance and bash the triangle to either dodge or hit the arrows coming at you. You can then proceed up to the arrowsmen and kick their butts.

Happily, it’s not all just hack-and-slash on Heavenly Sword. You sometimes have to sold relatively simple puzzles to proceed. For example, you may need to throw discs at far away bells to unlock doors. To do that, you’ll need to hold X when throwing the object. This will send you into a slow motion behind the object view of the disc flying in the air. You’ll then need to use the SIX-AXIS to control the disc and hit the bell.

This is what I like about Heavenly Sword, the sparse use of the SIX-AXIS. Some games [Look out for a LAIR Hands-on later this week -ed] use the SIX-AXIS for all it’s movement, which in all honesty is extremely difficult. However Heavenly Sword uses it sparingly – but to good effect. When in combat or just walking around, you can tilt the controller to spin the camera left and right. As mentioned just now, you can also use it to guide objects you’ve thrown in the air (You can even throw other bodies during battle!). Finally, and probably my favourite, is actually during battle. By combining a shake of the controller during a combo, you can actually launch your enemies into the air, and then continue your combo in mid-flight. It takes a little getting used to, but once you’ve perfected it, another dimension of battling opens up.

In the preview code, I got the chance to play as Kai. It was only a short section of the game, but it added another dimension to the hack-and-slash element of the title. Armed with a powerful crossbow, you have to protect your father as he slowly limps his way to you whilst having a selection of enemies run at him, axes wielding. Again, the use of the SIX-AXIS slow motion air control is required here.

Finally, another element of the preview code that wasn’t seen in the demo was boss battles. There are 2 or 3 instances where the boss characters were taken on. Some were a lot easier than others. In all the cases, when you bosses energy was low, you were promoted to get a grab in (Circle button) which would then send you into a QTE to finish them off in impressive fashion. If you failed to work out the button presses in time, you’d get a kicked ass, and they’d recover some health – forcing you to try again.

The more I played Heavenly Sword, the more I realised that it wasn’t just a button-bashing game of madness, but was actually quite tactical. For example, blocking is done automatically when you’re not pressing any buttons, but you’ll need to take note of the glow around your enemies to work out which type of move their doing. If it’s a blue glow, you don’t need to do anything but block and counter. If it’s a yellow/orange glow however, you’ll need to quickly press R1 and get into the power stance to counter their power attack. A well timed counter will send you into a quick (and impressive) grab that’ll block the move and then do a rather sexy return attack which’ll leave you smiling and thinking “yeah I did that!!”. That coupled with the huge array of combos and combined stance combos will leave you playing Heavenly Sword for ages!

I for one cannot wait to get my grubby mitts on the review code – this game is looking superb!

Originally Written By: Art Green

Console Monster

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