Heav-en-ly-Sword. These four syllables are enough to make the average fanboy shake with anticipation. Imagine then when a demo of the title made its way onto PlayStation Store. After beating the raving hordes of fanboys away with a stick and locking the doors, it was time to sit down and experience the phenomenon of Ninja Theory’s Heavenly Sword.
The first thing you’ll notice when booting up the demo is the vast amount of language options available for selection. These include English, Spanish, French, Dutch and Italian. These don’t only refer to the menu screens and subtitle languages, but each of the five is fully voice-acted, with near perfect lip-syncing as an added bonus.
As you begin the demo, the graphical quality is overwhelming. The beautiful (and fully motion-captured) cutscene play out in crisp high definition, as Nariko describes the previously peaceful land that has now been ravaged by Bohan’s mark of corruption. Then in comes the curious and captivating Kai. The unbelievable graphics bolstered by the exquisite voice acting makes them both feel so human. When the two finish their discussion, you’re immediately given control of Nariko with no loading time whatsoever. There was no loading before the cutscene either. You may be asking yourself, has Heavenly Sword done away with loading completely? While the answer is no, Ninja Theory has provided the second best solution. They’ve cleverly hidden the massive loading time during the cutscene. Nice.
Finally, you can control our fiery red-haired friend. Before heading over to the massive rope, you may simply desire to gaze at the glorious environment. The waterfalls in the background are lacking any graphical anomalies, the draw distance is absolutely sublime, and there’s even the hint of a rainbow. You can turn on “Camera” in the options for an even better view. This setting takes advantage of the Sixaxis to control the positioning of the camera. Don’t worry about constant camera shake, as you need to tilt the controller over about 45 degrees to either side to affect the camera whatsoever.
Now the fun truly begins. As you begin to bolt down an insanely large rope that holds together the cliff you came from and the giant rock pedestal you’re heading towards, the enemies on the other side get the bright idea to cut the ropes. Not a problem. In conjunction with a series of button prompts, Nariko dashes and flips her way to the other end, followed by the finale of a swift kick in the face to the enemies’ leader. Epic.
The fighting system is without a doubt the most fluid in any action-adventure game, ever. Speed stance is the default stance, comprised of two well-balanced short blades that can gracefully slice and dice their way through the opposition. Ranged stance involves holding L1, creating two blades on chains reminiscent of those Kratos carries in the God of War franchise. These attacks have the longest range, unsurprisingly, but are the weakest when it comes to damaging and holding off opponents. Holding R1 creates a single massive sword. Albeit the slowest of the three, Power stance has such an incredible brute force that it is unwise to avoid using it. These three separate stances aren’t what’s unique about Heavenly Sword, it’s the “cross fusion” between them that makes the combat system incredible. Each stance alone has a plethora of solitary combos, but when mixed together, the possibilities seem endless. You see, each stance can blend into another during a single combo. For example, one could begin with ranged stance, knock an enemy into the air, jump with a flick of the Sixaxis controller, slice at them (in mid-air) with speed stance, finally finishing them off with a blow from power stance.
Continuing with the demo, after killing all the men on top of the giant rock pedestal, you have seemingly nowhere to go. Nariko being the badass that she is cuts the last remaining rope holding the structure up, and the pedestal begins to fall down on a room. While your adversaries get crushed by a giant slab of rock, you tap X and jump to safety. Once again, you don’t get much more epic than that.
As you begin to fight the second (and unfortunately last) group of enemies, you may notice that even on this easy level that your adversaries are intelligent creatures. Fighting them is no walk in the park. If you use a single strategy such as say, attacking nonstop, your opponents will recognize it, adapt, and, well, kill you.
You’ll soon realize the importance of recognizing the strength of your enemies attack, and therefore how to block and counterattack those attacks. First off, it should be noted that Nariko auto-blocks while not attacking. However, this doesn’t mean you can sit around, twiddling your thumbs, and not get hurt. Blue attacks can be blocked in speed stance, orange attacks can be blocked in ranged stance, and red attacks are unblockable. These should be avoided by using the right stick to evade. To counterattack, you must first block the attack, then press triangle immediately. Should you time it perfectly, you’ll see a stunning animation showing Nariko performing a one hit kill counterattack.
The environment interactivity is tremendous. Scattered around each area are items which you can pick up, throw, and guide with the Sixaxis. When you kill an enemy, you can pick up their weapon and throw that. Hell, should you get really pissed off, you can even throw a corpse and guide it towards another opponent as it ragdolls through the air.
So as you defeat the enemies in this arena, the blissfully short demo comes to a close. There are a few negatives of course, namely the slight audio problems, tearing, and framerate issues, but most likely all of these will be ironed out come launch. Start counting the days until September 4th. We’ll have a full review closer to Heavenly Sword's release.