Heavenly Sword is easily one of the PS3's most anticipated titles, so it only makes sense that Sony showed it off at E3. Unfortunately, their one level, gladiator-arena style demo didn't leave me with much of an understanding of how expansive or involved the final game is going to be. It did alight my curiosity, however, and leave me hungry for more.
By now, everyone is describing this game as God of War with a female lead. After playing the demo at E3, I have to agree with that assessment.
Like Kratos from God of War, the female lead is on a mission to unseat powerful leaders, which will bring her into contact with thousands of Samurai and Ninja warriors loyal to the current regime. Like Kratos, the female lead uses a pair of swords attached to chains, which she can use to attack distant foes and to yank foes closer to her. Like Kratos, she has multiple attacks and grapples, and her attacks can be chained together to form combinations. Heck, this game is so much like God of War that there are even Quick-Timer Events, where you need to press the indicated buttons in a pre-set sequence in order to finish off certain enemies.
Original ideas are always best, but, I have to admit, God of War is the kind of game that I wouldn't mind seeing copied a few more times. And it really looks like that's what Ninja Theory and Sony are doing with Heavenly Sword.
That's the impression I got from the demo, anyway.
The demo opens with Nariko, the female lead, standing in the middle of a Roman-esque gladiator arena. Surrounding her on the terrace above are two dozen sword-carrying warriors. After a brief conversation, a handful of warriors jump down and challenge our heroine.
Making short work of them was easy, and also very fun to watch. Using the triangle and square buttons, I unleashed a fury of quick slashes and thrusts (along with a few acrobatic flips) that cut one enemy after another to ribbons. When an enemy reared back to attack me, I'd either hold the L1 button to guard or tap the triangle button to perform a counter-attack. Counter-attacks and grabs are very cool in Heavenly Sword, because the camera pulls out and goes into slow-motion to let you admire your kills.
Although the gameplay is clearly patterned after God of War, it appears that the combat in Heavenly Sword will at least benefit from a greater degree of variety. For example, pressing the triangle button didn't cause the same canned counter-attack each time. I noticed quite a few counters, including stylish kung fu kicks and brutal sword finishers. Furthermore, I was able to pick up and throw the barrels and chairs that were strewn around the environment.
One time, I pressed the triangle button and Nariko knocked down a warrior with a flying kick, only to finish him off by slamming her swords down between his legs… while he was pitifully trying to crawl away!
Let me repeat that, she sliced the man's genitals to ribbons.
After slaughtering three waves of warriors, the demo ended with a boss battle of sorts. I say "of sorts" because once I filled up Nariko's special meter, I hit the circle button to initiate the finisher that sent him to his death and me back to the demo's title screen. In another nod to God of War, the finisher required a sequence of buttons to be pressed. Each successful input caused Naruku to perform a different attack on the boss. "X" knocked him into the air, "up" caused her to scale the pillar, "X" again caused her to extend her swords into his upper chest, "left" yanked him closer to her, and so on, until finally she let him drop to the marble floor that was now a good 50-feet blow them.
As for the graphics, they're beautiful, like you'd think they should be. The arena resembled how a Roman arena might look if a live-action news crew were recording the goings-on. I noticed sunlight reflecting off of some of the more polished stones and slabs. Tapestries flapped in response to the breeze. A light haze of dust was everywhere, just as you'd expect if you were in an ancient colosseum during a sunny day. Character animation is smooth and lifelike, and Nariko's attacks are satisfyingly acrobatic. In addition to all of that, objects in the environment don't just break into chunks when they're hacked. They crack, or break, or splinter, or come apart in the same sort of dynamic way that an actual wooden table might if it were to be struck by a sword. For sure, Heavenly Sword flexes the hi-definition might of the PS3.
Thanks to the limited nature of the demo though, I wasn't able to get a sense of how intricate the environments will be in the final version, or any idea of what the rest of the gameplay will entail. Will there be platforming? Will there be lengthy levels or is this just going to be an arena style game? The demo didn't answer any of those questions.
I wish the demo gave a better indication of what the finished game will be like. I am glad, however, that the combat in the demo was so varied and fun, because it left me hungry to play the game again once it is released.
We won't know how awesome Heavenly Sword is until it is released in November 2006, but if the demo is any indicator, we'll all be using variations of "awesome" to describe it.