PS3 has needed a standout next-gen game to showcase its superior processing power in order to stick two fingers up at the naysayers who have damned the console from day one of its release. Heavenly Sword is that game.
And you know what the kicker is? This is just the beginning - a fact that may mean that Ninja Theory's first PS3 game may well be lost in the avalanche of upcoming quality games including GTA IV and Assassin's Creed. Heavenly Sword, however, is something special and deserves its moment in the spotlight, even if it's only for fifteen minutes. You can start counting...
DANCE WITH DEATH
Four years in the making at Sony's Cambridge studios, Sword is unashamedly the bi-product of Ninja Theory's obsession/adoration for the chop-socky, swordplay-filled flicks of yesteryear. Part Shaw Brothers flick, part Red Sonja with a peppering of Wushu, the developer even went as far as hiring the same sound masters who provided the battle ker-chinks on Ang Lee's Oscar-nabbing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to supply the noise of steel clashing with steel in one-to-one brawls and battlefield fisticuffs. Not a single sliver of creativity has been left unexplored here and it shows.
Ninja Theory has done its damndest to craft a benchmark brawler with beauty. But does it extend beyond a vast and stunning playground of destruction plus an arsenal of killer moves? Does it have the pulling power to get tills ringing with PS3 sales before the year is out? Yes and yes.
The story is excellent. Ninja Theory has put a vast amount of time and work into scriptwriting and rendering the stunning cutscenes that play out with the emotional resonance of a big summer blockbuster. You won't want to skip through these thanks to the work of Andy Serkis, he of Gollum and King Kong fame. Serkis worked on the dramatics with the game's stellar cast - including John Rambo's nemesis from Rambo II, Steven Berkoff - at WETA Digital's swanky new motion-capture studio in New Zealand.
Oddly, Serkis became involved in the project through coincidence more than anything else. His mortgage was being brokered by the brother of one of Ninja's Theory's creative directors and about halfway through the process, the broker brother tested the waters with Serkis by way of a demo video. The rest, as they say, is history. And frankly, Serkis is ultimately a massive part of why Heavenly Sword works so well as not only a game, but also as a hugely engaging adventure story about love, honour, family and steel. Kudos to you Mr Mysterious Mortgage Man wherever you are.
Serkis is King Bohan, a ruthless bastard of a leader who believes that he is some sort of messenger sent from the heavens above with one thing on his mind - capture the Heavenly Sword from Nariko and her clan guard.
Opening on Nariko's death (which seems to be a gaming zeitgeist these days) you play through the flame-haired fighter's last days before she's killed by the titular sword in the midst of a gargantuan battle with Bohan's army. You must then hack and slash through gorgeous countryside landscapes, vast castles, snow-covered towns and dusty arenas in a bid to keep the sword from Bohan's possession and protect both your city and people at the same time.
Essentially, Bohan must die, his armies must be destroyed and Nariko, we're led to believe, is dead by the time the closing game credits start to roll. Of course, we've finished it and know what happens, but we're not cold-hearted enough to spoil the game's ending for our readers.