E3 '07: Heavenly Sword Hands-On

We got our hands on Ninja Theory's beautiful PS3 action game at E3, before delving deeper into its mechanics with director Tameem Antoniades.

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Heavenly Sword is Ninja Theory's upcoming action adventure for the PlayStation 3, and stars a red-headed heroine named Nariko, who, equipped with incredible acrobatic moves and a pair of nifty blades, must prevent her own death and change her destiny. Heavenly Sword is on display and playable at E3 2007, and we checked out the demo and came away very impressed. We were also lucky enough to sit down with creative director Tameem Antoniades to check out some never-before-seen later levels and gameplay mechanics from a late-in-development build of the game.

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First, the demo. It opened with Nariko high atop a cliff with no apparent place to go. That quickly changed when we approached a small, glowing icon and pressed the X button, which is a context-sensitive action button. This caused Nariko to leap onto a series of long ropes that were attached to a small, rocky landing area filled with enemies far below. As Nariko slid down the ropes, her foes cut loose with arrows and we were prompted to press a direction on the D pad to avoid getting hit. That worked great, until an arrow broke the rope, forcing us to run faster by mashing the X button to avoid falling. You'll actually be able to flub these cinematic "hero sequences" to a small extent. For instance, when Nariko leaped to the ground below, we had to hit one final button to successfully attack an enemy just as Nariko landed. Missing this last button, however, would cause her to miss the enemy and land unceremoniously in a heap on the ground, losing a tiny bit of health in the process.

Once she reached the end of the rope and was on solid ground, Nariko began to dish out the pain. Using the square and triangle buttons, we chained together some fearsome-looking attacks that were immediately reminiscent of God of War. Eventually, however, the circle of bad guys around Nariko was so thick that we had to press the L1 button to switch to her speed stance. Heavenly Sword will give you three distinct fighting stances--speed, power, and ranged--that you can switch between instantly. In fact, rapid, on-the-fly management of these stances will be crucial to your survival, since using certain stances and maneuvers will leave you open to other kinds of damage.

It's essentially a system of checks and balances that manages your own attacks and those of your enemies. You'll have to be in power stance, for example, to block enemies who are using power attacks themselves. When you're in speed stance, Nariko will block automatically--but again, you can only block speed attacks in this stance. In ranged stance, you can't block at all, so you'll want to keep your distance and pick off your enemies from afar. Antoniades said the team thinks of it as an "action-puzzle game" that requires you to match up your own style with incoming attacks. That description seems even more apt thanks to a recent design addition that shows attacking enemies surrounded by a colored aura that indicates which stance they're using. This change was necessitated because the game's action moves so fast that players will purportedly need a more immediate visual cue as to which sorts of attacks they should be defending against.

Once we had gotten ourselves a bit of breathing room with the quick but relatively weak attacks of the speed stance, we tapped R1 and switched to the power stance, which let Nariko really cut loose. The differences in stances are very apparent. In the speed stance, Nariko whips her dual blades around on chains, keeping foes at a good distance while attacking. In the power stance, Nariko combines the two blades into one large sword, and she puts every ounce of herself into her attacks, jumping into the air and winding her blade as far back as humanly possible before striking. Standard attacks outside of the stances revolve around quicker, up-close strikes that can be strung together into some lengthy and exceptionally cool-looking combos.

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Much of the appeal of Heavenly Sword's combat really seems to be tied into its stylish presentation. Nariko is as nimble a minx as you'll ever find. She flips like crazy with every combo she lands, and her hair and the tails of her bandana flail around in the process. It's beautiful animation work that flows wonderfully as the action gets hot and heavy. You'll even be rewarded for fighting with style and grace by Heavenly Sword's glyph system. Though Sony admits you'll be able to get through most of the game by button-mashing, you'll accrue points for using flashier and more diverse maneuvers against your enemies, and these points will unlock up to three glyphs per level. Each glyph will give you some kind of new goody, whether it's a basic attack combo or a making-of video you can access from the main menu. Stylish combat performance will also build up "super styles," which are cinematic one-off, one-hit-kill attacks you can unleash when you build them up through fighting. The super styles have three levels, and if you keep building up to a level-three move, you'll be able to use it like a smart bomb, unleashing an attack that takes out all the enemies around you.

The foes we fought in the demo were actually pretty adept at fighting back. We ran into a combo of shield-wielding baddies and slightly weaker, unguarded grunts. Taking out the grunts was a fairly easy process, but the shield-wielders proved a challenge. They'd block many attacks, and had some tough charge attacks of their own, which we were able to evade by pressing the right analog stick in the opposite direction of the attack. The enemy AI didn't appear incredibly intelligent or anything, but they could hold their own in battle and gave us a run for our money.

After dispatching the group of enemies atop the platform that sat at the end of the rope, Nariko cut one of the remaining ropes, which caused a cascade effect, detaching all the ropes from the platform and sending it toppling toward a group of enemies on a lower cliff. In order to survive the fall, we had to rapidly press the X button to make Nariko run down the side of the falling platform and leap into the scattering group of enemies. From there, we battled through a new group of baddies, only to have a new type of foe with spears and intimidating armor burst through a nearby door. But before we could fight them, the demo came to a close.

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Nariko won't be the only character you'll control in Heavenly Sword, though. For about 20 percent of the game, you'll take control of her "little sister," a kooky girl named Kai with vaguely clown-like makeup and a bizarre manner. We saw a sample level in which Nariko has been imprisoned by the game's villain, King Bohan, and Kai had to traverse the walkway around an arena to find and rescue her big sis. Kai will have no melee attacks, though she's very agile and will have a chance to acrobatically evade enemies that get too close.

Luckily, Kai does have a rather nasty crossbow that you can fire from an over-the-shoulder perspective. You can also hold down the fire button to make the camera follow directly behind the arrow as it seeks its target in slow motion. While you have this chase camera engaged, you can tilt the Sixaxis to steer the arrow's path ever so slightly, and in our demo with Antoniades, we saw this "aftertouch" ability put to good use. Kai was wielding her crossbow against oncoming armored enemies whose heads were their only weak points, which naturally made them tougher to kill. Instead of picking each enemy off individually, the player fired an arrow at a large torch hanging over the arena, using the aftertouch to send the arrow directly through the flame (setting it alight) and then into a cache of powder kegs along the wall that neutralized the oncoming guards with explosive aplomb.

Even when you're playing as Nariko, you'll occasionally take a break from the frenzied hacking and slashing to get into some other styles of gameplay. During one impressive sequence, Nariko had to help defend a fort that was being assaulted by a massive army traversing the plains below the fortress walls. This army had a number of huge catapults in tow, but luckily the player took control of a turret-mounted cannon atop the fort wall and began to fire massive balls of lead back at the approaching siege engines. These catapults had specific weak points that had to be struck in order to demolish them entirely, and luckily, this cannon sequence gave the player the same chase-camera and aftertouch capabilities as Kai's crossbow, allowing him to slowly guide the projectile directly to the machine's sensitive area.

After these demonstrations, Antoniades moved on to discuss the game's cinematic component, which was directed by none other than King Kong and The Lord of the Rings' Gollum, Andy Serkis. Antoniades' brother actually served as Serkis' mortgage advisor and introduced the actor to Heavenly Sword, which he immediately wanted to get involved in. Serkis signed on as the director of the game's cutscenes, and he helped cast the other actors involved, as well as playing the role of King Bohan himself. Ninja Theory was lucky enough to use the state-of-the-art motion-capture facilities at Weta Digital in New Zealand to record the body movements, facial expressions, and voices of the performers simultaneously. In a behind-the-scenes video we saw (which will be included on the Heavenly Sword disc), Serkis and some other actors said the process of "filming" the game's cutscenes felt very much like acting in a play, since they had to use their basic physicality and emotional intensity to convey meaning and feeling in the absence of sets and costumes.

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In practice, judging from the couple of nearly final samples we got to view, these cutscenes are among the most expressive and realistic we've seen in recent memory. One quick scene had Kai speaking impishly and enigmatically directly into the camera, while another depicted Nariko's arena fight with the bulbous, disgusting Roach as his father King Bohan looked on. The characters' movements, vocal delivery, and especially facial expressions were almost startlingly lifelike and certainly far above par for cinematic scenes in most video games, and such high-quality presentation of the storyline made us all the more interested to see how the game's narrative arc will play out.

Though the playable demo was sadly brief, the time we spent playing Heavenly Sword was well spent, and we got even more interested when we saw all of the skill and artistry that Ninja Theory, Serkis, and Weta Digital have brought to bear in creating the game. This is a very promising game, both for its engaging combat system and spectacular visuals. Luckily for us, Sony says we'll be getting a demo version containing all of the game's second chapter a couple of weeks after E3, so look for more in-depth, hands-on impressions and lots of media to follow very shortly.

Discussion

288 comments
teewii
teewii

yeeah... this game is gonna rock. is it coming out in september? counting down the days :) wow. this is going to be one of the coolest games in history... those graphics are impressive, and this game makes you happy that u chose ps3 instead of xbox. go ps3!

minion13
minion13

this demo rocks the fuuuuukkkkkk out. graphics are killer, gameplay is killer, what more can you ask for?

styphin
styphin

Hooray! Finally, the killer app I need to justify dropping $400 on the PS3.

Serious
Serious

I played the demo of this game from the Playstation Store. And was blow away!! The graphics are amazing. The colors are vivid and the game play addictive. I smell a new exciting franchise here. This is why I like Sony. They are so innovative,imaginative and creative. The addition of WETA studios helping with the mo cap and game animation only adds to this games fantastic look. I'm definitely going to preorder this game.

Sony_FreaK
Sony_FreaK

I am going to buy this game point blank no ands, ifs, but, how, or whys not even gunna write how ill its gunna be

WinterSlodier
WinterSlodier

this game is pushind me to a ps3...I wanted one before but didn't feel the need to go get one cuz i didn't wany to buy a system just for a remake but this makes it an easier buy.

SpeNce718
SpeNce718

Heavenly Sword looks and sounds fantastic in my opinion. I would get this game whether it was exclusive for the PS3 or the 360.

wilfieone
wilfieone

Funny all the drama that 360 fan boys write on this! They looked at the at the hands on review just to write a bad comment on it? Nope they were checking out the game. Got jealousy?

valcrist09
valcrist09

This game will be awesome. Who cares if it has some things like GOW, not like it has the same story, or same gameplay, it just has the same fighting mechanics and why not add a solid fighting style mechanics to other games? hell look at FPS's lol. and all i have to say to people who think it should be on 360 TO BAD :P. This game will freaking rock and it comes out shortly after Lair muhahaha Hail pS3 finally

the-killer-7
the-killer-7

limitt45 your 100% right give that person a medal. it's about damn time that a game thats not a shooter comes ffs.

duelstar
duelstar

This is ridiculous. If this game was exclusive to the XBOX 360, xbox fans will be touting "here's Microsoft's answer to God of War and its gonna be better because its on the 360." Sony fans are gonna come screaming GoW clone (just like every first person shooter to come after Halo is a small fry copy in comparison). It's exclusive to the PS3 so now Sony fanboys are excited and touting a game that "can't be done on 360" or "360 fanboys are jealous." All the while 360 fanboys are banding together claiming it a GoW clone or "Dynasty Warriors with better graphics". Its really a stupid reason to argue.

amareen18
amareen18

it looks great shame its only on the ps3 :(

bjornborgue
bjornborgue

The only thing that impressed me in the videos was the fatso shouting "Kill, kill, kill...". I could tell that came from the heart. Hopefully there's more to the game than these videos show.

daveg1
daveg1

its not the best graphicaly game coming out but im still looking forward to playing it.

Glitchx24
Glitchx24

Ninja Theory and co. seem to be doing a spectacular job with this game.Right now it is one of the very few reasons I would even consider picking up a PS3.

pathogenb
pathogenb

"jlex77 I like my 360 for games equally as much as I like my PS3 as a blue ray player, but this games actually got me excited." you and me both, mang.

edroc23
edroc23

limitt45, I couldn't of said it any better..... Preach on brother.

limitt45
limitt45

HBOMB29: to respond to your comment on this thread. first off. i dont care what anybody says. your definatly a fanboy. second."LOOKS LIKE DYNASTY WARRIORS WITH BETTER GRAPHICS"!!!! ARE U FU@%ING SERIOUS!!! did u just compare this game to dynasty warriors!!! then dose that make god of war. the first dynasty warriors to make record sales. it seems like no matter what the ps3 comes out with. 360 fanboys will never be pleased. thinking their console is th one & only. honestly. the only games worth getting a 360 for are GoW, lost planet, GRAW 2, and forza 2.(all of which are shooters+ one decent racing game.) im not a fanboy. im just tired of 360 lover condeming a wonderfuly looking game just cuz its not on their console.

NathanHawkins
NathanHawkins

Looks to be a God of War clone in many aspects. The graphics are simply amazing however, and the gamplay may prove superior to GOW. The storyline will have much to show if it decides to bring a significant challenge to GOW as far as that goes. Anyway, I have little doubt that Heavenly Sword will make an impact on the industry's view of this type of genre...be it good or bad.

edroc23
edroc23

gamegod172003 Talks like a fan boy, Smells like a fan boy.

jlex77
jlex77

I like my 360 for games equally as much as I like my PS3 as a blue ray player, but this games actually got me excited.

SpazH3d
SpazH3d

Henry the 4th is a pathetic fanboy. I could easily name 20 good games on the 360. Edit: Hmm, i see there's a flamewar going on. *runs to nearest shelter*

jagstar73
jagstar73

this looks deep! kinda like devil may cry x 10

henry4th
henry4th

Im not sad nor angry nor a PS3 fan boy! Ill make it clearer just for you ~ IM A GAMER I LIKE GAMES NOT CONSOLES~ Ive owned every console from the atari 2600 till now minus the XBOX360 cause it has nothing to offer me, it has no good titles and over priced so there not worth getting simple as that, when mass effect comes out then the console might be worth getting but even then being a gamer and all its still hard to want to buy a console for one good game. PS3/Wii has more than 1 good game thus I can part with my money in getting a ps3/wii and I have and there still is more great games comming to it games like Haze and Ratchet and Clank, Drake, heavenly sword and many more. so gamegod172003 grow some brains and understand everyone who reads your post knows that you are a fan boy.

HBOMB29
HBOMB29

FIRST OFF props to gamegod172003 hes made the best point of everyone commenting heavenly sword,i like him have had every system( i sold my ps3 at christmas.) Why because they dont have the upper hand like that used to on ps2 and ps1 they had the exclusive titles , all you guys on here are dumb as hell keep it real HEAVENLY SWORD LOOKS AVERAGE NOT GREAT, AND LOOKS LIKE DYNASTY WARRIORS WITH BETTER GRAPHICS im a fan of games if sony still had the exclusive metal gear solids , and the gta s then hey i wouldve kept it , but people READ THE WRITING ON THE WALL HEAVENLY SWORD ISNT GONNA MAKE A DIFFERENCE when you can get every good game and some exclusives on the 360 and its 200 cheaper common heavenly sword is gonna be average at best, everyone who has kept your ps3 YOUVE BEEN HAD stop hyping heavenly sword like some on here sd SAME GAME SAME CHARACTERS there isnt anything revloutionary about the game.And THEY HAD BETTER HURRY UP AND RELASE IT CAUSE IT DOESNT WANT TO GET CAUGHT UP IN THE HALO3, MASS EFFECT BIO SHOCK STORM , now those are games that will get a 9.0 or above the ONLY EXCULSIVE GAMES FOR PS3 THAT WILL BE ANY GOOD WILL BE GOD OF WAR 3, AND SOCOM, THATS IT. STOP PRETENDING HEAVENLY HAS BEEN DONE BETTER IN THE PAST just you guys are so hungry for a DECENT EXCLUSIVE GAME ON PS3 HAHAH LIKE EDDIE MURPHY SD IF YOUR IN THE DESERT STARVING THAT SALTINE CRACKER WILL BE THE BEST CRACKER YOUVE EVER HAD . STEP UP SONY MAKE SOME BETTER EXCLUSIVE GAMES .

landau492
landau492

sorry i call u sad and angry u r just a hater. that talks a lot of trash

gamegod172003
gamegod172003

Im not sad nor angry nor a 360 fan boy which I stated pretty clearly maybe you need some reading lessons! but Ill make it clearer just for you ~ IM A GAMER I LIKE GAMES NOT CONSOLES~ Ive owned every console from the atari 2600 till now minus the PS3 and PSP cause they have nothing to offer me there consoles/portables that have no good titles and over priced so there not worth getting simple as that when MGS4 comes out then the console will be worth getting but even then being a gamer and all its still hard to want to buy a console for one good game. 360 has more than 1 good game thus I can part with my money in getting a 360 and I have and there still is more great games comming to it games like GTA4 and Assassins Creed which arnt Sony exclusives like they were supposed to be lol wonder why that is??? maybe cause 360 is a better console for sales maybe not more powerfull but has a better selling point for sofware so Landau492 grow some brains and understand that being fanboy to a console esspecially a hopeless one isnt going to make them any better good games make them better.

landau492
landau492

game looks awsome, to bad it makes 360 fanboys like gamegod feel sad and angry.

gamegod172003
gamegod172003

looks ok nothing spectacular like everyones makeing it seem looks like alot of stuff taken from God of War IMO with a twist and using an attractive character for an added selling point. this game will help the PS3 but will never top the 360 sad as it is sony fan boys its not going to happen the only game capable of boosting the PS3 sales significantly is Metal Gear Solid 4 suck it up and face the facts. and no Im not a fan boy of any console this is truly from a true gamers stand point its the fan boys who make things seem much grander than they acctually are Im not gettng paid to be some fan why should you? be a gamer not a fan boy.

logout777
logout777

it's not just like a some-kind-of fighting game it's got a lot of scale and atmosphere that there's this big story about, im getting ps3 for it for sure!

gozyaj
gozyaj

this is one a classic game of ps3 yet.

elohimfetus
elohimfetus

Please people don't hate. I think it will be just as good as Ninja Gaiden or maybe a little better since we may actually be able to beat it. This game looks to be one for the history books.

VegetaMaelstrom
VegetaMaelstrom

"aternativo: i thing ur going to be wrong THE KEY ..cuz this game like better then any game out there.. it looks fast and nice ..we just have to see the game play ..if that is good this game is going to get a 9.4 guarantee" For some as yet unexplained reason I don't think Gamespot gives out scores in anything but point five increments so a 9.4 would be impossible to get. Unless you are referring to the average score of all the major gaming sites. Somehow I don't think this game will be right up there with Twilight Princess and Gears of War. I'm guessing an 8.0 or so depending on the game length.

kaziechameleon
kaziechameleon

it's a god of war clone look at the combat heavy context sensitive button mashing slug fest, with chains. and duel weapons. does look like a solid game all i'm sayin is it isn't revlutionarily innovative, just well made and quite beautiful. the stance system is all that evolves it from god of war.

macabre190788
macabre190788

This might be able to ease my appetite for God of War 3.

BringTheBlood
BringTheBlood

For how well done and how truly beautiful this game is, i think that the lead character could look at a lot better, it doesnt seem like they took as much time on her as they did other parts/people in the game. But either i cant wait to get this game! Its gonnnnnna be siiiiick! Look out Microsoft, here comes Sony!!!

rocky2k32000
rocky2k32000

@ key. it is obivious you are wrong. :D forget this and go and play too human on 360. we'll stick with better games on the ps3. HEAVENLY SWORD looks better than 98% better than the action games coming to 360. with very fluid animation and amazing graphics. it is nothing like god of war. i have played god of war 1 and 2 to death. and i can only see influence from god of war in this game. people who say bleh! like god of war. might have played god of war in their friends' houses or never played it at all. i WILL be getting this for sure.

TwistedMinds
TwistedMinds

This looks totally wicked! I'll admit that it does look alot like Prince of Persia, what with Nariko having to have to prevent her death and change her destiny. However, it seems fresh and way better than PoP. Her blades are simply awesome, and the combat moves look totally cool. All that said, Heavenly Sword is yet another reason to get the PS3. *adds Heavenly Sword to her wishlist*

Neo1O1
Neo1O1

The female lead character is absolutely gorgeous.

Dima_06
Dima_06

fallensymbols...u mean it is not worth its weight in gold, because it is on a console which changes its price point more than I change my pair of sneakers?! It that case you are correct my friend.

Dilrod
Dilrod

Heavenly Sword is a must buy if you like this genre of games. I know Ill be getting it.

fallensymbols
fallensymbols

Nothing new. Same old, crap with better visuals. It's been the same for how many years now. PS3, Xbox 360, it's just the same. Same type of games from the same type of people.

solidsnakehd
solidsnakehd

what about this? it will destroy microsoft