As one of the first PlayStation 3 games to catch people's eyes, way back at E3 2006, Heavenly Sword drew obvious comparisons to God of War, Sony's hugely popular action adventure franchise. The recent release of the Heavenly Sword demo on the PlayStation Network allowed everyone to see precisely how different the franchises were from each other. The demo itself was well received, although a bit short, but we've recently been lucky enough to get our hands on an extended build of the game featuring an entire chapter of gameplay.
Heavenly Sword follows the adventures of Nariko, a crimson-haired young woman who's the daughter of Shen, the chief of a rural warrior tribe. The tribe is tasked with guarding the Heavenly Sword, a weapon that was apparently once wielded by a god. Although the sword's energy has protected the clan for centuries, that ceases to be the case when evil king Bohan comes calling, wipes out much of the clan, and imprisons Shen so that he can get his hands on the sword. But before his troops manage to capture the weapon, Nariko reaches it and begins using it to rescue her father. However, the weapon was not intended to be used by mortals, and it begins to drain her life force as she wields it. Will she be able to find her father and defeat the king before sacrificing her life?
The demo level featured the very beginning of the second chapter of the game, which takes place just after Shen has been captured by Bohan and his men. With the Heavenly Sword in hand, Nariko begins to cut a swath through the invading army, which has established itself in a huge fortress compound. Although the demo cuts out after a couple of fights, the build we've been playing contains that entire chapter of the game, which includes a couple of boss fights.
After defeating the first few waves of enemies using the Heavenly Sword, Nariko has to continue her invasion of the palace. However, her journey isn't just a bunch of hacking and slashing: Different challenges arise as you proceed. In one instance, you'll have to make your way across a bridge while archers on the far side shoot away at you. To avoid getting killed, Nariko has to use her ranged stance and whirl her weapon around her head, thus deflecting the arrows before they land. After running toward the archers while they're reloading and repeating the process a few times, you'll get close enough to take them out permanently.
Just beyond this section, you'll come across another example of the game's aftertouch feature. Aftertouch comes into play when Nariko has to deal with a distant switch. She hits these switches by throwing shields at them, Captain America-style. However, the shields are difficult to hit from a distance, so you need to use the aftertouch controls: If you hold down the throw button after you release the shield, you can move the Sixaxis controller around and let its motion-sensing features guide the path of the shield. In this instance, you have to guide the shield so that it bounces off of a statue and hits the switch on the other side of the area, which proceeds to unlock the doors that allow you to move forward.
Later in the level, after much fighting, we were able to take on two of Bohan's generals, Flying Fox and Whiptail. Flying Fox was the first of the two to come after us in a large dining hall. After attempting to weaken Nariko by sending hordes of easily dispatched soldiers after her, Flying Fox joins the fight, wielding very quick combos. The bosses here have unique attack animations. They often switch between speed and power attacks in midcombo, making it difficult to block their attacks. Luckily, there are always a few red health containers in these boss fight arenas. If you manage to save them up for the boss fight instead of using them while fighting the guards, you should be able to wear them down and recharge your health when you need it. After doing so for a bit, Flying Fox can be dispatched with a special unique attack that sees Nariko throwing him up into the air and stabbing him while plummeting back to earth.
After crossing another lengthy bridge (where you get to use an odd rocket-launcher weapon, with more aftertouch being used to control the projectile in flight), you encounter Whiptail. Whiptail is a good deal more difficult than Flying Fox, and her fight is much lengthier as well. Whiptail is somewhat analogous to Spider-Man's enemy Scorpion: She's got a relatively human body except for the massive tail that grows out of her back and the head of a dead snake that she uses as a helmet. After defeating her guards, she floods a large temple with water and uses that as her primary method of attack. While you can still move unimpeded through the foot of water or so that's on the ground, Whiptail will use her tail to create large torrents of water that zoom at Nariko, forcing you to roll out of the way with her dodge maneuver. However, after creating three or four waves, Whiptail is temporarily fatigued, allowing you to deliver a large combo to her.
After a midfight interlude that sees you taking over another character, an enigmatic girl named Kai who needs to protect Shen from attacking enemies with her rapid-fire crossbow, you take over Nariko again and attempt to deliver the killing blow. Whiptail manages to be even more difficult now because she dodges most of your attacks, forcing you to use the built-in counter system to dodge her own attacks and send back a counter move until you manage to perform another unique attack animation to finish her off.
All in all, Heavenly Sword is looking like a promising action adventure game for PlayStation 3 owners. There are still some issues to be resolved, such as the sometimes-shaky frame rate, but we're hoping that the developers use the last month before the game ships to fix some of the nagging issues. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more info as the game nears its ship date in early September.