On Cloud Nine
We finally have some extended hands-on time with Heavenly Sword and it's nothing short of jaw-dropping.
Published: August 1, 2007
We started seeing a little more of that when we polished off the second wave of enemies in the little courtyard where the demo ends and headed out to a bridge to avoid incoming fire from some archers. The slightly wider combat zone allowed us to take our time and dig a little into the blocks and reversals. See, there's a sizeable window to press the Triangle Button to reverse and attack, but only by blocking and returning the attack the moment it comes in can you pull off one of the flashier (and brutal) one-hit kills. Since the ranged stance has no block, an uppercut move was added (just press Triangle) and enemies are rocketed up. By either jerking the controller upward or pressing X if the motion controls are off, Nariko will jump skyward (the only other time she can do this is during the timed button presses a la Shenmue) and from there a subset of moves that utilize the stance switches can be used. Though they start out simple, by the end of the chapter we were using them to deal big damage to boss characters in the small windows of opportunity their duels afforded.
Though it was still an early build, and some of the animations and tweening between them needed a little work, the fluidity of the combat was surprising. Using the power stance to bust through an shield carrier or two, then switching to speed to whittle through a few more enemies and then finishing with the ranged stance to cut through all the unprotected baddies surrounding Nariko was a blast. Even just learning the timing of incoming strikes to nail those reversals was fun, but combat isn't the whole of Heavenly Sword.
Though it'll never approach anything requiring more than a few seconds of looking around, the game's liberal use of shields that can be thrown and then, with the X Button held, steered mid-air with the aftertouch that uses the SIXAXIS' motion controls felt fantastic. A few of the puzzles required some carful steering as the shield bounced from one contact point to another, and in one case, Nariko was able to chuck a shield hundreds of feet to open up a new section at a locked gate later in the demo. Fun stuff to be sure.
With the archers on the bridge polished off and a smashed red pot refilling our slightly drained health, we headed into the next big fight (after a little shield flowing), which actually ended up being the demo from E3 2006. Along the way, we stopped to take in the sight of cherry blossoms slowly flitting to the ground in a covered walkway, watched as banners flapped in the wind, casting soft shadows on the ground and wowed at some of the most gorgeous far-off terrain we've ever seen in a game -- PS3 or otherwise. It should be mentioned before we get into the fight with the Flying Fox, the first boss in the chapter, that the game likes to use a 24-style breakaway set of frames to show things happening simultaneously.
Again, with this section being fairly familiar, we were able to cruise through it rather quickly, though unfortunately due to the fact that it was early code, the ranting from Flying Fox (or rather UK actor Steven Berkoff) wasn't in the game (we'd later experience this with some of the dialogue between Nariko and scaly femme fatale Whiptail towards the end of the chapter). Still, we charged through the enemies, then fought Flying Fox, using a lot of rolls to avoid his attacks and then countering as best we could. Once he was close to death -- as with all bosses we've seen so far -- pressing Circle would drag him out into the middle of the room and kick-start a massive aerial battle that was controlled entirely by timed button presses.
The window for them was quite a bit smaller than any of the other events, so it actually took a couple tries, and when you fail one of these big, epic finishing moves, the boss gains back a little health and it's back into beating on them until they're weak enough to kick off the finshers. Luckily, the second try was the charm and we nailed the sequence to bring him down... at which point he babbled something condescending and ran off. Crap. Still, it did serve to highlight the fact that simple button mashing won't get you through the full game. Boss battles require a fair amount of dodging, and since the attacks apparently can't be reversed, a more Ali-like approach of floating and stinging is in order.