Let me explain further. I think it’s safe to say that an awful lot of work has gone into Heavenly Sword’s production values. Developers Ninja Theory roped in Andy ‘Gollum/King Kong’ Serkis to provide motion capture acting expertise and play the main villain’s role of Bothan, plus a selection of other thesps including the legendary Stephen Berkoff. They hired the multi-talented, multi-faceted jazz/world/drum&bass musician Nitin Sawhney to write the orchestral soundtrack, and orchestras in London and Prague to record it. They have combined all this talent with a frankly awesome graphics engine capable of doing both some of the most lavish large-scale battle scenes I’ve ever seen and the most incredible character close-ups of any game, ever, in the history of games so far.
From heroine Nariko to Serkis’s Bothan, these are digital characters capable of crossing the infamous uncanny valley. They might not look 100 per cent realistic – though they’re pretty darn close – but they seem alive with rich personality. Even the bosses are interesting and appealing in their own twisted way. What’s more, these are characters you can get involved with, and in a story that you want to progress through. Why does Nariko feel she is cursed? Why the distance between her and her master swordsman father? Will using the Heavenly Sword of the title bring downfall on her and her people, or is it the only way to fight back against an evil empire? There’s only one way to find out.
Away from the cut-scenes, the game remains astonishingly beautiful. The lighting and general ambience seems to cross the work Fumito Ueda put together in Ico and Shadow of the Colossus with the grand spectacle of God of War, with an additional rich Eastern influence that could have come straight from the Crouching Tiger/Hero/House of Flying Daggers strain of Wuxia cinema. In battle, Nariko is a magnificent presence, tumbling and slashing as her crimson hair flows in her wake. Your enemies, from common troops to slender ninjas to bestial apemen, are drawn and animated with an impressive attention to character and detail. The landscapes you battle across and through, whether a mountain path or the interior of a mighty fortress, are never less than striking. Artistically, Heavenly Sword is a complete and utter triumph. With the exception of Motorstorm, it’s the first game that – were I to watch a friend playing it or see it running in the shop – would make me want to rush out and buy a PS3.