God of Whore (Or games and dating)
There’s a consistently growing insecurity about the length of games. If one high profile website too many labels a game too short, then the hardcore gaming public becomes worrisome of investing $70 into a game they could likely finish that very day. (Knowing full well that the woman in your life wishes you’d spend that money and day giving her attention.) As a result, players who booted up Devil May Cry 4 developed a familiarity with all of the in-game locales as they were forced to backtrack, and Link’s epic quest to save the lands being postponed to grab some treasure chests or fireflies.
So I’m starting to become a bit fond of the short but sweet epics. Besides liking the rare chance to socialize with the outside world, I find that most games will wear out their welcome a lot sooner than they ought to. God of War 2 was considerably longer than God of War 1 and felt more tiresome because of it. And I find myself more likely to revisit the short-but-more confident campaigns of a Call of Duty 4 or Escape from than any of the drawn out maps of the Halo trilogy. And now we have Heavenly Sword, a 4-5 hour fury of sword slashes and abs.
The game takes place in some kind of feudal Asian land of monks and emperors, located between the Himalayas and the . A clan of warriors has been protecting a demon sword and a presumed demon child from a crazed emperor that seems too loony to ever earn his position of power. You play as said demon seed, Nariko, and you can gather all you need to know about Nariko from the cover: she’s an aggressive, vengeful, sulking heroine written like she’s been getting testosterone shots and is completely oblivious to the fact that her only armor is a shower curtain. What you can’t tell by the boxart is that this mystic Asian warrior speaks with a decidedly British accent, as does the rest of the cast.
The thing about the story is that Nariko seems to be the only one that’s taking this whole thing seriously. While she’ll often tell some impassioned monologues between chapters, she also comes across as the one character who fails to recognize that this is an action video game. The rest of the cast seems to be in on the idea that they exist in a hybrid world of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. On the opposite end, the evil emperor Bohan (voiced and acted by Smeagol himself, Andy Serkis) is having a barrel of fun conquering the lands and slaughtering the millions. He’s a guy I’d sip a cold one with.
The story as a whole is far from intelligent, but there exists so many wacky personalities, enhanced by the mo-cap efforts of WETA, that it makes the cutscenes hard not to watch. Besides, they make a great break between the load times. My Gawd does this game take long to load. There’s the obligatory initial installation, and then there’s the follow minute to load the actual game. Each level is another minute of loading, and be careful! For if you have the audacity to die while playing Heavenly Sword, prepare for another minute of loading. It doesn’t help that there’s a strange 50/50 ratio of cutscenes that can be skipped, a problem that is greatly amplified by the boss characters’ love of vocal chord exercise.
And even once the game hands over control to the player, it’ll take plenty of chances to truly grab control back, for quick-time events are scattered throughout the game. Nariko is more interested in having a choreographed quick-time event dance with the enemy boss than she is in letting you deal the finishing blow with than trying to sword-fight them, being that any boss fight can have three of these. There’s no actual “jump” button in Heavenly Sword, and it would’ve been nice for the game to let me manually scale those luscious cliffs on my own rather than watch a movie of Nariko doing it for me.
Now, when you’re actually in control, it’s to do one of two things. Slay things with your sword or throw them. Nariko may not be much of a high jumper but she’d easily excel at the shot put if given the chance to actually put on regulation clothes. This throwing mechanic is so substantial, that it justifies its own paragraph. (In fact it could be more substantial than the sword combat.) Here, Nariko throws her discus/cannonball/arrow/dignity at her enemies and the game allows you to switch into the perspective of the projectile. From there, players use the Sixaxis controller to steer the trajectory of their instrument of death through sheer willpower. The Sixaxis controller’s motion sensors are just inaccurate enough to simulate barely being able to manipulate a fast-travelling object through the air’s friction. You’ll believe that it took 20 cannonballs to hit the one single target on that catapult! In a fun little change in pace, a quarter of the game is spent as Kai, Nariko’s childish jailbait sidekick, whose entire existence is based on her arrow gun and this mechanic. She could very well be the most fun you have playing the whole game.
Finally, perhaps I should talk about the main game itself, the parts where you’re in direct control of Nariko, not her sidekick or the disc she just tossed. These comprise almost entirely of combat, of the most God of Wariented. You have two attack buttons to alternately mash and give the impression that you’re in control, and the ability to modify what attacks come out based on holding different shoulder buttons. Combat boils down to “you press buttons, hope they’re not blocking, roll out of the way when enemy attacks” with the one variation stemming from the quantity of enemies present. The sub-chapters in the game can vary in length from five minutes of beating up a troop of enemies to one minute beating up a single, unassuming fiend. Mind you, Nariko’s animations look great and there’s a greater sense of human brutality in this T-rated game than its M-rated inspiration. Also, in spite of the battling of hundreds (500 in one level…sort of) the pacing is just smooth enough that you feel like you’re battling a veritable army rather than respawning drones. So it becomes difficult to accuse the game of repetition, even if it is seducing you into thinking you’re not just beating up clones.
But the shallowness is a bit of a kick to where the heavens don’t shine. Boss battles consist of the same “attack, dodge, repeat, quick-time event” pattern, except the bosses all have massive health bars. A fifth of the entire game’s length could be attributed to the final boss, a difficult fellow that must be defeated three consecutive times and has the divine power to slow down framerates.
Perhaps you can attribute this to the game’s luscious graphics or other assets, but I almost never found myself despising Heavenly Sword. Well, up to the final confrontation at least. I was very much drawn to finish the game, but I’ve no urge to play again on the unlocked harder difficulty, or try to crack open the hidden bonus features. It makes a good rental or an excuse to show off the 60’ 1080p flatscreen beast of burden you just bought. But unlike any truly great short game, I’ve left with no desire to play it again. If Heavenly Sword were a date, she’d be borderline anorexic, take lengthy restroom breaks to “pretty up”, spend the whole four hours of your time talking about her ex-boyfriend Kratos, leave you a $70 bill and takes a taxi home hoping you’ll do it again next weekend. Except you will be left with no desire to ever call her back again.
3 ½ stars