It’s hard to recall but this was one of the big PS3 releases, drumming up massive E3 excitement over the rolling demo several years ago. On first glance it’s just Goddess of War, twin blades twirling, quicktime eventful and featuring an epic, mature, Conan-style fantasy storyline. To be absolutely honest, the first impressions aren’t too far off. This is every bit as action-packed as Kratos’ journeys, if considerably less gruesome. What sets HS apart is the level of elegance, both in the games heroine, and the design and flow of the game itself. Rather than just mashing the buttons and flailing the blades of Chaos, there’s a little more Ninja Gaiden-style switching of stances and timing of blows. Hammering square will get you blocked and killed fast. You have to time and counter. Nariko arcs about the screen, a lady-shaped death-machine, but each button-press has to be managed. There’s no hand-holding here. You have to earn your awesomeness.
The reason this game stands out in the mind, and why when you’ve finished it, it will stay with you and leave you wondering why other games don’t do it that way is the performances turned in by the mo-cap and voiceover actors. Gollum himself; Andy Serkis plays Bohan the tyrannical and brawny villain, injecting every line with easy, almost likable, poisonous charisma. He’s not some gloating D-lister with pretensions on being Emperor Palpatine, this is an award-winning actor at home in a digital role. He’s more like the terrifying man you meet in the pub and pray you’ll get away from before he snaps and you get a pool cue in the eye. The man who would be Kong also took up the role of dramatic director for the rest of the cast, and it shows. Every line is committed to, every emotion feels true. If every voice director in gaming took this much time and effort to get his crew emoting then games would honestly be further down the road to being taken as seriously as films. Nariko, Bohan, Kai, Shen are all excellent characters, none of them stereotyped, all of them interesting, with strengths and frailties making them far more human than we’re used to in this medium.
Looking back on the game, it’s really a pretty slick but standard slasher. Golden Axe brought right up to date (and not like the atrocity that was Beast Rider) but the reason to find this game again is that if you own a PS3 and if you’re looking forward to God of War III for reasons of story and character as well as action then you owe it to yourself to get this played in the meantime. It has some annoying sections involving crossbows and catapults and the sixaxis controls, but a little perseverance, aiming first and keeping a cool head will get these completed. Criminally overlooked on release and not likely to see the sequel it probably doesn’t need, this stands alone as a time when Ninja Theory (They of Kung Fu Chaos) truly excelled and made an action game with a bit of heart and soul for a change.