By now you'll have read our recent Heavenly Sword first impressions. By now you'll have downloaded the Heavenly Sword demo released on PSN last week. By now you'll have been able to finish it approximately 47 million times. By now you've probably decided it's too short and doesn't really show us anything we didn't know.
There have definitely been complaints. First up, it lasts about five minutes. Second, it's heavy on Quick Time Events, where control is reduced to prompted button-presses as you slide down ropes or leap from tumbling pillars. Third, combat isn't as complex and nuanced as something like Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry. Fourth, the framerate's a bit wobbly.
I happen to rather like it. It's short, but then it's a demo. It's easy, but it's a demo. We already know that the rest of the game - pegged at between 10 and 15 hours long - widens combat to take in Jet-Li-style defensive ranged manoeuvres, puzzles, various boss fights, playable sections involving Nariko's odd little friend Kai, and a wealth of cut-scenes put together with the help of Andy Serkis. If the one in the demo's anything to go by, facial animation, lip-synching and the rest of it are about to take a King Kong-sized step forward.
Not that I'm defending the use of Quick Time Events. They're tolerable, but they need to be kept to a minimum unless they're sort of the point, like they are in Fahrenheit, in which case they have to be done well. In the Heavenly Sword demo, you have to hit analogue-stick directions and rhythmically tap the X button in a pair of related action sequences, and you could easily argue that they're merely there to make you feel like you're doing something besides just fighting and watching movies. That said, examples of games that got away with them include Tomb Raider Anniversary and God of War (9/10s both), so let's not panic just yet. It'll be interesting to see how much Ninja Theory adopts them for the real thing.
Combat, meanwhile, could do with a bit of defence. It's not Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry, but then Ninja Theory probably wants to shift some units at retail. The result is something that tapers into God of War's category, if not particularly its orbit, and can be summed up thus: button-mashing works, but experimentation yields simple, effective gains.
Initially you'll be hammering the square and triangle buttons - your main attacks. The combo list is simply these two in rhythmic sequence. For bothering to use them both - and taking it slowly rather than simply pummelling them - you'll get to witness Nariko spinning like a vortex, booting people into the air and then juggling them, winding ferocious blows together with ease, and twirling laterally through the air in a giddy blur of metal and flaming tresses.
(Somewhere off-screen, Hayabusa can be heard snorting with derision).
So alright, yes, that's a bit simple, but it ignores completely the other things you can do. There are two alternative stances, for instance. By gripping L1 as you rain down moves, you'll perform ranged attacks, spinning your chain blades like Ivy out of Soulcalibur on her day off, while R1 brings on the heavy stance, where you'll sacrifice manoeuvrability and pace for force, using the big blade to smash your enemies around the close confines of each arena-like battleground.
There's also the ease with which Nariko can counter, and go aerial. Counters are as simple as timing a triangle-button stab to coincide with an approaching enemy of a certain hue. Those blue, orange and red tints are meant to help you do this, giving you an idea of which stance will block the incoming attack.
Again, the accusation is that it reduces defence to one or two responses. But while this is to some extent accurate - indeed, Nariko blocks a lot of attacks automatically, and can dodge-roll out of the way with right-analogue movements - it also rather misses what seems to be the point of the demo: quickly mastering the spectacular.
Watching Nariko grab an enemy's incoming punch, wrap her leg over his arm, twist him to the ground and snap his neck; or admiring her grab an enemy's leg, lift it up with a twist so his groin's exposed, and then plant a painful kick to boot him 15 feet, it's probably important to remember that these are everyday, vanilla responses. We've not tasted cherry yet.
Because there's no suggestion Heavenly Sword will do all this and nothing more. In which case, being able to counter easily - often resulting in a cool zoom-lens view of Nariko contorting to snap someone's back or neck, or hurl them into an abyss - and segue into aerial combos at the touch of a button could be a boon rather than a bust.
We're also rather taken with the "aftertouch" system. Nariko can use the X button to pick up objects in the environment and hurl them at her enemies, using the (optional) Sixaxis tilt to affect their trajectory with an accompanying camera close-up. I happily played through the demo half a dozen times simply playing with boulders. Call me simple (which is probably on the cards, given today's premise), but I can handle more of that sort of thing.
On top of that, there's the pinnacle of Nariko's arsenal, the Superstyle moves. As you fight, the little spots in the midst of her health bar in the top-left of the screen start to glow red. There are three, and each represents another level of Superstyle. Filling up more means the difference between a beautifully unpleasant big-sword to the groin killing sequence - once again framed-up gratuitously by the invisible cameraman - and a violent, wide-reaching chain attack that takes out half the enemies in the area.
Elsewhere, the wistful aura that Ninja Theory's seen fit to conjure in cut-scenes has taken a backseat to complaints about the fact it's only in 720p, and slows down on top of the cliff. This is entirely to ignore the way that Nariko's lips quiver as the narration contemplates the suffering of her father, or the developer's breakthroughs in marrying facial movement to speech convincingly. Or the fact that Kai is the most convincingly animated head-case our addled brains can remember. Good face-paint, too.
It's true that you begin as the game struggles to articulate itself - so many waterfalls cascading into the gorge, mingling with wafting blossom, Nariko's dancing locks, swaying flowers and acres of scenery and causing a bit of a logjam in the RSX department. But as you proceed into battle it flattens out in the right area, animation is consistently logical to the point of being able to pick out incoming attacks in a seas of limbs, and it's all drawn up to a rumbling soundtrack that never over-reaches, twinkling occasionally.
Granted, we've seen games that are as impressive to behold, but they weren't exactly slouching among the also-rans when they were.
Overall, though, whether you appreciate the demo or not seems to be a question of where what we're seeing fits on the game's scale. You can argue all day about how it sits within the context of its peers, and it's hard to fault a lot of the reasoning. But looking beyond that, as Ninja Theory surely must have been, and viewing this as a precursor to their bigger picture rather than the endgame, there's reason to be cheerful. Or at least cautiously optimistic.
Either way, with just over a month to go and a new preview build set to rain down soon, it won't be long before Ninja Theory's work has to stand up to a sterner examination, and we'll be waiting. Bring it on, Gollum.
Heavenly Sword is due out exclusively on PS3 in September.