Yahtzee Croshaw, in his debut video review for The Escapist, skewers Heavenly Sword, the Resident Evil 5 trailer, and more.
At the end of July, a demo of the PS3 exclusive hacky-slashy maim-a-thon Heavenly Sword, by developers Ninja Theory, was released on the PS3 online marketplace thing. The game is loftily described as not merely a game but a martial arts drama in the guise of a game, but enough quoting from the Wikipedia page, let's see what the demo has to show for itself.
The game—sorry, “martial arts drama”—is named after the weapon wielded by the main character, extremely Western-looking woman with extremely Japanese-sounding name du jour Nariko. Although if you look closely you'll notice that most of the time the Heavenly Sword is actually two swords, plural, perhaps because the developers felt they weren't being enough like God of War. Nariko certainly wears roughly the same amount of clothing as Kratos, in that she's one protruding nail away from a Boris Vallejo painting, but after that the developers seem to go out of their way to defy the comparison. Kratos possessed no hair and a Y chromosome, Nariko has no Y chromosome and hair growing out about eight feet long, which flows jerkily behind her like a rope made out of dried tagliatelle. The whole effect does not so much as scream "battle-hardened swordswoman" as it does the phrase, "Try and pull this one off, cosplayers."
Anyway, the Heavenly Swords demo uses the bold story-telling technique known as telling us bugger all and throws us right into the game in medias res. We see Nariko standing on a cliff, looking down upon some prime riverside property, soliloquizing some motivation concerning her father and revenge and how the place below her is full of evil dudes she intends to slit up. Of course, at this point we only have her word for that. For all we know it's actually a puppy obedience school with an unusually large security detail, but what the hell, okay.
Nariko then turns to some...thing sitting vacantly nearby wearing cat ears and makeup apparently applied by a KISS fan with Parkinson's disease, and relays to it her intention to slit up evil dudes. She then adds, with a totally straight face, "We may need you to play twing-twang." My first thought when I heard that was, "I am so going to quote that out of context,” but on reflection it doesn't make a whole lot of sense in context either. If the developers were hoping I’d consider buying the full game just to see what twing-twang is, then mission fucking accomplished, I suppose, but I'm going to be very disappointed if it isn't a cutesy euphemism for lesbian cunnilingus yeah I went there.
Moving on, our first taste of interactivity comes as we walk Nariko up to a support rope and press X when the game invites us to, at which point she starts running along it towards the compound, and the God of War comparisons return like a half brick to the skull when the game has us do the whole button-mashing reflex tester thing. I follow the games orders like a well trained West Highland terrier and end up on a narrow rocky spire that despite its height and remoteness is judged strategically important enough to have an entire regiment standing on it, and so I have to stop mocking the game for pointless nitpicks and move on to the make-or-break part of a fighting game, the combat.
Nariko is swiftly surrounded on all sides, by about ten million guards, so I immediately leap into action and mash random buttons on the controller as fast as I can. I didn't really have much of a strategy in mind, but it seemed that Nariko was interpreting my button-pressing as more of a helpful suggestion then an order anyway. She jumps around with her underdressed under-nourished form, spinning all over the place like a bunch of coat hangers in a dryer, but the attacks feel laborious and it seems to take a lot of blows to bring down each individual enemy. Especially when the guys with big hats show up who block nearly every move. Once or twice the game took control to show Nariko doing a quick fatality move on some poor twits, but the moments when she did this didn't seem to have any particular connection to the buttons I was mashing at the time. At this point the only drama in this “martial arts drama” was whether or not I was going to be able to finish off the crowd before my thumbs fell off.
Eventually I killed everyone on the big tall spire, and since Nariko wasn't quite finished expressing her death wish, she then cut the support ropes that held up the big stone erection and rode it down to the ground, where it collapsed upon a bunch of soldiers who were doing manly things like arm wrestling and grunting, and if you're seeing a sort of Freudian motif going on here, then rest assured you're not the only one. Another armed horde falls upon Nariko and another less precarious battle takes place. And as soon as it's over the demo ends. That's all there is.
It's difficult to tell with a demo this short, but somehow I don't feel that Heavenly Swords is going to light the world on fire or be the kind of exclusive title the PS3 needs right now. It's difficult to have faith in a developer that feels the optimum amount of gameplay time for a demo is barely enough to boil an egg. It's so short that I'm left with nothing else to say about it.
So let's talk about the Resident Evil 5 trailer instead. The video depicts a white as the driven snow main character from a previous Resident Evil game, in this case Chris Redfield who has apparently been making an income on the side smuggling cantaloupe melons in his upper arms, entering an obviously foreign and tangibly dirty peasant village, and getting attacked by a scythe-and pitchfork-wielding mob of bewitched locals, and if this sounds familiar to you then you've probably played Resident Evil 4. Which also began with a white as the driven snow main character from a previous Resident Evil game entering an obviously foreign and tangibly dirty etc etc.
I wasn't really expecting them to deviate too much a format that has proved wildly successful, but Jesus Christ guys, you could at least try to mix it up. Judging by the gameplay shown in the trailer, that too hasn't changed much, and they’re still maintaining the fine Resident Evil tradition of dialogue written by a twelve year old ADD sufferer locked in a room with a pile of Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic books. But I've danced around the major issue long enough, so let's talk about the hot spicy racism!
Capcom have rather shot themselves in the foot by having the peasants this time around being African, thus prompting the inevitable demented honking from the politically correct. In an admittedly weak defense of Capcom, Resident Evil 4 wasn't any less racist really, what with all the Spaniard murdering and characters unironically using the expression, "Ay yai yai." But poverty-stricken Africans are a somewhat different kettle of fish to greasy mainland Europeans. Still, the games are, after all, made by the Japanese, and everyone knows what a bunch of xenophobic dicks they are.
Part of me feels that from an artistic stand point, there may be some merit in RE5, because the point of a horror game is to be unnerving, and forcing a player to do something they find distasteful as well as frightening is a rather ground-breaking method of doing that. But then again, this is Resident Evil, the series that brought us squeaky voiced midget Napoleon, and if there's anything sophisticated in an idea of theirs, it's probably a total accident. There tends to be a knee-jerk reaction to preceive racism in these days, regardless of intent or irony, and I don't think we need to start worrying about RE5 until they break out the fried chicken.
Written by a bottle of cough syrup and Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw
"Spirit in the Sky" by Norman Greenbaum
"Turning Japanese" by The Vapors
Also if you know the identity of the small baby depicted in this video being threatened with gun violence please let him know that it was completely intentional and we think he’s a jerk
Tell me the Japanese aren’t xenophobic dicks and that I deserve to die