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by Marty Demarest & r & & r & Heavenly Sword

Rated Teen; Playstation 3 & r & & r &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & N & lt;/span & ariko is as shapely as her sword. Graceful and pendulous, they both curve out at hip-height, swaying inward, then out again and up to a point. As ladylike as the arms that swing it, the Heavenly Sword transforms the myth of the hero-making male blade -- Arthur's Excalibur, Roland's Durendal, Aragorn's And & uacute;ril -- into a symbol of feminine potency. When Nariko first takes up her Heavenly Sword in opposition to the tyrant King Bohan, she knows it could mean her destruction. The path of a warrior runs one way, and Nariko's decision to wield the blade leads her inexorably towards a battlefield on which either she or Bohan will die.

Her enemies describe her as a demon in combat. Like a frenzied, caged animal, Nariko rolls around the battlefield and flips through the air. The Heavenly Sword is the axis around which she pivots, carving her enemy's flesh into horizontal and vertical strips. If there is a price to pay for this detail, it isn't the PlayStation 3's occasional graphical hiccups as characters jitter into place or battles skip a beat. Rather, it's Heavenly Sword's designers' penchant for over-animating everything. Identically planted plants sway in sync across hillsides. And Nariko's ceaselessly undulating hair looks like it was animated by someone who grew up watching too much of Spawn's wavy cape and The Little Mermaid's sea-frond hair.

Overdone details like this end up diminishing the effect of Heavenly Sword's mythic battlefield building. When it works, the game deepens from a diversion into an experience that approaches the scope of an epic. Armies march with upheld spears and swords like forests moving across plains. Archers and cavaliers raise cries that ring for miles in Dolby Digital. But most of the game's fighting is not on the battlefield, and much of Heavenly Sword's 10 hours devolves into roomfuls of enemies, of which there only seem to be a few basic types. As though the game's designers knew it was becoming monotonous, they made the unwise decision to break up the action with so many "Ring (Shield) Toss" and "Dart (Arrow) Throw" sequences that the game beings to feel like a county fair has invaded the storyline.

THE GOOD: The digital acting in Heavenly Sword was directed by Andy Serkis, the actor who played Gollum/Sm & eacute;agol in The Lord of the Rings and Kong in King Kong. He knows more about getting character through motion capture technology than anyone else alive, and his expertise gives Heavenly Sword's frequent cinematic sequences a degree of artistry that survives the game's distracting style and shallow storytelling. Finally, someone has figured out a way for actors to transcend the dehumanizing of digitization.

THE BAD: Levels are not designed to be explored or puzzled over, merely marauded through. The environments don't tell stories of the people or creatures living there -- they simply serve as rooms for battle. And the slaughtering itself is most easily achieved with a flurry of randomly pushed buttons yielding rapid jump-slash-swing-hack attacks. No finesse necessary.

THE BOTTOM LINE: I would be swinging my blade freely and fiercely if it weren't for Heavenly Sword's frequent intrusions of picturesque views, carnival-grade skill games and a poorly plotted storyline.

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