Andy Serkis' turn as Bohan, the disfigured villain of Heavenly Sword, is one of the best performances to grace video games. The actor, best known for portraying Gollum in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, hams it up as an evil warlord beset by incompetent underlings. Most next-generation game characters feature stiff, inexpressive faces and creepy dead eyes, but Bohan's scarred grill, like nearly all the mugs in Heavenly Sword, feels significantly more human. That's because the game's story sequences are crafted with astoundingly detailed motion capture, solid writing, and fluid, film-like camera work.
The parts of the game that you play instead of watch aren't so stunning. Heavenly Sword is a scaled-down God Of War. The game's lead, Nariko, slices and dices a slew of evil stooges and solves simple puzzles. Her hero's journey is more personal than epic: She's a family gal, aiding her adoptive sister and father in guarding the titular weapon that her clan is sworn to protect. She can pull off dozens of flashy combos and special moves with her blade, but her dust-ups are frequently a chore. At least the handful of action setpieces and target-shooting mini-games help break up the monotony. The game also happens to be mercifully short, making the game's narrative (and its reason to play) easy to digest in a weekend.
Beyond the game: Seamless games like God Of War II benefit from being made at the end of their console's lifespan, when developers know the machine inside and out. The PlayStation 3 must still be a mind-boggling mystery—Heavenly Sword is full of inelegant load screens.
Worth playing for: The impish Kai talks like Björk, cavorts like the wiry Ed from the anime Cowboy Bebop, and wreaks serious havoc with her crossbow. Her relationship with Nariko provides much of the game's surprising emotional depth.
Frustration sets in when: The game's one-note boss battles take way too long to resolve.
Final judgment: If Metal Gear Solid and Halo had acting this good, we'd be on to something.