LCG’s El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron Review

August 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Ever look at an abstract painting trying figure out what it’s suppose to mean? Even if you’re not sure of the meaning, you still feel something. That’s the ever-present theme that El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron communicated to me. Based on the Book of Enoch, El Shaddai takes players through quite possibly one of the most visually-arresting games this generation yet. While it may not exactly push the graphical envelope in terms of effects or shaders, it doesn’t need to. El Shaddai’s strengths rely heavily on it’s hynotizing vistas and solid combat to create a varied experience.

Although inspired by ancient Jewish text, the game never takes itself too seriously. Developer Ignition still finds time to load it with plenty of excessively cool Japanese sensibilities. Enoch (great-grandfather of Noah) runs around in heavenly clad armor complete with denim jeans and Lucifel reports regularly on your progress to God with his CELL PHONE. Lets just say that isn’t the entire extent of wackiness El Shaddai has to offer. While some gameplay moments seem offbeat in terms of context, the story is always deeply submerged in the ancient lore it was derived from.

You’ll be playing as Enoch, a mortal with a heart so pure he was able to ascend to Heaven and serve as a scribe. God partners you with Lucifel (before he was known as THE devil) to retrieve several Fallen Angels back to Heaven for judgement. These angels became infatuated with the beings on Earth and left Heaven to build their own paradise. This of course rubs God the wrong way. He wants Enoch to right the wrongs of the angels or else He’ll unleash a great flood that’ll wipe out humanity. So Enoch leaves Heaven with the aid of Lucifel and a few other Archangels to bring divine justice to the Fallen.

What you’ll immediately notice when you first boot up El Shaddai is the cel-shaded look of all the character models. While it’s nothing exactly new in the world of video games, this allows the characters to stand out from the highly abstract environments. Players will be fighting their way through a large tower the Fallen Angels have built in their own honor. Each level in that tower is ruled by a Fallen Angel and features a different theme depending on their respective obsessions. The Fallen Ezekiel is a very loving angel so her realm possesses alot of warm hues and motherly themes. Azazel believes strongly in mankind’s abilities to advance and evolve beyond their means, his level in the Tower of Babel features a Tron-like dystopia complete with robotic minions and futuristic motorcycles.

"It's like a Unicorn crapping a rainbow in my brain"

The variety in the environments do a great job of keeping things fresh. You’ll never find yourself in the same setting. El Shaddai is relentless in the worlds it presents to the player. Being force-fed a constant stream of trippy landscapes consistently leaves you in wonder and on your toes. If LSD was a video game, El Shaddai would be it’s name. The dream-like scenery serves purely to intrigue your visual senses and the heavy anime conventions draw heavily from the likes of Neon Genesis Evangelion. It may not be pushing the current-gen hardware to the limits; but it’s beauty is undeniable.

In a fight between God and Fallen Angels, Enoch isn't exactly in the best of spots...

The various enemies that occupy each realm are equipped with the same three types of weapons Enoch has. The Arch serves as a kind of sword, the Gale is more of a long range weapon (think guns), and the Veil is a pair of powerful gauntlets that can also be used as a shield for defensive purposes. Each weapon also changes how Enoch’s movements behave. The Arch lets Enoch double-jump into a glide and the Gale lets you dash.

While the game only really presents you with three types of weapons, there is a surprising amount of depth involved in the combat. Players can execute various combos by timing their button presses and holds. With only one attack button to speak of, I imagined a repetitive combat system at first, however with some experimenting I was able to expand my moveset and utilize the strengths of each weapon. In case you didn’t get it the first time. There is only ONE attack button. El Shaddai has a super minimalist control scheme. There’s only four buttons apart from basic character movement. One button lets Enoch attack, one for jumping, one for blocking, and one for stealing/purifying weapons. It’s a slick control scheme that shouldn’t scare away even hardcore action gamers. As a fan of hyper-kinetic titles such as Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, or Ninja Gaiden; El Shaddai ranks up there in terms of precision and ultra-fluid combat.

With only one attack button, the action manages to stay fast, fluid, and cinematic.

The essentials of gameplay usually involve players navigating through schizophrenic levels and fighting in an arena-like setting with a few opponents. El Shaddai’s minimalist philosophy shines throughout the entire package. There’s absolutely no HUD whatsoever. Enoch’s white armor (as well as the enemies’) acts as the “health bar”. As he takes damage, pieces of his armor will shatter until he’s down to his righteous Levis. This means you have about one hit left before you die. Even then you don’t really die, the screen starts to fade but you can bring Enoch back from the brink and get him back into the fight by mashing the face buttons. It’s easy at first, but as you die it becomes increasingly difficult to bring Enoch back. This is a bit frantic during a boss battle, but it feels satisfying when you’re mustering every ounce of energy to mash buttons so you can make a grand comeback.

The game’s weapons also need to undergo some maintenance. As Enoch vanquishes foes, his weapons will become tainted. They’ll eventually change color and lose effectiveness. Enoch can restore the weapon by purifying it. Think of it as a kind of “reload” button. The same button also serves as a technique for Enoch to steal weapons from his enemies. It boils down to examining the situation at hand and gunning for the enemy with the appropriate weapon. This encourages players to adapt on-the-fly and dilutes the need to stick to a “main” weapon. With some impressive looking combat and ease of controls, newcomers and hardcore gamers are sure to find something to enjoy in El Shaddai.

"Purification cleanses all things vile."

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron isn’t afraid of what it is. It’s an action game that loves itself some graceful 2D platforming and visceral 3D combat. It’s set in some of the most fantastic environments based on Biblical apocrypha. It’s alot of different things rolled into one. It sets out to deliver a unique gaming experience unlike anything else. The journey lasts about 6 hours and there isn’t any multiplayer to speak of. It’s not for everybody, but it is a journey worth taking if you’re looking for something different. It’s a divine mint compared to the usual grit and adrenaline this autumn’s shooters are going to offer.

+ The line between art assets and environmental geometry is blurred
+ Great story, even if you’re not a Sunday school scholar
+ Combat is satisfying and surprisingly deep
+ Controls are pinpoint

– A little bit on the short side
– Enemy encounters can get a bit predictable
– Not much else to offer besides the main storyline

8.6 /10

Incoming Reviews: El Shaddai & Deus Ex: Human Revolution

August 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Summer is winding down, but the gaming industry is just starting to heat up! This week sees the release of El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, a character-driven action game that puts players in the role of Enoch; a pure soul sent down to Earth by God to right the wrongs of fallen angels. This trippy action game is based loosely off of The Book of Enoch and loaded with crazy Japanese interpretations of creationism. Check out the full review by week’s end to get the final verdict!

Next Week: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Eidos Montreal is giving us the prequel to Warren Spector’s original masterpiece Deus Ex. Set in the future (where else would a good shooter be set?), mankind has developed cybernetic augmentations that allow humans to live beyond their means. However, the blessings of scientific advances are followed by social unrest; resulting in very human conflicts with some not-entirely-human enemies. Deus Ex: Human Revolution will be hitting store shelves August 23rd. Look for the review next week to see if this revolution is one worth joining.

New Street Fighter X Tekken Trailer Takes You to School, More Fighters Added to Roster

August 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Quite possibly one of the most long-awaited crossovers in any fighting game ever. Street Fighter X Tekken is the culmination of many fighting game fanatic’s hopes and dreams. Capcom apparently wants you to get a jumpstart on the game’s mechanics as a new trailer lays out a few basics as to how the game is played and what to expect. Alongside the ABC’s of fighting, the trailer also reveals some new additions to the already confirmed dream roster. I won’t spoil much, you’ll just have to see for yourself!

Poop Your Pants Battlefield 3 Multiplayer Gameplay from GamesCom 2011

August 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Oh EA… why do you tease us so? The cruel and talented folks from Dice just released some new multiplayer footage for the dangerously anticipated Battlefield 3. The trailer premiered right alongside GamesCom and doesn’t lack any extent of ammunition, explosions, or sheer awesomeness. It doesn’t make the Battlefield 3’s October 25th release date feel any closer, but it helps maybe a little. Check out the new gameplay trailer below!

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LCG’s FEAR 3 Review

In the over-crowded FPS market, the FEAR franchise insists on making a name for itself. After numerous delays, FEAR 3 finally shows up to the fight with it’s unique brand of combat and horror. It’s signature slow-mo gunplay and paranormal elements are back again, but are they enough to truly separate FEAR 3 from the rest of the pack?

You’ll be playing as Point Man, the protagonist from the first FEAR title. You’re a scruffy-looking mute with the ability to heighten your reflexes at will. Your brother Paxton Fettel has rejoined you in the form of a psychic projection and offers insight into what is going on. Apparently, their mother Alma is giving birth to a new freak of nature and this is more than enough reason for Fettel and Point Man to check it out.

In the single-player campaign, players will initially play through as Point Man. His slow-mo abilities is the central gameplay pillar for which the FEAR franchise was built on. You’ll be running through levels, turning a corner, toggling slow-mo, and blasting away at anything in sight. It sounds fairly repetitive;  which it is, but there is still some measure of satisfaction when you clear a room full of baddies with one clip. Everybody knows that stuff looks cooler in slow-mo. While the mechanic is somewhat dated, it still works pretty well here.

The control scheme is almost button-for-button with Call of Duty’s. The only difference is that the slow-mo button is relegated to a face button that normally switches weapons in other shooters. Switching weapons in FEAR 3 is now moved to a shoulder button. It’s a very minor tweak, but anyone who is familiar with other popular shooters out there will surely adjust in no time.

You’ll shoot your way through several Intervals (levels) that take you through surprisingly varied environments. You’ll start out in a prison that you have to escape from, creep through a dimly lit hardware store full of lunatics and kamikazes, and romp through a few urban environments in the daylight (yes, sun). Of course this wouldn’t be a FEAR title without a few excursions into another world. Previous games in the series had you sauntering through the same old office buildings and construction sites. The varied locales are a welcome plus in this latest entry.

Wow... no abandoned warehouse here...

At best, the graphics are decent. You can tell that the artists made a real attempt to mix up the feel and atmosphere of each level. Particles look great in slow motion, the rain makes everything look wet, and the sun casts down impressive looking “God-rays” through thick smoke. The engine is serviceable for what it needs to do, but FEAR 3’s graphical impact does not meet the one that was established by the first game. It looks great, but it’s pretty comparable to other first-person shooters in the market this year and the last.

A few new additions to the usual FEAR formula might rub veterans of the series the wrong way. There is a cover system that will allow players to duck behind objects and walls. It works surprisingly well at times when you need to seek refuge from bullets. However, there were a few instances where I simply wanted to crouch behind an object and found myself snapped into the piece of cover. This resulted in a few deaths when I tried to escape from a live grenade as I annoyingly negotiated with my controller. This is only a minor complaint and doesn’t really ruin the overall game, but it has certainly greeted me with a few loading screens.

Also, players use to be able to carry more than two weapons in the series. I assume this was done for the sake of creating a more approachable control scheme. Normally, toggling between two weapons in other shooters is okay. However, FEAR 3’s lack of a varied arsenal can make options limiting. There’s a sidearm, smg, dual-smgs, assault rifle, shotgun, sniper-rifle, rocket-launcher, and ray-gun (yes, ray gun). I mostly found myself sticking with the smg and assault rifle while the use of the other weapons were left completely to circumstances that warranted their use (aka shoot down the chopper with the launcher, use the sniper because you’re on high ground). It would’ve been nice to at least carry one other weapon as I often found myself making a bad switch, forcing me to lean on a weapon that already lacked ammo.

Fettel doesn't believe in ammo

Gripes aside, the core game is certainly fun and has a few memorable moments. But those moments are spread too thin across the course of the game. While there is variety in the environments, there is none whatsoever in terms of what you’ll be doing. You’ll be funneled from firefight to firefight and only allowed to proceed when everyone is dead. Yes, I realize that this is a shooter and that’s what you’re suppose to do in shooters. But the problem is that the game throws heavily armed soldier after heavily armed soldier at you and doesn’t do much else. There’s a few occasions when you’ll find yourself in a mech but the experience isn’t any different. You’ll blow up everything in your path only to get out of the mech to do more of the same as Point Man. It’s easy to fall into gameplay fatigue from the waves of enemies.

Shoot guys. Get into mech. Shoot guys AND mechs. Get out of mech. Shoot more guys.

Flat out, FEAR 3 is not scary at all. If you’re looking for a scary game, you won’t find it here. There’s maybe a few occasions where I was startled, but I was never on edge like I was with the first FEAR. There’s a couple of occasions where this monster will appear out of nowhere to shake you and then disappear. That’s not scary, that’s annoying. The developers tried to fit in a few creepy/scary moments between each firefight, but they fail to succeed because of the game’s overdose of combat. Fear 3 is not scary. At. All.

Sorry Alma... you're just not that scary anymore... *exploding head*

The campaign isn’t bad, it just doesn’t do anything differently than any other shooter. Even with the FEAR name attached, it’s not the kind of scary that was presented in the first game. While the story ties up some loose ends fans may have been waiting for, the plot is still two-dimensional. Characters come in and out of the story like a revolving door. For the first half of the game you’ll be tracking down a familiar face from the first game. Once you locate her, she get kidnapped. Later on, it felt like my rescue was completely accidental as she seemingly appeared out of nowhere to “help” me again. I completely forgot she even existed. She then tells you to look for the protagonist of the second game, Beckett; whom is ALSO kidnapped. *sigh* The twisted brotherhood between Point Man and Fettel overshadows the objective storytelling. Which is a good thing because their relationship is far more interesting than any other story FEAR 3 tries to tell. The campaign is a decent length clocking in at around 8 hours by yourself. But if you have intentions of playing this game cooperatively, two players can breeze through this game in roughly 6 hours of play time.

What probably kept me coming back was FEAR 3’s character progression system. By repeating certain tasks like collecting ammo, scoring a number of headshots, or killing during slow-mo; players are awarded experience points. These experience points level you up RPG-style resulting in improved stats such as health or slow-motion duration. What’s neat is that the character progression is carried across ALL modes. From single-player, to co-op, to online multiplayer; your rank and stats stay with you. Kudos to Day: 1 Studios for implementing this. It makes all the modes a bit more compelling, even if the main campaign is somewhat by-the-numbers.

Speaking of the co-op, I was so pleased it was in FEAR 3. The cooperative mode is supported in split-screen and online. There’s a morbid sense of joy as you and another player march through enemies. Player one is Point Man while the second player takes on the role of Paxton Fettel, who can levitate enemies, possess their bodies, or simply make them spontaneously combust. Playing through alone was one thing, but adding another player to the mix allows for some more chaotic fun. Taking out the opposition in slow-motion while watching your partner turn enemies into bloody geysers is pretty empowering. Also if you finish the campaign together, the game does something pretty cool towards the end to determine which ending you get. (I won’t spoil it for you)

Players can play as Fettel for each mission they complete as Point Man. Co-op nets you both

There are 2 cooperative and 2 competitive modes. “Fucking Run” has you sprinting for dear life as a fog of death is hot on your team’s heels. You’ll need to eliminate any baddies along the way to the safe zone. Just do your best not to turn around to look at the fog; its never any further away and quite possibly the scariest element on the disk. “Contractions” sees a team of four surviving against wave after wave of enemy troops as they scavenge for weapons and ammo. It bares alot of similarities to Black Op’s zombie mode.

The competitive mode “Soul Survivor” has players defending against phantoms. Those who find themselves taken down by ghost will join the ranks of the undead and have to take down their former allies. “Soul King” will pit players against each other from the get-go. Players will play as ghosts and would have to possess one body after another in order to out-kill their opponents. The multiplayer modes may not be award-winning material, but the ideas behind them are unique enough to warrant some fun. It’s up to the community and DLC to truly give it some legs.

FEAR 3 does it’s best to appeal to the broad FPS audience by streamlining the controls and borrowing elements from other online shooters. It succeeds in providing a familiar progression system while maintaining it’s own identity in the multiplayer space. However, it’s brand of competitive multiplayer may not be enough to garner a heavy following. To some degree of success, FEAR 3 manages to tell a story that simultaneously brings new players up to speed and finishes what it started. While the selection of environments are wide, the variety of what you’ll be doing is very limited. It is an unrelenting marathon of activating slow-mo, shooting, reloading, and repeating. Because of that, the fear in FEAR 3 is never really felt. It no longer lives up to the franchise’s namesake and is nothing more than a horror-themed shooter. It’s just not scary and will definitely disappoint those looking for some good spooks. But for those looking for a decent cooperative experience or maybe something to pass the time until the onslaught of releases this Fall, FEAR 3 may be enough.

+ Cooperative campaign is bloody fun
+ Character progression is preserved across all modes
+ Varied environments

– Not scary at all
– No split-screen online
– Last boss fight was needlessly tedious
– Confusing ending


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Life Culture Geek’s “Welcome Back” Download Guide

If you’re one of the many users inconvenienced by PSN’s recent downtime/maintenance, you’re in for a treat. As you may already know, Sony is giving out some free games for you to download as an apology and thanks for our “patience”. There are a handful of games Sony has allowed us to choose from and they’re all decent in their own right. At LCG, we’re here to help you decide which games to take advantage of. This way, you’ll end up downloading a game you can be sure to enjoy; rather one that will take up precious hard drive space on your PS3 or PSP. Remember, you’ll have to download the “Welcome Back” e-voucher before making a selection and you can download up to two free games per system.

Dead Nation – If you’re a fan of zombies, this title is the way to go. This Smash TV-style shooter will have you upgrading armor and weaponry as you make your way through hordes of undead. Players will need to play missions consecutively in order to maintain their score multiplier. The scores will be tallied against players from other regions world-wide. It’s playable solo, but the co-op is where this title truly shines. If you’re looking for something gory and challenging, this is your kind of game.

Super Stardust HD – Do you enjoy yourself some “Bullet Hell” gameplay? Still can’t put down Geometry Wars? Super Stardust HD is a bright seizure-inducing dual-stick shooter that should be right up your alley. It’ll have you saying, “One more time” over and over again as you try to beat your last best score. It’s also playable cooperatively to boot. If the Fourth of July was a game, this would be it. (No… I’m not talking about Fantavision…)

Wipeout HD –  You may be familiar with this futuristic racing title from as far back as the PS1 era. It hasn’t changed an awful much besides being displayed in full 1080p and running at a smooth 60 fps. The blistering speeds and weaponry you’ve come to know are still intact, just prettier to look at. This download also comes with the Wipeout Fury add-on that includes 8 new tracks, 13 new ships, and 3 additional game modes. So if you’re into hyper-fast futuristic racers in the vein of F-Zero, definitely give up one of your free downloads to this title.

Infamous – Open-world games usually stumble into pitfalls of filler missions and monotony. Infamous creates a world that is not only fun to navigate in, but also enjoyable to be apart of. As a messenger with sweet electrical powers and parkour skills to boot, you’ll be dishing out justice however you see fit. Players can decide if they want to go down the path of righteousness or become infamous (har) altogether. You’ll encounter moral choices that will effect the abilities at your disposal. The main story is certainly worth playing through twice just to explore all the possibilities this game has to offer. The side-missions aren’t the usual brand of fetch quests you experience in other games. They lead to much of the game’s variety and often reward you with enhanced powers. Completing these side quest will also release the denizens of the city from the clutches of various gangs; allowing safe passage for the citizens as well as yourself. If you’re looking for one of the best open-world games this generation, look no further than Infamous.

Little Big Planet – It doesn’t get any cuter than Media Molecule’s 2D-ish platformer. Little Big Planet boasts a near-infinite amount of user-created content for players to explore. Up to 4 players can traverse the highly-abstract story or tackle custom levels put together by the game’s community. While the gameplay may bare some resemblance to a Mario title at the first superficial glance; it contains a deep array of creativity and physics driven action. The Sackboys that populate Little Big Planet are just as customizable as the levels. You can outfit these adorable characters (puppets? creatures? things?) with an impressive lineup of costumes. You can mix and match their appearance to suit your tastes or make them look like other video game characters altogether. Not to mention it has the catchiest soundtrack ever. If you’re looking for a game that will entertain multiple players or something simply child-friendly, surrender one of your free game downloads to Little Big Planet. It’s charm is sure to delight younger and older gamers alike.

Killzone Liberation – Looking for a more manly man game to download onto your PSP? Killzone Liberation is an isometric tactical shooter that takes place in the Killzone universe. If you’re familiar with the first-person shooters, this isn’t it. Killzone Liberation is played from a top-down view to hit home a more tactical feel. Players will be running through the usual assortment of gritty battlefields and rustic military complexes while unloading on the Helghast. Running in Rambo-style will usually greet you with a Game Over screen. Players will have to examine the layout of the battlefield and be judicious about their cover. A second player will be able to join you throughout the entire campaign for support, which you’ll need since the game presents some stiff difficulty from the start. Players looking for a challenge that’s more on the mature side should give this tactical shooter a download.

Little Big Planet – It’s exactly what it sounds like; Little Big Planet… just on the PSP. The core tradition of customizing Sackboys and creating levels is still intact in this portable rendition. Although it’s decent for a PSP version of a PS3 game, you’ll find yourself flying solo a majority of the time unless you know 3 other people with a PSP and a copy of the game. LBP is certainly less compelling when you’re playing it by yourself. But if you can’t get enough or want LBP on-the-go; there’s no reason you shouldn’t download this excellent PSP version.

Modnation Racers – Who doesn’t like kart racing? Sony seems to be pushing the user-created envelope this generation and Modnation Racers is no exception. Players can expect highly customizable drivers, karts, and tracks. In typical kart racing fashion, racers will have a wide variety of projectiles and defensive abilities at their disposal to maintain an edge. If you’re looking for a racing title that doesn’t take itself too seriously, Modnation Racers’ insane levels of customization and dedicated community will keep you coming back for more.

Pursuit Force – This early PSP title is equivalent to that of a B-movie in terms of plot and premise, but it’s damn fun. You’ll be playing as a member of the… yup… Pursuit Force. Which means you’ll be driving, shooting, and leapfrogging from car to car. It’s essentially Spy Hunter on crack. You’ll pursue generic bad guys and take them down by JUMPING ON THEIR CAR AND SHOOTING THEM IN THE FACE! Players can then take over completely drivable vehicles by jacking the poor sucker who happens to be in it. The plot may be a little thin, but the gameplay is fun enough to keep you entertained. If you’re looking for something braindead but highly entertaining, give this one a go.

Hopefully you’ll find this guide useful to some extent when considering what free games you’ll be downloading. Those lucky enough (is lucky the right word?) to own BOTH a PS3 and PSP will be able to enjoy up to 4 free games! There’s also a Pixel World dynamic theme to download for free if you’re looking to pimp out your XMB. Happy downloading and enjoy!

Playable Catwoman Sneaks Into Arkham City

The pre-E3 surprises keep rolling out. Rocksteady recently put out a trailer showing Gotham’s favorite feline burglar taking it to the streets. Not just in cutscenes, but in fully playable fashion. Catwoman’s method of navigation and combat is on display here. It’ll be interesting to see how her style of gameplay will fit into the scheme of the final game. Is there anything sexier than a woman who can kick your ass? No. Batman: Arkham City is set for release on October 18th for the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Check out the brutal new trailer below.