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.
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.
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.
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.
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