|System: Xbox 360, PS3|
|Dev: UTV Ignition Entertainment|
|Pub: UTV Ignition Entertainment|
|Release: August 16, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Animated Blood, Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes|
by Angelo M. D'Argenio
When UTV Ignition set out to create El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, they were determined to make the most artistic and thoughtful game yet. Considering the plot, graphics, and overall setting, they must have hired countless artists, writers, theologians, and philosophers in order to make the highest quality game they could produce. Unfortunately, they forgot to hire the actual game designers. This is an action game that takes the notion of "games as art" to a truly unhealthy level. It's far more art than game, going so far to actually sacrifice gameplay for the story. It touches on aspects of Christian mythology no other game has dared to use, but it just doesn't have that solid framework to keep you playing.
Seven angels have fallen from heaven, and it's up to Enoch—one of God's scribes, a descendant of Adam, and a forefather of Noah—to climb the unholy tower these angels have constructed. Inside the tower is a strange abstract world twisted to the very thoughts of the fallen angels themselves. Enoch must survive the tower and return the angels to heaven, or else horrible things will happen to all us mortals down here on Earth.
The story is told partly through narration, partly through flashback, partly through the voices of archangels speaking to Enoch, partly through discontinuous narrative, and partly through the actions of Enoch himself. As convoluted as that may sound, it's actually done well. The game manages to say the right things at the right time to reveal just the right amount of information to the player. The story actually leaves you guessing, not only in relation to the plot, but also in relation to the very make-up of the game universe. It's very reminiscent of the Shin Megami Tensei series in that regard.
However, as adept as the game is at telling its story, it's even better at showing you its story. The visual style of El Shaddai is unparalleled. For example, the very first scene in the game starts you off dying in an impressive boss fight. It's then revealed that the power of the gods can give you a second chance, and the game actually rewinds in front of your eyes all the way back to the title screen. Pressing start will start the game again, this time in a different time and a different place, making the player himself feel almost like a strange participant in these physics-breaking meanders.
However, the visual style just gets cooler from there. At the very base you get to see massive angelic landscapes and abstract environments unfolding in front of you. However, at points in the game you will see ages pass in the background as you progress. You will find space contracting and expanding as you move, teleporting you to dark rooms, crystalline mountains, and winding paths suspended in the middle of nothingness. There is one point where you run across the tops of waves as transparent drawings reminiscent of Japanese art control the wind around you. Branching paths take you through different locales, different time periods, even different states of mind. Sometimes all color will fade and the world will become black and white; at other times the world will fade to total darkness. But everything I just described doesn't even come close to doing this game justice. It's truly one of the most awe-inspiring visual masterpieces that has ever been created.
Then there is the sound design, which is on par with the visual design. The music changes from Latin chants to pieces composed of violins and bells to jazz to tribal chants and more. There are even pieces with elements of techno and electronica in them. The sound effects also fit the game perfectly. Reality breaks apart with the sound of glass breaking. Some enemies die with a wail, while others are purified in a strange combination of laser sounds and crackling electricity. Frankly, the sights and sounds of this game are just magnificent.
Having said all that, the gameplay of El Shaddai is unfortunately rather shallow. There is a single button to attack, a single button to defend, and a single button to jump—that's about it. Enoch can either spam his attacks for quick attacks, charge them for slow powerful attacks, change the timing of his combos to vary up his assaults, or even counterattack, but in the end all this really amounts to is mashing the attack button while enemies die all around you. Enoch doesn't really expand his repertoire or get more powerful as the game goes on, so whatever you did to survive in the first few stages will last you clean through the final boss.
Enoch has four fighting styles to choose from. He can either fight unarmed, which he rarely does considering how little damage he deals on his own, or he can steal weapons from enemies. Unfortunately, there are only three weapons he can steal, and he gains access to all of them fairly early on. This also unfortunately means that there are only really three enemy variations that you will come across, with any other difference being purely cosmetic.