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GAME REVIEW: El Shaddai Ascension of the Metatron (PS3)

El Shaddai is not a game that I expect a lot of people will play. That's a shame. I had heard nothing about it. In fact the only reason it even blipped on my radar was that one lunch Almasy downloaded the demo, and we were intrigued and impressed by the visuals and the gameplay was solid. I decided to try it out using Gamefly; I'm glad I did.

What happened next? Lemme tell you a tale. -snap-

FIERCE!


Story... Oh boy story. So right off the bat you get a little disclaimer that says that everyone who worked on the game is different races and religions, so don't sue Ignition if you think the game is making fun of your favorite bible stories. Apparently El Shaddai is one of the Judaic names for God, and Metatron is a high-yield energy-ore from Zone of the Enders, and the Judaic name for Angel...hmmm I see a pattern here. So right off the bat this game is steeped in some old testamenty goodness. You play as Enoch, a silent protagonist who is (I think) a human that works for God, wears blue jeans, and has a golden mane of hair. Actually Enoch is yet another historical Hebrew figure, and in this case could be the great grandfather of Noah. You know, the dude who built the first bang boat. Actually I knew none of this before writing this review. In fact I am sort of tempted to go bone up on my ancient Hebrew scripture now.

So anyways, you are Enoch and your main goal is to go around purifying (beating up) the fallen angels that have escaped heaven and started breeding with humans. You are essentially trying to thrash the angels before God gets pissed and floods the world. You progress up a tower made by the angels and defeat them as you... wait for it.... "ascend". Along the way you are guided by Lucifel, a "too-cool-for-bible-school" angel who is always talking to God on a cell phone and snapping his fingers to do, well everything. The characters all have old biblical names like Armoros, Ishtar, Azumel, Bezezel, and TacoBell. I'm sure it probably sticks fairly close to the lore, but on your first play-through it gets really confusing remembering who's who. It also doesn't help that all the bad guys dress the same. I'm sure for scripture history buffs, this story is a delight, but as someone with a measly 8 years of Catholic school education, I was hardly able to really piece together much more of the plot than what I mentioned here.


Maybe Lucifel can explain better....


So, let me tell you a little about the gameplay. -snap-

As far as gameplay goes Shaddai is quite the hodgepodge. The game breaks down into roughly 50/50 fighting/platforming, oh and a motorcycle level. First up the fighting.
Fighting is contained within blocked off areas that enemies spawn into (think Okami) and lasts until you've killed all the enemies. There is a jump button, a "fight" button, a modifier (like block or dash) button, and a "purify" button. Early on the game shows you that you can steal enemies' weapons after beating on them a little and purify the weapons so that you can use them. There are only 3 weapons in the game, and you do not learn new moves or level up. Combat from the moment you get a weapon the first time until you beat the game is exactly the same, which does get a little old. You also get the 3 weapons pretty early on in the game so don't go expecting something new at the end. Basically you'll find a weapon you like and stick with it through most of the game. Like the repetitious weapons the enemies are also totally copy pastes of 3-4 different types. That being said the control is responsive, and there are more advanced elements like timing based counters, and guard breakers based on button input timing. The combat isn't bad by any means, just small in scope.

Speaking of bosses (weren't we?), El Shaddai has some cool ones. You will be fighting everything from fallen drag queen angels in pajama onsies, to transformers, to giant fire Cactuars. Each boss feels different and can be a legitimate challenge even on "normal" difficulty. Strangely though, you never know when you have to beat a boss, or if it's fine to fail. From the get go you encounter bosses, and many times get killed, and the game progresses. Other times if you die it's game over. There is really never any indication of when it's ok to call it in, or when you have to succeed. It gets to be a weird Groundhog Day like experience where you know you've fought this person before, but you aren't really sure why you're fighting them again, or if you need to let them win. I guess God really does like messing with his chosen people.


Yup


Another design call that adds confusion is a complete lack of any HUD. You can tell how close Enoch is to death by how much of his gay white armor is left, Ghosts and Goblins style. That I can understand. However, there are collectible red orbs, that I never deciphered the purpose of. There are these weird fire looking pick-ups which serve no obvious function. Then there are a slew of hidden "bonus stages" of sorts where you collect yet another ....thing. Ironically only once you beat the game do you unlock a HUD, but even then it really doesn't explain anything. Moving on, let's talk platforming.

El Shaddai has the most platforming that I've done on the current gen consoles short of Mario Galaxy. There is a lot of it, be it in 3d, or in side scrolling 2d. For the most part it is really enjoyable, except for a few parts that are in 3d. Camera angles are set by the game so they usually do a really good job of showing you where you need to jump. Unfortunately since this game looks like a fatal acid trip almost 40% of the time, you often can't see your shadow to know where you are in space. This gets really problematic in some of the later levels that require you to keep jumping as shit goes haywire around you. It's hard enough to land the jumps in time, let alone try and see where the actual platforms are through screen effects and filters. Apart from that though the platforming is solid and fun, and really helps break up the repetitive combat.


A good looking game.


So the game plays good, how does it look? I'll tell you. -snap-

In a nutshell El Shaddai looks like no other game I've ever played. The levels are ALL over the place. Some are the most abstract looking studies in negative space with monochromatic palettes. Others look like an old painted background from a Marvin the Martian episode. This is a game where the concept art was not used to get a look and feel of a level, it was 100% recreated for the final result. Using screen effects, vignettes, and crazy lighting the levels look dreamlike. Not like real dreams, but how movies make dreams look. It can get intense at times, but you always are looking forward to see what is coming next. There is also an amazing looking futuristic world that literally dropped my jaw when I first saw it. The game may not sport the most detail, or highest poly counts, but the look is unique and amazing.

Fantastic


I would not leave this guy around my kids.


The characters, sadly, do not look as outstanding as the worlds, and while the animation is smooth and fluid, there is just something very lifeless and creepy about Enoch's appearance. The design of the characters is odd, but given everything else makes just as much sense I suppose. Overall I was sold on the game at first by visuals, and it did not disappoint throughout the 10 hour adventure.

What's the final verdict then? Stick around. -snap-

I think the best way to compare El Shaddai is to parallel it to the original Tron movie. Both of them have a very interesting core story concept that can raise deep intellectual questions, yet in their respective formats they both fail to really deliver on the potential of the idea. The characters of both are really one dimensional and just seem to be heading down a predetermined path without any personal thought. However, where Tron is just stupid at times, El Shaddai just leaves you feeling stupid. The draw to both Shaddai and Tron was the unique looks, and both definitely deliver with a few rough areas here and there (animated grid bugs anyone?). Overall though both have really created a rich and instantly recognizable world. I think the difference is that Shaddai's looks will weather the test of time far better. As far as achieving excellence within their respective catagories, Shaddai again wins. El Shaddai's gameplay is rock solid, only held back by the somewhat small scale of its scope. Meanwhile Tron is a horrible mess of a movie with more cheese than I can stand. Give El Shaddai Ascension of the Metatron a try when it comes down in price and you are sick of shooting your way through waves of terrorists. It's heavenly.

So in conclusion I hate Tron. -snap-



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