Our very own Lewis posed a question to you all a few weeks ago: “How important is the styling of a game to you, and would you ever purchase something purely based on how it looks?” It’s certainly a pertinent question, as top quality graphics are expected these days, so developers seem to turning to unique styles to make their product stand out.[boxout] I’ll admit, the look of El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is certainly the main reason why I initially paid the game so much attention. The screenshots provided easily grab ones attention, and it seems I’m not the only person who feels this way, as the general consensus so far has been “wow”. Now, however, it’s time to see if there is substance behind the style.
El Shaddai is a 3rd person fantasy action title inspired by events in the Old Testament, in particular the apocryphal ‘Book of Enoch’. Rather than feature the peaceful God sitting on a cloud that we are used to, the game stars the angry vengeful God, with a penchant for creating world obliterating events.
The reason for God’s wrath is down to seven Fallen Angels. Sent to Earth to spread the word of the Lord, they instead fell in love with the humans, who in turn start to worship them. God is not impressed, and to put it bluntly it’s clobberin’ time. Enoch, a brave human, is caught up in this pivotal battle and must overcome the Fallen Angels in order to save humankind from a great flood ordered by God to wash away everything on Earth.[drop2] It’s an interesting story that never slips into the realm of being preachy, bearing in mind the religious undertones. We are given all the salient information in the form of cutscenes, which sometimes take the form of playable 2D platforming sections. There were occasions where I found the story to be a bit unclear, but overall it does more than enough to keep you ploughing through.
Obviously, given the amount of attention it’s received, it’s probably best to talk about how the game looks. Graphically it is certainly no powerhouse, with flat textures and a limited number of enemies on screen at a time. The art style, however, is absolutely superb (mostly) and beyond anything I’ve ever seen before. Every step is vibrant and, more importantly, each new chapter differs from the last.
Not everything is a hit though, and there was one chapter in particular that, in my opinion, really didn’t work as the art style actually hindered the gameplay and became immensely frustrating.
In terms of gameplay mechanics, El Shaddai is part platformer and part combat game. Most of the eleven chapters follow a similar pattern, with you guiding Enoch over various gaps and obstacles, before then entering an arena to lay the holy smackdown. Once the area is cleared you repeat the process again until you face off against a boss character. Occasionally the game will switch to a 2D platformer, forgoing any real combat in favour of leaping about and avoiding falling to your death.
On the surface the fighting seems to be incredibly shallow, but spending a bit of time with it reveals a pleasing depth that will keep fans of the genre happy. Although you can fight with your fists, more often than not you’ll want to liberate an enemy of their weapon and use that. There are three weapons to use throughout the game; the Arch, the Gale, and the Veil.
The Arch is a massive sword of light that deals out an impressive amount of damage whilst still being wonderfully fast to use. The Gale is used for ranged attacks, and will fire off projectiles in quick succession. The Veil is a pair of heavy hitting armoured gloves that are slow, but very powerful.
When using a weapon you will notice it gradually changing colour. This is because it is becoming corrupted, which makes it weaker. When this happens you either have to steal another one, or purify the one you have. The downside to purification is that it takes a couple of seconds to do, which leaves you open to attack.
While the temptation may be to button-bash, if you attack in a slow, constant rhythm your hits will be stronger and able to break an enemy’s defence. Experimenting with different button combinations uncovers a wealth of attack and defence moves, although it’s down to you to decide what will work best on an enemy.
The one big complaint, and it’s something that has been mentioned before, is the lack of a target lock. There were times, especially against flying enemies, where it was a bit trial and error when attacking because you were literally swinging in thin-air in the hope that an attack connects.[drop]It would have also helped nullify the troublesome camera, which seemed to insist on defaulting to the most dramatic, albeit useless, angle. I found this to be one of the main issues as, whilst the combat was smooth, you couldn’t manually control the camera, and as such could be attacked by something you didn’t even know was there.
When not kicking ass in the name of the Lord, you’ll be partaking in some pixel perfect platforming sections which, when presented in short bursts, are quite enjoyable. Unfortunately towards the end of the game the platforming gets more attention, and this is where annoyance sets in. Once again it’s the cameras fault, as sometimes it’s nigh on impossible to see where you have to land after a jump. There doesn’t seem to be any depth perception, and time and again you’ll plummet to your death through no fault of your own. It may look stylish, but I’d rather have a camera angle that supports the gameplay, instead of hindering it. Thankfully, when you fall, the reload is instant and at the start of the jump.
Repetition also sets in hallway through the game. Whilst initially everything feels fresh, things start to unravel the further you go. At first the boss fights are tense affairs, but you fight the same ones over and over throughout the 8-9 hours, which puts a big dent in the enjoyment. The variety of enemies you face is extremely limited as well, meaning that once you’ve sussed out the quickest way to kill them they don’t pose too much of a threat (on normal difficulty, anyway).
It almost feels like they ran out of ideas, as what started as something fantastic ends up as a “press the button to move the blocks” platform game, with an emphasis on running up long flights of stairs over and over again.
- For the most part it looks stunning.
- Enjoyable 2D platforming sections.
- A good, deep combat system.
- A stellar first half.
- Some really good ideas.
- 3D platform sections marred by poor camera.
- Limited enemy types.
- Fighting the same bosses over and over.
- The game becomes sadly predictable.
- Second half falls a bit flat.
When it all clicks El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is a beautiful, exciting, fast paced game that is bursting with ideas. Unfortunately the latter half of the game fails to recreate the initial rush and the 3D platforming mechanics aren’t particularly strong, leading to much frustration.
Is it worth playing? Absolutely, just don’t expect perfection.