If El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron never unexpectedly show up in my mail box the other day, I probably would have ran out and bought a copy of it on the day of release. Reviewers are currently raving about this game, spewing out quotes such as “Incomparable” and “divine” but in reality El Shaddai is merely a boring action game, riddled with terrible platforming sections and dreadful story telling. Upon completing the 6 hour campaign I thought long and hard about what the game does right and, more noticeably, what it does wrong. That’s when I came to the sudden realization that I hated the entire experience. The intriguing plot and gorgeous art style makes it easy for trailers to fool you in to thinking that this game is truly something special. Throw in some glowing quotes from pretentious reviewers who were clearly blinded by the games aesthetics and El Shaddai becomes almost impossible to resist. For that reason, coupled with the fact that the game is incredibly short, I predict that Gamestop’s all over the nation will be overstocked with used copies of El Shaddai before the month is over.
Yes, Eli Shaddai can look incredibly beautiful at times. Some of the environments look absolutely stunning which often had me setting my controller down for a few seconds just to take it all in. However, before long you’ll discover that the pretty visuals are just an elaborate smoke screen devised to distract you from what the game actually is. What is the point of having lavish environments if they feel baron and are a chore to navigate through?
The game is broken up in to both 3D and 2D segments. The 3D action sections are akin to titles like Devil May Cry but with all elements of fun siphoned out and replaced with a dreary one button combat system. The main gameplay gimmick involves your ability to disarm enemies and use their weapons against them. The problem is, aside from bosses and side bosses there are only three different types of enemies in the game, thus meaning you’ll only ever have three different weapons to work with. The second combat gimmick comes in the form of “weapon purifications” which are probably the worst thing about the entire game.
With each successful strike your weapon is weakened and you’ll have to press L1/LB for it to regain strength. I’m sure this feature seemed cool in a design doc somewhere but in practice it becomes a repetitive nightmare. Performing a purification takes about 2 or 3 seconds, however during that time you cannot move and are left completely vulnerable. More often than not purifications will only serve to annoy you as it adds nothing positive to the experience and only ever gets in the way of the action. The inclusion of such a useless system just throws salt in to an already gaping wound.
The 2D platforming sections are slightly more enjoyable but can often require more precision than the controls allow for. More than anything, I just found these sections unchallenging and ultimately pointless, especially since titles such as Outland are already on the market.
Now here comes the boring part, the game’s story. Here you play as Enoch, a priest who is tasked with destroying seven fallen angels in order to prevent a great flood from destroying mankind. That’s what Wikipedia told me, what the game told me was a stream of cryptic gibberish which was forced fed to me during cutscenes, gameplay moments and even during loading screens. Unless you’re already familiar with The Book Of Enoch (which this game is based on) you’ll probably have a hard time keeping up. Unfortunately El Shaddai keeps “mum” about the gameplay elements that you’d actually like to be told and the complete lack of HUD makes many gameplay aspects impossible to figure out. Once you’ve finished the game you can chose to play through again with the HUD activated but why wasn’t that an option from the start?
Had El Shaddai been a PowerPoint presentation instead of a game, I probably would have preferred it. As I mentioned earlier the games plot is intriguing and makes for some good trailer fodder but the actual writing and story telling are both handled poorly. Roughly half of the game is plagued with incessant babble which just goes on and on while widely avoiding anything that could be considered relevant. I kept hoping that at some point something would click and everything would magically begin to make sense but such a revelation never occurred. If you currently crave a beautiful action game Prince of Persia 2008 is much cheaper and (more importantly) much better! Give this one a miss.
This review was based on a retail copy of the game for the PS3.