Religion and gaming: always a controversial combination. Who wouldâ€™ve thought it could work as a mainstream title? Obviously, Ignition Entertainment decided there was some inspiration to be found in an ancient Jewish biblical tale, and delivered unto the gaming public the fruits of their labour: El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron.
Essentially the game is a modernised, stylised rendition of the Book of Enoch, and revolves around the hunt for seven fallen angels who are up to all manner of naughtiness on Earth. Tasked with tracking these â€˜watchersâ€™ down is the gameâ€™s central character, Enoch, whose sculpted physique and flowing blonde locks wouldnâ€™t seem out of place on the catwalk. Wearing nothing but designer jeans and some holy armour, Godâ€™s golden boy sets out on a journey through otherworldly domains, to drag the celestial miscreants back to heaven. Playing a supporting and guiding role is Lucifel, a sharp-dressed dude who is usually encountered relaying Enochâ€™s progress to God on his mobile phone (apparently, even omniscient beings gotta keep up with the times!). Donâ€™t begin to try and make sense of the storyline; itâ€™s tangled, disjointed, and difficult to followâ€¦ but somehow this doesnâ€™t seem to matter once you get stuck in.
The first 20 minutes of play ease you into the game mechanics and the finer points of combat, which is simple and well designed. Further information is drip fed on a â€˜need to knowâ€™ basis, and play is littered with frequent cut scenes which progress the story (such that it is), and allow you to rest your weary thumbs. The camera runs on autopilot, but we never found this to be a hindrance. On the contrary; it allowed us to focus on other aspects of the game.
The bulk of the gameplay consists of fighting your way through the watchers and their minions, but this is no run-of-the-mill hack â€˜n' slash. Enoch moves with a dancerâ€™s grace, and his fluid fighting style is always a pleasure to watch â€“ especially once you master the combos and power moves. It doesnâ€™t take long to familiarise yourself with the intricacies of combat, and some might find the mechanics a bit too simplistic or â€˜old schoolâ€™ for their liking.
There are only three weapons within the game, each of which must be â€˜liberatedâ€™ from a stunned enemy. The first of these is the arch, which looks a lot like a Klingon batâ€™leth but sounds like a lightsaber (Star Trek/Star Wars mash-upâ€¦ cool!). Next is the gale, which surrounds Enoch with small projectiles and allows ranged attack. Lastly, we have the veil, a shield-like device which also enables you to deal some serious blunt force trauma. With every blow struck, Enochâ€™s weapon becomes more and more tainted with enemy filth, and eventually must be â€˜purifiedâ€™ to restore its righteous smiting power. Body armour disintegrates as hits are sustained; it can be quite amusing to discover that, underneath every intimidating, armour plated brute lies a pale, scrawny, semi naked guy (urgh!).
Timing plays a significant role in nailing successful combo and power moves, and while crude button mashing will suffice, thereâ€™s a lot more depth to it than that. By looking for the right cues from your opponents and acting at just the right moment, youâ€™ll be rewarded with a spectacular, wuxia-worthy fight sequence that will impress everyone in the room. Combat FX are high impact and stunning. At one stage, there were four of us on the couch; transfixed by the onscreen action and beautiful visualsâ€¦ we literally couldnâ€™t tear our eyes away.
There are many environments within the game, and while each one is strikingly different, thereâ€™s undeniable synergy here. The best analogy we can provide is that of a patchwork quilt of exquisite workmanship. Art styles shift from the psychedelic to the abstract, from surreal to cartoonish, from 2D to 3D (including the platforming levels and cut scenes), from monochromatic to undulating waves of colour, stills and FMVâ€¦ we could go on, but you get the idea. At times the restless visuals are unsettling; at others theyâ€™re breathtakingly beautiful. Weâ€™ve never seen anything quite like it, and for this reason alone itâ€™s worth a whirl. Oh, and thereâ€™s also a sophisticated soundtrack which provides a subtle foil to the mixed bag of graphics, switching seamlessly between the many themes, without being invasive
Are there any faults? Well, the platforming â€“ particularly 3D â€“ is the weakest component of the game. It can be tricky to judge distances and timing, and a slight miscalculation in either will send Enoch plummeting over the edge. Fortunately, he is blessed with immortality, so itâ€™s simply a matter of try, try againâ€¦ but we couldâ€™ve done without the frustration.
Granted, the combat and platforming elements wonâ€™t win any prizes for originality or complexity, and the weird, disjointed storyline is difficult to follow at the best of times; however the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the striking visuals set it apart from the crowd. Youâ€™ll either love or hate it, but El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is impossible to ignore.