El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron ReviewSean Kelley
It all begins with a snap, like an illusion.
Inspired by the Book of Enoch, an ancient Jewish text, El Shaddai wastes little time whisking its players away to its bizarre, Eastern interpretation of Western religious mythology. Seven angels have fallen from Heaven, and God has chosen Enoch to subdue them before they're able to unleash a terrible flood that would wipe out humanity.
Loosely translated, the term 'El Shaddai' can be taken to mean 'God Almighty'. This moniker fits the often majestic locales concocted from one chapter of El Shaddai to the next. Each is rendered in a manner unlike anything you've seen before in a video game, creating a series of dreamscapes that transport players into the game's unique, eclectic vision. Or, perhaps more appropriately, visions.
Since El Shaddai's chapters are so disparate, there isn't a real feeling of progression in terms of narrative or level design. Every chapter, though wildly different in appearance, is envisioned through a similar palette, channeling the colors we associate with the stained glass work found in old cathedrals. But, despite their aesthetic beauty, there's a definite hollowness to every level. These dreamscapes, as rich and vibrant as they may be, are all paved with one path, occasionally forking only to allow the placement of non-essential trinkets. Like the awe inspiring stained glass windows that have shaped them, these levels were designed to be looked at, but never interacted with.
That is the sound effect that pulls you through El Shaddai. Your story, Enoch's story, is told by the smooth talking Lucifel, a guardian angel that solely exists to flesh out the story's weird quotient. He snaps when you die, reminding you that this is actually his story, and that this isn't where it ends. He tells you in between chapters what Enoch is feeling, because Ignition decided Enoch should be devoid of all personality and emotion. And within every single stage, Lucifel stands there on his cell phone, musing to God about your progress, hammering home your one divine purpose as God's tool.
As a crusade, Enoch's journey is littered with adversity, both intentional and unintentional. Levels in El Shaddai play out like grandiose hallways, broken up by combat and fits of largely uninspired platforming. Throughout the early chapters, Enoch is slowly exposed to the three weapons that comprise combat: the Arch, the Gale and the Veil. Each of the three fall into traditional weapon archetypes, based on speed and range, and they all yield their own unique movement abilities. Each weapon beats one of the others, but is largely ineffective otherwise and Enoch can only wield one at a time. This forces players to constantly disarm enemies to attain the most advantageous weapon of the moment.
Combat is fueled by the idea that you need to kill the enemy to get the weapon that kills the next. It's an interesting concept that keeps players on the offensive and provides a primary target enemy, but like El Shaddai as a whole, the mechanic has a short shelf life. Every basic fight in the game is structured essentially in the same manner, leaving little drama to any encounter. Two enemies spawn with different weapons, as soon as one of them dies a replacement spawns with the third weapon, and it continues until there have been six enemies total, representing all three weapon types twice. The order in which they arrive varies from fight to fight, but the strategy throughout the entirety of the game remains the same.
The sameness is what kills El Shaddai. The clich is that beauty is only skin deep and when your senses are assaulted by as many otherworldly, beautiful locales as they are here, it's amazing how quickly you're desensitized to it all. Every chapter boils down to the same tedious formula, except for a pair that follow the midpoint of Enoch's journey. But, still, both of those chapters were mired for other reasons. The first, which is the biggest single departure gameplay-wise, was spoiled by the game itself, which forces you to sit through an unskippable credit reel and teaser trailer every time you die in one of El Shaddai's bonus stages. The second of which is nearly unplayable do to the game's unwieldy platforming camera. Even when El Shaddai ventures out of its rote formula, it can never seem to do things quite right.
And then it's over. El Shaddai never establishes itself as anything more than a series of beautiful windows. Every stage relates in some manner to the fallen angel who inhabits it, but you're left looking in from the outside, failing to see the connections. Then again, maybe those connections aren't for you to make; it's just part of the illusion.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.