El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron
22nd Jun 2011 | 19:30
They say the first bite is taken with the eye. And this is just as well in El Shaddai's case, because it's your eyes that are served the tastiest portion.
Beginning 14,000 years in the past, El Shaddai follows Enoch who, according to the Book Of Enoch (found in the Dead Sea Scrolls but edited from the 'official' Old Testament), was a direct descendant of Adam - and a forefather of Noah.
In other words, he hailed from a celebrity family, so when a bunch of Watchers (fallen angels) start committing sexy sins with human honeys, Enoch is God's first choice to sort it all out. It's all very religious.
A jaw-dropping wash of water-colours, classic Japanese art and dazzling effects, the directorial debut of Okami character designer Takeyasu Sawaki is truly a sight to behold. Each of El Shaddai's 12 chapters represents a different heavenly realm, adding immense variety.
GOD BLACK OPS
Sadly, the same can't quite be said of its gameplay. UTV Ignition wins points for effort, but the execution isn't as strong as we'd hoped, resulting in a mundane third-person action romp with some pretty average 2D/3D platforming thrown in.
To keep visuals to the forefront, El Shaddai's design has been stripped to the bone. Tutorials are brief, and there's no HUD until you've finished the game once - instead, Enoch's health is indicated by the state of his armour, which falls apart as he takes damage.
In keeping with this approach, the controls are refreshingly simple: you move with the left analogue stick alone, attack with square, jump and double-jump with X and block with R2. It's all about chaining combos, much as in Bayonetta or Devil May Cry.
But the combat here, while accessible, is not as fluid as Bayonetta's. Once you've committed to a combo you can't break the animation to respond to your enemies' attacks in any intuitive way, and you do just as well by button-mashing as by learning the moves. Boss fights are repetitive too. Figure out your opponent's attack pattern, chip away when they open up and repeat - over and over and over again.
There are just three weapons, and you carry only one at a time: Arch, a flaming sword; Gale, a set of long-range projectiles; and Veil, a heavy-duty attack shield. Weapons are stolen from enemies (using L1) after you've softened them up a bit, or found dotted around some stages. L1 also 'purifies' your weapon - it's a bit like reloading, and to do it you must collect little orange orbs from vanquished foes or treasure troves.
Each enemy is supposedly susceptible to a different weapon, but without energy gauges it's hard to tell what kind of damage you're doing. In fact, in all of the game's 10 hours, it's only the final boss battle where your choice of weapon really matters.
CHEESES OF NAZARETH
The 2D platforming, though uninspired at first, breaks things up a bit. Running through the world of the Watcher-human offspring known as Nephilim feels like something out of Mario's cheese-before-bed nightmares, where freakish creatures frolic with hamster wheels, leaves and hula-hoops that Enoch must leap between.
The 3D platforming that makes up much of the last two hours, on the other hand, can be horrific, as ethereal landscapes and fixed cameras combine to make judging your jumps impossible.
It's real controller-throwing stuff, and kills the momentum of the earlier action stages. Oh, and there's a motorbike level too, which feels like a cross between WipEout (it's fast) and Road Rash (there's punching), but one that's not as fun as either. Instant respawn points, quick continues, heavily saturated colours, serene music, a robust arcade feel...these things we like.
If as much care had been lavished on how it plays as on looks, El Shaddai could have been manna from heaven. Instead it leaves us mired in limbo.