El Shaddai Ascension of the Metatron – E3 Preview

Meet Enoch, a man who is described as just human. Enoch is tasked with defeating and imprisoning seven fallen angels; these angels used to watch over mankind and protect them but, over time, ended up falling in love with mankind. Choosing to rebel against God, the angels left heaven to live among mankind and constructed the tower of Babel where they now reside. God, who wasn’t best pleased at their defiance, offers Enoch one chance to save humanity, but should he fail to imprison and purify the seven fallen angels it’s old testament time: great floods, fire and brimstone, cats and dogs living together and the destruction of mankind as we know it before starting all over again.

Graphically, El Shaddai Ascension of the Metatron is one of those special games that really push the boundaries of what gamers commonly think of as graphics and is more akin to art. El Shaddai’s look is always changing as you play, with both the backgrounds and foregrounds constantly evolving, changing the mood and the feel of the level. It’s difficult to put into words and even though the screenshots look like beautifully painted concept art, the game really does look like that, however, even those still pictures don’t do El Shaddai’s art style justice and it really needs to be witnessed through gameplay to fully appreciate it.

The gameplay itself also varies hugely; in just the brief time I had with the title it went from being a full 3D sandbox to a platformer of sorts where, although you’re kept on the straight and narrow, the path twists around on itself, with the camera gliding around you, framing the section you happen to be playing through in the best possible way before I eventually hit an old school side-scroller level. I was told that sections further on in the game involve a Tron style light-cycle race through Tokyo in the future and an underwater disco-dancing Michael Jackson style boss, so if nothing else, El Shaddai is most certainly diverse. El Shaddai’s combat, at face value, is relatively simple, with one button used to attack and another to block; despite that it is surprisingly deep and requires some practice to get good at it. It’s all about timing your attacks and simply button mashing won’t get you very far; as you chain up enough hits, your moves will become more elaborate and over the top, making you look and feel like a god of gaming.

The only way to pick up a new weapon is by taking one from an enemy although, weapon wise, you’ll have a choice of three which need to be used intelligently against your foes in a rock, paper, scissors mentality. You will, from time to time, need to purify your weapon during battle as it will turn from white to black as it becomes corrupted by the foes you have killed. Enemies you’ll come up against vary from the annoying little buggers who litter the game’s platforming sections, to larger, human sized ones which (in the secions I played) are normally fought in pairs inside their own arena.

Then there are the bosses – the angels. This is where El Shaddai does something quite clever: should you be bested by an angel, the game doesn’t reset you to the last check point, it simply carries on and you’ll get another chance to beat them later on in the game. While these angels start off impossibly difficult to take down I’m told that it is possible to do it on the first occasion your paths cross, it just takes a lot of the skill that is acquired as you play. Guiding you through your many battles and journey is Lucifer, the smart talking, sharply dressed devil. Lucifer is always there in the background with his designer jeans on, chatting away on his mobile phone to God and informing him of your progress while occasionally having a little jab at you.  He injects some personality and humour into the game, rather than being the annoying guy in the corner. Lucifer also helps to keep you immersed in the game when doing things which tend to break that fourth wall between you and your console; little things such as hitting pause to enter the menu are now woven into the game, with Lucifer clicking his fingers to stop time. Granted, it’s a tiny detail but it adds to the whole experience.

El Shaddai Ascension of the Metatron is one of those games that needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated; it’s easy to dismiss it because it doesn’t look like a conventional game; there’s no HUD, no mini-map, no XP meter. While its story might sound bizarre for me, it wasn’t really important in this case; El Shaddai had that core component bang on – the gameplay. No amount of words, screenshots or videos on YouTube will ever get across that feeling of enjoyment you get from playing it. With its beautiful art style, flowing combat system and a story that, at first, will have you thinking “eh?”, evolves into a beautiful tale just like the world around you as you progress on your quest. For me, El Shaddai is looking like it could be one of the sleeper hits of the year.

El Shaddai is currently available in Japan and a demo is available on the US Xbox and PSN services ahead of its July 26th release.  It will become available in Europe early September 2011.

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  1. Samuel Samuel says:

    Wow. Apart from hearing it kiddingly referred to as El Shawaddy Waddy (“and the name of the band is…” best Hugh Dennis impersonating Jimmy Savile impersonation), I knew literally next to nothing about this game. And that’s obviously a bit poor on my part, because the art direction on this is very cool, some of the ideas and gameplay seem really far out there, and I’m really digging the theological bent behind the plot.

    I’m fascinated to see just how far the Biblical references go, and what sort of angle is applied to them, quite beside anything else. Very few games offer a truly committed opinion and perspective about a theological ideology, or an aspect of one, and I really want to see if this one does now and follows through on it.

    You keep on piquing my interest in these things, Lee! You’re going to cost me a damned fortune at this rate. Nice preview mate.

  2. Ben Ben says:

    Lovely art style and some interesting mechanics make this one a rather inquisitive title. Be interesting to see what sort of reception it gets in Europe after being somewhat of a cult classic in Japan.

  3. Si says:

    Oh Lee. You’ve made me so happy. I’ve been looking forward to this since I first saw it previewed in Edge last year. The graphics are indeed stunning. Japanese developers really seem to be able to make expressive visual statements. Anyway, I’m glad to hear that it’s also decent to play. Roll on September!

  4. Mr McGash says:

    (That’s a good wow lol)

  5. Ste Ste says:

    This game looks pretty cool. Nice preview Lee, I’ll need to keep my eye on this.

  6. Edward Edward says:

    Game looks like it has an amazing art style, some really interesting play mechanics and is something I should really keep my eyes on.
    Lee, your job is to keep reminding me of this game closer to release so I don’t forget about it.

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