Review by Bkstunt_31
"Such a beautiful game that just CAN'T rise above normal average..."
El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron sure has a fancy title, doesn't it!? Very impressive! Well, we both know a fancy title doesn't necessarily mean the game is going to be good, so if you're wondering what you can expect out of this game you've come to the right place! At a quick glance, El Shaddai is a platforming action game, switching between 3D combat sections with light platforming and 2D sections entirely dependent on platforming. Read on for a more in-depth look at this title.
The story may very well be the most interesting thing about this title (or the premise of it anyways), as it is based on "The Book of Enoch", one of the scrolls found during the Dead Sea Scrolls discovery. Enoch is of course a biblical figure, who, according to the bible, is one of the only humans to ever be taken up to heaven by God and never to have experienced death. So as you can guess, the game's story is heavily inspired by the events described in the Book of Enoch (specifically the first book, the "Book of Watchers"). In the game, a group of angels known as the watchers left heaven for earth (becoming fallen angels in the process) and furthermore had children who are known as Nephilim. This is of course a great sin in the eyes of Heaven and "the counsel" has decided to send a great flood to purge the world. In an effort to save mankind from this disaster, Enoch has been granted a chance to go down to earth himself and take out the watchers, with Lucifel watching him the entire time and reporting on his progress.
It's an interesting story for sure, especially given the number of angels and background of the material, but the in-game story frankly falls flat on its face. For starters, Enoch is a mute. Whether by choice or not I don't know, but you won't hear ANYTHING come out of this guy, which really doesn't help the player connect to him. Mutes in games are nothing new, but to SUCCESSFULLY pull one off you have to surround them with an interesting cast of characters. However, you just plain don't interact with hardly anyone. There's Lucifel, the almighty angel who is constantly on his cell phone reporting to God, and a mysterious little girl who appears to be best friends with a Nephilim that plays a larger part in the story as it progresses, but you don't ever really interact with either of them. Other than that you have the watchers. At the beginning of the game you are told how many fallen angels there are and as you descend to earth and play the game you will meet them one by one. Sure, they each have a theme of sorts, but you just plain don't interact with them hardly at all and even worse they just have no personality.
Enoch can find people known as the "Freeman" as you play that divulge background info and details about the Fallen Angels in general which are admittedly interesting, but there just isn't enough interesting story past the game's premise to keep your average gamers attention. The only person with any interesting characteristics has to be Lucifel, but everyone else has the personality of a brick wall.
Ok, onto the game play section. We can deal with an uninteresting story as long as it has good game play, right? Like I said before there are two types of game play in the game: the 3D combat sections and the 2D platforming section. The 2D platforming sections are pretty self-explanatory: Enoch goes 2D and has to make his way from left to right (or vice-versa) or up and down to finish the section. You'll often have to make some challenging jumps or even fight enemies who have been turned into 2D as well, but these section are fairly simple and rarely go beyond following a linear path and jumping until you're done. The 2D sections are the minority of the game play though. Shortly into starting the game, Enoch will discover where the Watchers have been hiding, and will be tasked with ascending a giant tower they have erected floor by floor, which is how the developers frame the levels for the rest of the game. Navigating through each floor of the tower is fairly linear as Enoch often just follows a path and can't control the camera whatsoever. There ARE paths you can take that are "off the beaten path" so to say and require a little foresight and inventiveness to get to, but often reward you with messages from the Freeman or other items which we'll get into.
For being a mere human, Enoch sure has some godly weapons on his side. Enoch can find and use three different types of godly weapons that portray a classic rock-scissors-paper hierarchy. First you have the Arch, an arched melee weapon that has the added affect of letting you fall slower after jumping (Enoch can double-jump by default, by the way), the Gale, a multifaceted ranged weapon that also lets Enoch do a handy dash move, and the Veil, a pair of gauntlets that let Enoch do significant punching damage and double as a shield. These weapons can only be wielded one at a time and aren't Enoch's by any means as enemies will routinely show up with these weapons ready to use against you! Enoch can fight bare-handed as well, and can even stun enemies and STEAL their weapons to use for himself. The game also has a unique "purifying system" where weapons will collect darkness as you use them and decrease in power, but Enoch can purify them to increase their power output once more (leaving himself vulnerable in the process). Enoch only has one button to fight with, but you can change up the combos he uses by timing your button presses and use timing to alternate between fast attacks and block-breaking attacks (which is neat). Enoch can also guard and dodge as well, The health system is represented by the amount of armor Enoch is wearing, as when he takes damage a piece of armor falls off. Enemies have armor as well and follow the same principal, but Enoch can "come back" from being knocked out to continue the fight if the player mashes buttons when Enoch "dies".
In the end, the interchangeable weapon system works, but it's shallow. There are 2-3 different combo chains you can do with each weapon, but it's that way from the start of the game to the end! After a few chapters in, you'll learn an overpowered mode that gives each weapon a special move, but the combat system is STILL very shallow from start to finish. Some sort of weapon upgrading system would have done wonders here. Also, the "purifying" mechanic of the game is fairly asinine. I suppose it encourages stealing weapons, since Enoch automatically purifies stolen weapons, but the entire concept does little else in the game. The combat in general is pretty sub-standard for a recently-released title. There are some platforming section in the 3D portions, but they are fairly straight-forward and nothing really special. The game play just isn't engaging enough to be anything more than "just there".
Now, the graphics in the game HAVE to be the highlight of the game. Frankly, they're beautiful. Everywhere you go and everything you see in this game, background wise, is fantastic, with TONS of variety between tower levels. The graphics are SO good that you could make the argument that they are "art" in and of themselves. The 2D backgrounds are fantastic as well and often include a variety of quirky animations. The character designs however are rather poor I think. Enoch is OK, but I didn't like the watchers one bit. They all share the same type of armor despite having distinct themes and being human in appearance UNDER the armor. PLUS the enemies you face are VERY repetitive. You'll see the same enemy from the very start of the game to the closing chapter. Other enemies will come in go chapter by chapter, but they too are repetitive. Heck, even the NAMING of the enemies annoys me since they are essentially named after the fallen angel with "-a", "-g" and "-v" behind their name depending on what weapon they wield. So to recap, the game is visually stunning and beautiful, but the character and enemy designs need a whole lot of work before even coming up to par.
Like the graphics in the game as a whole, the soundtrack is a sweeping collection of artistic expression... which is a fancy way of not saying a lot. Basically, the soundtrack as a whole is light and airy, full of strings and atmospheric music. Many tracks also have a chorus to back them up. However, I feel like the soundtrack is still missing something, like its too generic for it's own good and has very little substance or identifiable quality. Don't get me wrong, several tracks are downright excellent, such as Enoch's Theme (The Faraway Creation), Savage Soul, and A Floral Creation, but it's still just not enough for me to remember the game's music as anything other than "atmospheric and generic".
The voice acting in the game is well-done. What voice acting there is anyways. You see, Enoch is a silent hero. I saw later on Wikipedia that he's got a voice actor, but I swear to god I never heard that guy speak once. Most of the talking is done by Lucifel who is voiced by Jason Issacs (Lucius Malfoy from Harry Potter) who does a great job in his one-way phone conversations with the almighty. Sound effects in the game can be a little weird at times, mostly in the 2D platforming sections, but given the quirky nature of those sections they fit in well.
The game features multiple difficulty modes (normal and easy until you beat the game, and than two difficulty modes beyond normal once you beat it) and like I mentioned before a handful of secrets ARE in the game for you to discover, including special platforming sections to uncover fragments of Ishtar. There are also new armors to unlock and trophies to obtain as well. Decent re-playability, if you can stomach the game's admittedly somewhat repetitive nature.
Despite it's absolutely stunning graphics, El Shaddai falls flat in its storytelling and can only muster up average game play, audio, and re-playability. Fans of action games may be interested, but all I can really recommend to you is a rental. It's a real shame too, in my opinion, as you can do a LOT with this source material but Ignition Entertainment just couldn't put it all together to form anything beyond average. Have fun and keep playing.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 05/02/12
Game Release: El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron (US, 08/16/11)
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