El Shaddai PS3 Review
People often moan about how the film industry is running out of ideas, and the games industry surely isn’t much better. What’s this? A game based on a book written around 2,260 years ago? Come on, guys. Sort it out.
El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, like all games based on famous pieces of literature, is about running around, fighting people, and jumping between floating platforms. It (very) loosely follows the story of The Book of Enoch, a super-old Jewish text that only a few nutcases actually think is part of the biblical canon. The basic gist here is that Enoch’s a righteous dude who was allowed to hang around in Heaven when God decided the rest of us could all die in a flood. Now everything’s pretty much back to normal, except – oh no! – a load of angels have fallen to Earth and are messing everything up again. Thus, the threat of another great flood looms. In order to try and prevent this, God’s sending Enoch down to Earth to try and round up the fallen angels and send them back to Heaven for judgement.
Joining Enoch is the archangel Lucifel. You know that saying regarding Satan being the greatest of God’s angels, before he fell? That’s Lucifel. He has the ability to mess with time, and uses it occasionally to pause the action and explain things to you. He also acts as your save point throughout the game, as you’ll often come across him chunnering away to God on his smartphone. He’s voiced by Jason Isaacs, who also played Satan in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. Thus, both games are clearly set in the same universe.
The bulk of the game sees you ascending a tower built by the fallen angels, with each floor belonging to a different angel and reflecting their tastes or characteristics. Each floor also features a whole bunch of that particular angel’s followers, all of which will need ‘purifying’ (read: battering to a pulp) before you can make any progress. The combat in this game is pretty bloody remarkable. For the most part, it uses only three buttons – attack, block, and jump. But it’s through the careful use of these three buttons that you can access a whole plethora of different moves; leaving a short delay before hitting the attack button again mid-combo, holding the attack button, and attacking whilst blocking all produce different moves, each with their own unique uses.
Oh, and there are three weapons to get your head around; the arch, the gale, and the veil. The arch is a bladed weapon that deals quick melee attacks, the gale is a series of floating knife-like objects that Enoch throws at his opponents from a distance, while the veil is a shield that splits into two massive knuckledusters. You can only carry one weapon at a time, but you can steal your opponents’ weapons as you go, leaving them to fight just with their fists. This is where things get interesting.
There’s a rock-paper-scissors dynamic at play here; each weapon is most effective against another specific weapon. The arch, for example, is great at knackering veil-users, while the veil will tear through anyone using a gale. Meanwhile, any enemy left without a weapon is easy to kill no matter what you’re carrying. So whenever a group of enemies appears, you learn to pick a ‘route’ through them based on the weapons everyone is carrying, including yourself. Then, just as you’ve whittled them down to the last one or two guys, another few appear, making you rethink your strategy again to accommodate the new arrivals.
The boss battles don’t disappoint, either. A lot of your encounters with the fallen angels are a bit odd – in that you can’t win 90% of them – but the legit boss fights are pretty incredible. Fighting some of them brought about a weird buzz I’ve not felt since beating the final boss in God Hand, and that’s not a comparison I’d make lightly.
It’s an astonishing achievement that the combat system avoids the usual temptation to use all the controller buttons just because they’re bloody there, and yet still contains an amount of depth that engages the player to the very end, if they’re willing to try and play it properly. Button-bashers are not going to enjoy this game. That’s okay, though. They’re idiots.
Still, as good as all this is, none of it really touches on why El Shaddai is easily one of the best games I’ve ever played. Yeah, the fighting’s good, the music’s great, and you already know it looks lovely. But what makes the game so special – and what you can’t really explain without spoiling it – is how unafraid it is to constantly reinvent itself at every turn with little care as to how much sense it makes. I can’t remember the last time a game so frequently shattered my expectations, along with my general mental well-being. Deadly Premonition would probably come close, if I’d made the time to play it properly. But that’s the level of insanity we’re talking, here.
It’s all so confident and matter-of-fact, too. You might not always understand what the hell is going on, but you will always feel like everything is happening according to the developers’ plan. It doesn’t even feel like they’ve tried particularly hard, either; there’s an effortlessness to the game’s madness that gives it an authenticity you rarely see outside of a Suda51 game.
I cannot recommend El Shaddai enough to anyone who actually cares about video games. It’s an engaging, exciting, fearless and endlessly imaginative masterpiece with a clarity of vision that is so, so rare in traditional big-budget releases. I’m sure we’ve all been burned by massively-hyped releases, as we all rush out to buy them on launch day only to find they’re the same tired shit. El Shaddai is not one of those games. If you think you’ve seen everything before, you absolutely owe it to yourself to play this game.