Judeo-Christian beliefs are not commonly featured in videogames, and unlike other games that have spiritual themes (e.g., Assassin’s Creed 2), El Shaddai: The Ascension of the Metatron never stops being about religion at any point. This game is about the Abrahamic God – God with a capital G.
El Shaddai is a psychedelic action platformer loosely based on themes from the Old Testament and the apocryphal Dead Sea scroll, The Book of Enoch. The game follows the story of Enoch as he is called to action by the angel Lucifel to go and retrieve seven angels who have fallen from the grace of God and left the kingdom of Heaven.
The story is told by way of a narration by God’s right-hand angel Lucifel, a tall, slender, charismatic man who talks to God through a cell phone and guides you throughout the game. The storytelling style is actually not unlike the narration from this summer’s Bastion.
Sometimes, high profile, religiously-influenced work has to make apologies for the questions brought up about the intent and message. I was reminded of the Kevin Smith movie Dogma, which fully embraces the fact that the characters are talking about God, Jesus and angels in a contemporary setting. In the very beginning of the game, Lucifel suggests to Enoch that he try on a pair of designer jeans rather than fight angels in heavenly armor. The game has fun with the player: sometimes Lucifel talks directly to the player, other times he makes jokes with God at the expense of Enoch or he makes comments about humanity’s ability to exercise free will.
If El Shaddai took the route of overly-rendered level design and detail, chances are it would be boring. The fun
here comes from the story and the powerful psychedelic visuals. With some influences from the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Stanley Kubrick, El Shaddai pushes itself to be one of the most visual games of 2011. It is most certainly an art game.
The controls are tight and responsive, as they should be. There is limited depth to the fight mechanics but with three different weapon choices – each with its own abilities – there is still a sense of balance to the gameplay style. Bayonetta, which now seems to have set the bar for action platformers, has countless moves that become more and more difficult to pull off. When I played that game, all I seemed to ever experience was a giant high-heeled shoe coming down from the sky, stomping all over the place. There were just too many on-screen shenanigans in Bayonetta; between the cluttered scoring system and the busy environment, it just seemed to distract me from the intended escapism of the game. El Shaddai, on the other hand, has no HUD and nothing on the screen except the game. With a clean interface, one can focus on the visuals presented without an oversaturation of unnecessary information on the screen.
Early on, I thought to compare the controls to the King of Fighters series. Known for having less buttons than Street Fighter, King of Fighters was still able to have depth of gameplay with a limited number of combat movements. More is not always better.
If you enjoyed Garth Ennis’ Preacher, the movie The Prophecy or the Assassin’s Creed series, this game might be fun for you. If you want God of War 4, you’ve got the wrong religion.
Rating: Four out of Five Pies
(a word about our ratings)
Searching for a way back into the kingdom of Heaven? Chuck can be found @JapanDudeGirl. El Shaddai, from Ignition Entertainment, is available on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Check out the launch trailer and read more at the official El Shaddai website.