E3 2011: El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron Hands-On Preview – Gods and Monsters
Written Sunday, June 19, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
For as long as there's been humans roaming the Earth, there's been stories of good versus evil. Probably. El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is one such story, following the exploits of the angelic Enoch, who clad in heavenly white armour wields God's weapons against the forces of evil. It's a story inspired by the biblical Book of Enoch and the Dead Sea Scrolls, making it quite possibly the one of the ultimate good against evil yarns. With development being led by Takeyasu Sawaki, a character designer whose previous work includes Devil May Cry and Okami, El Shaddai's look is incredibly distinctive and stylised too, which is plain to see in the screenshots and trailers. What's not so evident in the screens is the game's unique take on the hack and slash genre, paring down and distilling its essence to create something that's accessible yet challenging.
El Shaddai has only one attack button and three weapons (don't roll your eyes like that), which makes it all the more impressive that it's as playable as it is. Dispensing entirely with any form of HUD, El Shaddai's visuals really come to the fore too, with crisp lines, gorgeous painterly backgrounds and distinctive shapes and forms making up the game's landscapes. There's nothing out there quite like El Shaddai from a visual standpoint and is an incredibly striking game to look at, but – and yes, there is a but – some of the game's environments are drawn in such a way that it makes certain platforming sections a frustrating case of trial and error as you try and distinguish where to land safely and which bit is the gaping chasm that leads to instant death. Jumping can be a little imprecise too, but the platform navigating bits in the demo were mercifully short and sweet, so hopefully this won't be a problem.
Combat is what El Shaddai is really all about though, and although the game utilises only a single attack button, your rhythm comes into play and you can hold and tap the button quickly for a variety of different results. For instance, Enoch can swipe an enemy into the air with one attack and then do an incredible spinning somersault slash in mid-air before bringing the bad guy crashing to the ground. Enoch doesn't start out with a weapon and so has to steal one from an enemy, such as taking an Arch blade weapon from an 'Ezek A' enemy, which then has to be purified by holding down the L1 button. A white purified weapon will deal far more damage than a red corrupted one, so it pays to keep your weapon pure at all times. This adds a certain degree of strategy, as you need to make space to give yourself a few seconds to purify your weapon.
Enoch has pure white armour too that gradually chips away as he's damaged, until he's stripped down to his Edwin jeans (Edwin is a real life Japanese jeans manufacturer, if you're interested). Take one more hit and you'll be briefly incapacitated, at which point you'll need to mash buttons to be resurrected and brought back to life with a full set of restored armour. Therefore there's no penalty for dying as such, just a short setback. Unless you fall into a hole that is, in which case you're taken back to your previous checkpoint. And goodness knows you'll need those checkpoints for some of those 3D platforming sections. Still, the side-scrolling parts are actually pretty stunning to behold, with shifting landscapes and beautiful sweeping waves rolling across the foreground with crests that you have to ride across gaps between otherwise unreachable precipices. These parts apparently make up about 40% of the overall game time.
Later in the demo, we face off against the Ezek G and Ezek A baddies together, meaning that we're given a choice of weapons. Grabbing a weapon from an Ezek G gives us the Gale, which is a ring-shaped weapon capable of firing ranged shards at enemies or it can whip up twisting whirlwinds that knock foes off their feet. Like the Arch, it's an effective weapon, but still requires frequent purifying. After traversing some platforms and fighting through some arenas and some shadowy minions, we encounter the witty and cynical Lucifel, who is essentially the devil before he experienced his fall from grace. He too likes wearing Edwin jeans and will help Enoch throughout his quest. After exchanging some pithy dialogue, Enoch runs into one of El Shaddai's fallen angels, who serve as a boss characters. Enoch will also encounter four archangels - Gabriel, Uriel, Michael and Raphael - during the rest of El Shaddai's 12 hour story, but for now he has to face off against the powerful demon Azazel, who is in possession of the game's third and most powerful weapon, the Veil.
Whether you win or lose against Azazel, the story will continue regardless and ultimately lead to a different ending, which should encourage replay value. Upon finishing the game, you'll also unlock an extra story mode with an in-game HUD that keeps track of your combos and is also harder than the standard story mode. There's also leaderboard support for this extra story mode, meaning that you can challenge your friends for the best scores. Obviously. And it sounds as if you'll want to replay El Shaddai, with it's variety of gameplay that we're told includes F-Zero style driving elements and more besides. We can see ourselves playing through El Shaddai multiple times just for the superlative art style if nothing else, but given that the game is also as playable as any hack and slash title worth its salt – save for those potentially maddening platform bits - it has a lot going for it beyond its looks.
El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is due to release in North America on July 26th before making its way over to Europe on September 9th.