Monday 4 October 2021

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron Review (Steam)

Written by Thomas G.J Sharpe

Wise-crackin’ angels vaguely playing out a mangle of lesser-known Judeo-Christian texts? Sursum corda! You got it! And somehow, wherever I looked for information on El Shaddai, it was sprinkled in the risky words “cult classic”. Sadly, I simply do not see it.

This is pitched as a third-person action game (feat. Mild platforming) with some other bold claims than it’s cultish-classicism; “deeply artistic”, “outstanding aesthetics” and “exceptional setting”. Shaddai is proud of its design, and in a way, it probably still stands out after 10 years. It is “unique”, but I find it hard to apply “artistic” in the way I feel that the marketing wants me to feel about it. Stylistic might be better; it is an interesting blend of crisp, heavenly brightness with piercing colours that provide a jarring, otherworldliness, or even between-worldliness to it. In this way, Shaddai puts a lot of burden on the visual adornments to hook us in.

But it falls apart as soon as you squint past the divine rendering and play the game after a run of bargain-basement story-telling cinematics (these pop up constantly throughout the game, never once being interesting, tense, moving, funny or any such thing). You play as Enoch (quick search… ancestor of Noah… wrote a bunch of guff about demons and monsters to make ancient people (and the modern day credulous) terrified of everything) who is writing a bunch of stuff out in a bunch of books and is led by Lucifer (who has a cell-phone which he uses to smart-talk Yahweh on) to defeat seven fallen angels who have confused reality on Earth. Or something.

And I mean, or something. Because, despite the interest I personally have in the development of superstitious cults, like Christianity, this is not a compelling interpretation. Primarily, as the player never once cares about the fate of Enoch himself. He is devoid of sympathy and interest, there is no character arc to speak of. His struggles against amusingly designed enemies and bosses with his divine weapon-stick (looks like that awful company Tesla designed a Bat’Leth) are without risk. Not just in a narrative, conceptual sense either. The combat is, at best, functional. There is little to no development beyond a couple of mild combos. If you consider that Bayonetta was released two years prior to this, it really shows its weaknesses.

On the more positive side, yes, this is an interestingly designed game, and the mixture of 2D platforming into the 3rd person action is a nice idea. It never quite translates, however, going no deeper than mild changes of perspective and settings, thinking aesthetic abstraction is enough to win the day. It simply is not enough for me. For a game to not excite me that has as it’s primary game loop as hack-n-slash action, is shocking. Again, I just do not see the appeal. Neither fantastic enough, thrilling enough to inspire anything in me more than a resounding, Godly, meh.

Overall 5/10

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