Have you ever stared at a painting or a piece of art and wished you could become a part of it, wished you could explore it? I’ve always been fascinated with that idea. Part of my dream came true when I was playing Bethesda’s Oblivion, when I discovered a quest called A Brush with Death. In the quest you are asked by a distressed wife to help find her husband, who happens to be a painter, his studio door is locked and apparently hasn’t left it, but he’s not to be found. You begin to search for clues until you stumble upon a painting of a lush, beautiful and vibrant green forest. Upon inspection of it, you discover it is an enchanted painting that you can interact with, which in turn teleports you into the painting. The world becomes vibrant and bright, brush strokes clearly visible in the sky, possibly still wet to the touch.
Then in the Fall of 2006 came Ōkami, a game that visually looked like a Japanese sumi-e style painting, but was also inspired by a mixture of Japanese water color art and wood carving art. This all leads me (probably the longest introduction I’ve ever written), to a new game that came out last week called El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron. The lead developer of El Shaddai is Takeyasu Sawaki, who was the character designer in Ōkami (and Devil May Cry).
On the surface, El Shaddai is an action adventure game which is inspired and also loosely based on The Book of Enoch in which you control Enoch. You are seeking out the seven fallen angels to bring back to Heaven so you can prevent the great flood from destroying humankind. The game mixes game elements like 2D and 3D platforming between the fighting sections, and includes an amazing futuristic motorcycle racing level. The fighting mechanics seem basic, but it’s a case of easy to learn, difficult to master. Attacking an enemy is mapped to one button, but depending on the speed you press the button, your attack power differs. So if you quick tap, your attacks will be quick, but weak, if you leave some time between a tap, your attacks will be slow, but more powerful, there’s a certain rhythm to it. The game consists of only three weapons that you can steal from enemies, each has an advantage and disadvantage depending on the enemies you are fighting. You have the Arch, which is a sword-like weapon, that has good attack, speed and defense attributes, then you have the Gale, which is a long distance weapon, quick to fire, but has the weakest attack and defense stats. Finally, you have the Veil, which is a pair of gauntlets that also become a shield, it has the best attack and defense capabilities, but is extremely slow.
Now the game has its faults. The voice over work is for the most part, consistent and well done, but in some cut-scenes, especially early on in the game, the voice over actor finishes acting out his lines before his characters mouth stops moving. A small issue, but it is something that can be of an annoyance to some gamers. Another aspect of the game that some people might find annoying is that the game doesn’t do such a good job at explaining certain items or other aspects of the game really well, so you’ll be left scratching your head. Now this might not necessarily be a bad thing, there are many games that do the opposite and have an over bloated tutorial system, spoon feeding you what you need to do and how to do it.
What I loved about this game is that there is no HUD system, no text on screen, no little hearts to symbolize how much health you have left, how much charge is left for your special move, where you are, or anything of the sort. Not many games really do that anymore. Instead, when your health is low, you’ll hear Enoch’s heart beat and the screen will have a reddish tint, other visual signs is that pieces of your armor will fall off as your health is diminishing and really, that’s all you need to know. The game is pretty straight forward, there isn’t a lot of exploring to do, but some levels do let you go off track and you’ll usually be rewarded with something. This game will also punish gamers who button mash, you might get through the first and second chapter button mashing, but once the game gets into gear (by the third chapter), you’ll be punished. A game with such beautiful artwork, deserves a beautiful soundtrack and thankfully, El Shaddai has amazing music and sound work. In some parts of certain levels, the movement of Enoch will effect the music, adding chimes and other sounds that go with the song. For replay value, there are pieces of bones you can pick up in bonus levels that are hidden throughout the game. Once you find all the bones, you unlock a special piece of armor that grants you invincibility (that’s how difficult it is to find every piece of bone). The game also uses a scoreboard system, giving you a rank in each chapter depending on your performance. This is something I’m usually not interested in, but the fact that this game is a lot of fun to play and challenging peaks my interest with the system. The games length is decent, between 9 to 12 hours, depending on how fast you run through the levels, how quick you’re able to beat your enemies, bosses and how many times you’ll die (which you will, a lot).
This game is definitely my favorite game of 2011 so far. Even by years end, when Skyrim, RAGE, Battlefield 3, Deus Ex, Zelda and every other game that come’s out, El Shaddai will still be unique. It is one of the few games released this year that is not a sequel and it is a game I would recommend to anyone who is looking for a game that is interesting, challenging and enjoyable to play.