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Hindsight : El Shaddai Ascension Of The Metatron

Cart: El Shaddai Ascension of the Metatron
Cab: PS3 / Xbox 360
Coin: Ignition Tokyo

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is the yin to Devil May Cry‘s yang. Ostensibly the same game in almost every respect from the deeply religious overtones to the third-person controls, Japanese anime DNA , extreme-combat and pseudo-platforming mechanics; this is a game that takes all the ingredients of DmC and yet presents them in its own unique, mesmerising and surprisingly tranquil manner.

‘El Shaddai’ is one of the many Judaic names for God, with the game’s lead character, Enoch, being tasked by the big man to pursue seven fallen angels so as to prevent a great flood from destroying mankind. Given that Enoch is Noah’s great-grandfather, we can assume that he maybe didn’t do such a great job on that front, merely postponing the event by a couple of generations?

Biblical continuity errors notwithstanding, this is a stunningly well-crafted game that takes all of the strengths of the extreme-combat genre and yet none of its weaknesses; none of its gaudy, cyber-punk, in-your-face, goth-fest, blood-soaked, emo-teen nonsense. It’s the piercing, bright light to counter the genre’s de-facto moody darkness and as such, it’s one of the most brave and original games of recent years.

Achingly beautiful ...

The richness and variety in the environments is quite unparalleled.

Just as it’s arguably easier – and more fashionable – to deride religious beliefs than it is to devote one’s life to them (not that I have, by the way), so too is the approach of DmC and its ilk arguably more shallow and predictable than El Shaddai’s. Calling a game ‘God’ and then tackling ancient religious texts sounds like a sure-fire recipe for trouble to me – and yet Ignition Tokyo have managed to craft a game that’s both respectful and reflective of the faith upon which is based. Touching deftly and yet playfully upon the concepts of belief, time, spirituality and devotion, El Shaddai is in many respects an accurate portrayal of all that can be good and great about religion. How on earth they managed to aim so high and achieve quite so much is simply beyond me.

And my word, it’s breathtakingly beautiful.

As well it should be: you don’t get to run around as the messenger of God wearing holy armour with a face like a smacked-arse. Indeed, Enoch himself, with his flowing blonde hair and strong-silent-type approach is perhaps the most angelic looking character that’s ever seen in a game. Butter actually wouldn’t melt in his mouth. But that doesn’t stop him from being a vicious piece of work with the old weapons: Arch, Gale and Veil.

Things just got all Frodo Baggins ...

Things just went all Frodo Baggins …

What initially appears to be a simplistic set of combat mechanics with only block, attack and jump buttons, soon evolves into a surprisingly healthy system. The three weapon types are more than mere visual tweaks and distinguish themselves with distinctly different play styles and mechanics. Creating enough space for yourself in the tight combat arenas becomes a tense and yet necessary challenge as you juggle attack, defence and pausing to purify and fortify your weapons, which become tainted through battle.

But perhaps the most genius touch of the whole game is way in which it uses self-depreciating humour to juxtapose brilliantly against its rather serious and weighty narrative. From happily breaking the fourth wall to throw you off guard to partnering you with a denim-clad angel who spends half of his time on the phone to God, this is a title that has a wonderful sense of playful joy about it.

It certainly doesn't shy away from its biblical roots

It certainly doesn’t shy away from its biblical roots.

El Shaddai is a mature, rare and deeply sophisticated experience – primarily on narrative and aesthetic levels, but additionally on mechanical ones. The marriage of these different spheres is respectfully simple and yet timelessly elegant, forming together to create an unforgettable journey that no self-respecting gamer should miss.

If that doesn’t restore your faith in games, I don’t know what will.

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