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El Shaddai Review

Greg Tito | 24 Aug 2011 17:00
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In fact, using strategy in the combat on easier difficulties is hardly necessary at all because when Enoch loses all his armor and dies, all you have to do is repeatedly press buttons to get back in the fight. The time available and the necessary franticness of your button mashing increase each time you die so that, say, dying the fifth time makes it nearly impossible to revive yourself this way. I'm actually of two minds on this death mechanic. On the one hand, I like that you have to be on your toes and tap the buttons quickly to prevent reloading, but it makes most fights other than the difficult boss battles feel a bit inconsequential. Couple that with many fights early on that Enoch isn't meant to win and some of the combat feels pointless, even if it's still fun to slash at dudes in the air.

All that is moot though once you spend the ten to fifteen hours needed to beat the game on "Normal" and unlock the harder difficulty levels. Here, the designers wanted to challenge the savvier players with a way to rack up points and compare scores for each chapter online. Being able to quickly revive yourself to try new strategies on "Extra" difficulty is a godsend, in both senses of the word.

The platforming sections are a consistent challenge. Whether in 2D or 3D, these portions of El Shaddai are evenly-paced with the action. Sometimes, easier levels with only rote jumping are used to underlay exposition and I found the balance between listening to the voiceover and controlling Enoch quite pleasing. Getting from platform A to platform B can sometimes be controller-tossingly hard until you get the timing down but, with enough gumption, you can usually get past the trickier parts after only a few reloads. While the platforming is certainly fun, the challenges presented are conventions you've seen before: floating platforms and spring blocks, oh my! I would have loved to have been surprised by something new.

To make up for dying multiple times trying to get to that elusive floating island, it helps that Enoch is often leaping through some of the most magnificently rendered environments I've ever seen in a videogame. The visual design was clearly a focus but I was impressed that the careful addition of sound means the game needs no user interface. The player knows when Enoch is damaged based on how much armor he is wearing, and an audible cue of armor shattering makes it clear when he's been hit too many times. After you've beaten the story once, a user interface appears letting you know exact health totals and the points you earn for each action, but I quickly turned that option off because it mars the beautiful vistas.

The visuals in El Shaddai are just breathtaking. Mere words can't really encompass the wonder that I felt just traversing through each distinct environment. Like most action games, the designers hid little areas that you discover with a bit of exploring. Often, these held little story tidbits as collectibles but, more than once, the only reward was just a different view of the gorgeous scenery laid out before Enoch. That I felt just as rewarded by a change in perspective of the 3D canvas speaks volumes. I easily lost myself in the magnificent visuals of El Shaddai.

The combat and platforming are a lot of fun, but neither introduces original mechanics that places the gameplay above what the industry has produced before. What elevates El Shaddai is its beauty, but your personal enjoyment will vary based on how much you appreciate the aesthetic or whether you care about how beautifully rendered a game world is at all. For me, guiding Enoch through wondrous representations of the Watcher's tower of eyes, a nether realm of impressionistic textures, or a room of perfect cubes stretching to infinity was enough to delight and entertain for hours.

Bottom Line: A visually stunning game with simply fun action and challenging platforming, El Shaddai is only slightly marred by the death system and unoriginal mechanics.

Recommendation: Whether you are excited about games that push the visual boundaries of the medium or you just want to slash at some bad guys with a pretty background, El Shaddai is worth the purchase.

This review is based on the PS3 version of the game.

What our review scores mean.

Game: El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron
Genre: Action Adventure
Developer: Ignition Tokyo
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Platform(s): PS3, Xbox 360
Available from: Amazon(US), GameStop(US), Amazon(UK), Play.com(UK)

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