“If we do not find new images, we will perish ” -Werner Herzog
That quote kept cycling through my mind as I played through the demo of El: Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron. There are a lot of games these days that are graphically impressive with their lens flair, particle effects, and 1080p resolution, but even the best graphics in the world wouldn't mean a thing if the game behind it is aesthetically soulless. Ignition's upcoming action-adventure title, El Shaddai, may not have the highest budget, but it's an artistic tour de force that, for my money, looked more beautiful than any other game at E3.
This should come as no surprise given that it's directed by Takeyasu Sawaki, a character designer for Okami, which, despite its PS2 origins, I find better looking than most games on current consoles. Where Okami opted for a water colored painted look, El Shaddai goes for a psychedelic spacey 70s cel-shaded style, drawing inspiration from Logan's Run, Alejandro Jodorowski, and Michael Jackson videos. Oh, and the bible. Don't forget the bible.
You see, El Shaddai is loosely based on an elusive Jewish religious work excluded from the canon. You play as Enoch, an human chosen by God to unleash justice upon seven fallen angels who have betrayed their maker by building the tower of babel. Given holy armor, and what I can only assume is holy designer jeans (replicas of which are actually sold in Japan where the game's already been released), Enoch sets about his quest.
The actual gameplay is primarily based around third-person combat and platforming (both in 2D and 3D). Despite the ethereal vistas that seem to stretch on for eternity, the game is aggressively linear with invisible walls ensuring you stay confined to the prescribed path. Along the way you'll hit frequent points where you cannot progress until every enemy in your immediate vicinity has been obliterated.
In a bold departure from the genre, there's only one attack button. There's still dozens of moves, but they're based on timing, equipped weapon, and positioning. By interspersing your attacks with pauses, you'll discover new moves, which goes against one's instinct to button mash. It's a peculiar choice and one that I'm not sure pays off. With so many buttons not being used at all, it seems like it would have been more sensible to graft moves like dashing to its own button rather than pressing block and jump at the same time, for example. Since none of the moves are listed, there's a lot of trial and error discovering them, and I had to ask a demo rep for assistance in understanding it, as I kept performing the same few attacks. At first I found it repetitive and dull, but after about 10 minutes I was starting to grasp its slow, methodical approach even if it never felt natural.
The different weapons alter your move set drastically, adding some extra depth. You can only hold one weapon at a time and can only acquire them by disarming enemies. The first weapon I found was a serrated bow, which was useful for melee attacks, but also grants Enoch an offensive dash, a Devil May Cry-esque upward swing, and a devastating charge attack. The other weapon I found made arrows float around Enoch that I could launch a will. This weapon was significantly weaker, but had better range and allowed Enoch to float when jumping.
This is useful for the game's platforming sequences. The 3D ones where a bit tricky due to the minimalist visuals making it hard to gauge depth. The 2D platforming, however, fared much better. Jumping past a series of rocky platforms above the clouds, I eventually ran out of places to go before my impatient leap of faith lead me to discover that I could stand on roaring waves of clouds.
Overall, my time with El Shaddai felt like an awkward first date with an incredibly attractive person. You're not sure it's clicking, but there's enough you like that you're compelled to give it another shot to see where things will go. Thankfully, I won't have to wait long to feel El Shaddai out as it's due for release next month.