You probably haven’t heard of the apocryphal* Book of Enoch before, but it sure makes good source material for a video game.
Seven angels from Heaven went to earth to get with the human women. Their offspring, called nephilim, turned the world into a nightmarish place, eating each other and growing into giant fire nephilim capable of mass destruction. God wanted to sort this mess out before resorting to the Great Flood, so he sent Enoch to earth with the task of capturing the fallen angels and destroying the nephilim. In the game, Enoch is aided by the archangel Lucifel who lives outside of time but is especially fond of ours—sporting denim jeans, black shirt and spiked hair, and he saves your progress by talking to God on his mobile phone.
El Shaddai (which is a Judaic name of God) is a third-person action game—in the vein of God of War or Devil May Cry—wrapped with the most incredible art style you’ve ever seen. This doesn't come as much of a surprise when you learn that the developer is Ignition Entertainment Tokyo which is led by former members of Clover Studio, best known for other games with famously unique art styles such as Okami and Viewtiful Joe.
Each chapter of the game is one floor of the Tower of Babel which is one angel’s interpretation of their ideal world. This premise means that each chapter is completely different from the next, and they look mind-blowingly gorgeous and confusingly bizarre. You experience a constant mash-up of art styles and gameplay styles as well as some clever playable storytelling techniques, incorporating painted timeline sequences and ephemeral subconscious moments. El Shaddai's primary weakness is in its platforming. The camera system often favours showing off the art rather than helping you traverse some of the platforming-heavy environments later in the game.
The artistic experience alone is strong enough to pull you through the game but, thankfully, the combat is also excellent. The development team has a strong pedigree of fighting systems and El Shaddai is no exception—employing a simple but deep single-button fighting system. Your enemies have stolen weapons of God's wisdom and Enoch has been given the power to purify and wield these corrupted weapons. There are three types: a bladed weapon called the Arch, a long-range weapon called the Gale, a heavy melee weapon called the Veil. Enoch is equipped with none of these by default, but steals them from stunned enemies so there is a strong strategic element to deciding which order to defeat them.
The fighting system might appear shallow at first but the difficulty ramps up quickly as you discover the subtleties of the combat and the boss fights remain satisfying and challenging throughout. If you don't consider yourself an experienced gamer, pick the 'easy' difficulty level.
The storytelling in El Shaddai: Ascention of the Metatron is way off the charts—the story is as crazy as the art. Your brain won’t know what’s going on half the time but your eyes won’t care. Play this on an HDTV if you can.
*Not regarded as divinely inspired like books of The Bible.
By Josh Wyatt (abridged from War Cry, 8 October 2011, p22)