'El Shaddai' unique but combat lame


God. ... I bet you weren't expecting God to be in today's video game review.

But "El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron" is a mainstream, third-person action-adventure from Japan in which you, a priest, consort with Lucifel (that's Lucifer before he went all evil) to track down seven fallen angels and arrest them for the Almighty.

God's word is thus: "We're going to tear out their souls and lock them in prison for eternity!"

But you're also told to "show love and mercy in the name of the Lord." Congratulations, you're a soul-dier.

The plot is inspired by the Jewish Deuterocanonical Book of Enoch, from a few centuries B.C. You portray Enoch.

God calls upon you to get all Sylvester Stallone-like on these fallen angels. To do so, you must run along lengthy bridges, floating in a vanilla sky, and battle the fallen angels' minions.

"El Shaddai" (one of God's Judaic names) is more of an artistic and narrative aesthetic than a vehicle with fun game play.

Oh, there are game elements in it. Every so often, you come across a handful of evil minions, and you slay them with a double-fisted bow-sickle thing called an arch.

You toss arrows at their heads, necks, chests and faces. And you wield a weapon made of two shields.

But those action moments don't happen as often or as compellingly as action moments do in more fun games. And when they do occur, slaying villains is tedious. You just press the same buttons over and over, until 13 or 30 button-mashings finally kill one minion.

During the first level of "El Shaddai," I think I ran for five minutes without anything to do, except look at the scenery, or jump from one floating platform to another, or break lamps to release power droplets that absorb into your soul.

Let's talk about the illustrations. Each level has its own visual design. One level has liquidy floors and skies that move in waves of blue and pink, as if watercolors were rippling through water.

On another level, you trek across a sky made not of earthly blues but of purple and gold, while fireworks explode around you and dozens of godly floating eyeballs blink at you.

I credit the game's lead developer, Takeyasu Sawaki, for creating a surreal look and unique storyline.

But how can the combat be so lame, compared with all the excellent work that went into the beautiful, cinematic narrative?

This makes it hard to recommend "El Shaddai" to anyone but art fans and dilettantes, since it feels like an abstract gallery in a strangely religious motion picture.

Also, quite often, you hear Lucifel (whose appearance is not unlike any 20-something in a coffee shop) telling God about your progress via a mobile phone. Don't you think God would at least use video iChat?

("El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron" by Ignition Entertainment retails for $60 for PS 3 and Xbox 360 -- Plays only slightly fun. Looks great. Challenging. Rated "T" for animated blood, fantasy violence, mild suggestive theme. Two stars out of four.)

Contact Doug Elfman at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.

 

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