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Critical Reception: Ignition's El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Ignition's action-adventure game El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, which reviewers describe as "a visually unique experiment in abstract game design."

Danny Cowan, Blogger

August 17, 2011

6 Min Read

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Ignition's action-adventure game El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, which reviewers describe as "a visually unique experiment in abstract game design." El Shaddai currently earns a score of 77 out of 100 at Metacritic.com. GamePro's Heidi Kemps gives El Shaddai 4.5 out of 5 stars. "El Shaddai is a game that goes against almost every single trend this generation of console games has embraced," she notes. "While many triple-A efforts use graphical horsepower to convey hyper-detailed realism (usually in varying shades of brown and gray), El Shaddai goes for the surreal and dreamlike, creating a painfully beautiful symphony of color." El Shaddai's gameplay also bucks current trends. "As several titles tack on half-baked multiplayer and bonus modes to pad things out, El Shaddai sticks to its guns for a strict, somewhat short but very sweet story-driven single-player experience," Kemps explains. "And as other games rush to implement whatever the latest controller gimmick on the market is, El Shaddai sticks with traditional, familiar action game controls that work wonderfully." Kemps continues: "El Shaddai's gameplay styles are constantly transforming, implementing 2D and 3D platforming sections, puzzle-solving, combat in both side-scrolling and 3D arenas, and even an extensive on-rails driving sequence. You'll often encounter several gameplay styles contained within a single chapter, and the shifts aren't jarring at all, as they tend to be accompanied by a new visual motif that signifies a change." However: "As interesting as the standard combat sounds, it's actually the weakest element of the game," Kemps warns. "The enemies are capable of performing many moves just like yours, and misjudged button press timing can leave you open to some very painful (and frustrating) retaliation. Your standard-issue foes just aren't that interesting, either." "A game like El Shaddai is something that comes along only a few times in each console generation," Kemps says. "The beautiful visuals, fantastic environments, solid (though slightly flawed) gameplay, and rich mythology combine to make a game quite unlike anything you've ever played. It has its occasional frustrations, but when the overall experience is this fantastic, you will be more than willing to put up with a few little annoyances." Jose Otero at 1UP.com gives El Shaddai a B grade, describing it as "a visually unique experiment in abstract game design." "El Shaddai: The Ascension of the Metatron feels like the most unconventional action game I've ever played," Otero begins. "Visually, it strikes me as one of the most colorful examples of surrealist art I've ever seen in a video game. Mechanically, it presents a one-button combat solution that empowers me with everything I need to succeed early on, encouraging me to switch between three weapons to fend off foes. And from a pacing perspective, it swaps me back and forth between vicious 3D battles and two dimensional platforming stages." "Yet for all of its successes, El Shaddai also brings along a unique set of baggage that I don't quite understand," Otero says. "While the combat is elegantly tailored around the use of one attack button, it's often confusing to decipher if I've truly mastered each weapon's finer nuances." Combat is not well-explained, and becomes confusing as the story progresses. "Surprisingly, the game makes little effort to teach you the best methods to play it effectively; something that rival character action game Bayonetta establishes pretty early on," Otero writes. "Eventually lack of skill will catch up to you in El Shaddai; and it often leaves me questioning if I understand the combat as well as I think I do." "The same 'almost-but-not-quite-there' feeling seeps into other parts of the experience -- most notably the storytelling and pacing," Otero continues. "There are things that happen over the course of El Shaddai's story that do not make sense. Several times a Watcher will confront Enoch for a one-on-one boss fight scenario, and at those points I expect something major to happen in El Shaddai -- but then it wouldn't. The subsequent outcome of the fight (win or lose) becomes irrelevant. If you win, the story moves forward. If you lose, your armor is damaged and the story still plunges on." "The more I think about it, the more I realize nothing in El Shaddai is inherently new to the action genre, but the distinctly crafted elements of the game shine, presenting a visually impressive and creative work," Otero concedes. "Unfortunately these pleasing aesthetics can also work against it, making some of the less polished ideas and weird storytelling stand out more." IGN's Colin Moriarty scores El Shaddai at 5 out of 10. "For better or for worse, it's always nice to see a developer try something truly different," he admits. "The thing is, El Shaddai is one of those attempts gone wrong, a game that simply doesn't come together despite everything it throws out there. It's more pretentious and muddled than fun and coherent, which effectively ruins its high potential." Moriarty finds the plot lacking. "Ascension of the Metatron revolves around the Book of Enoch, an ancient Jewish script," he explains. "It's a high-concept story, but that's where things start to fall apart almost immediately for El Shaddai. It tells its story poorly, constantly interrupting gameplay with meaningless explanations and descriptions of nebulous events and characters. There's never any clarity in El Shaddai, and it's a huge problem." "El Shaddai's gameplay leaves much to be desired as well," Moriarty continues. "On its exterior, El Shaddai takes the roll of a fairly deep third-person action game, requiring the use of combos and various weapons to work your way through its dozen chapters. "But we're only talking about faux depth here. El Shaddai is a button-masher, and while you could certainly utilize some cursory combos and skills at your leisure, why would you if the game never really forces you to? You could just mash X over and over again while occasionally blocking an enemy attack or parrying out of the way of danger. With the exception of a few boss fights that get slightly more complicated, such basic tactics will get the job done." "I never developed a cadence while playing El Shaddai," Moriarty concludes. "The game has absolutely no rhythm. And most importantly, even after beating it, I never felt like I really got anywhere. I never felt like I excelled at the game even though I saw it through to the end. I never felt that I was getting better. I was simply going through the motions. And the motions were terribly boring and tested my patience more often than I’d like to admit."

About the Author(s)

Danny Cowan


Danny Cowan is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist for Gamasutra and its subsites. Previously, he has written reviews and feature articles for gaming publications including 1UP.com, GamePro, and Hardcore Gamer Magazine.

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