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Hands on with El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

This game claims to be based on ancient religious texts, but it really doesn’t matter because the story is pretty much incomprehensible.  Even divine intervention won’t help make it make any more sense if the demo released on Xbox live today is any indication.  While it has gotten a lot of buzz for having an unusual design scheme, the gameplay present in the demo makes it seem like style over substance.  Despite its allegedly holy inspirations, my hour with it felt like an eternity in hell.

My first reaction to seeing it in action was “Did my Xbox just break”, because the graphics look like something is wrong.  Sure, you could call the design scheme “Quirky” or “Artistic” but this is a game where I had trouble distinguishing between the floor and a big hole in the floor.  That’s a problem when you can easily plummet to your death with a missed jump or wrong step.  Of course dying from a fall wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t have such a terrible checkpoint system.

Yes, checkpoints.  When you screw up, you’ll bounce back way too far and have to fight your way through the same enemies again and again, plus you get to watch the unskipable cutscenes over and over too.  On top of that the load times are atrocious.  After dying in the same spot four times in a row, I actually got up to make a cup of coffee while waiting for the game to load my last checkpoint.

So what is the game about?  You’re some kind of angel, or something.  A guy in black, who might be Satan, keeps talking to you (Or about you) and some other nameless people show up to spout meaningless lines.  I was told that a girl was looking for me early in the demo, but that didn’t seem to lead anywhere.  When the final cutscene played I still had no idea what the hell was going on.  And I certainly never figured out what a Metaron is, and whether I'm trying to help it ascend, or prevent it from ascending.

Of course, it doesn’t really matter what the story is about if the gameplay is good, but that’s not the case with what I saw in this demo.  Combat is button-mashy, with just one attack button.  You have a block button, and a special “Purify” button that can be used at times to disarm enemies, but I spent the demo just hammering away with my kill button, and spamming the one decent combo move I found.

The difficulty is inconsistent as well.  I died from missed jumps frequently and that meant that I had to fight the same couple of enemies a bunch of times.  Sometimes I would easily slaughter them, other times they’d slaughter me, and sometimes it felt like an even match.  Skill didn’t matter so much as luck.

The one interesting aspect to the game is that disarm maneuver I mentioned.  When you’ve beaten an enemy enough, they’ll become vulnerable to the disarm, and this lets your character switch weapons during combat. This adds a bit of tactical planning when dealing with a group of enemies.  The demo only had one sequence where you fight multiple enemy types, but I hope that the full game will make use of this feature.

On the optimistic side, this is just a demo.

It shows off part of what appears to be an early level or tutorial and may not accurately represent the total game experience.  El Shaddai might turn out to be a good game, but it could only be so if it offers a much different experience than what’s found in this demo.


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