Ancient texts with religious ties aren’t often what one thinks of when looking for inspiration for a video game plot. It can be shaky ground to interpret such texts and mold it to the purposes of the game, a risk few companies have taken.
“El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron” does just that. The one-player hack and slash casts the player as Enoch, a human so virtuous that God brought him up to Heaven to serve as a scribe while he was still alive and well, is tasked with descending to Earth to confront, purify, and seal the seven angels who fell from Heaven to live among and rule humans. If Enoch fails, God will flood the Earth and restart humanity – as in, the Great Flood that stars in the biblical story of Noah’s Ark.
The story of Enoch (the man known by 72 names, eventually called the Metatron) is inspired by and loosely based off of the title character from 1 Enoch, a book found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Alongside Enoch is Lucifel, an angel with the ability to travel time who is charged with guiding Enoch and sending reports back to God via his cell phone. Lucifel serves as the narrator for the story as well, and as save points.
Game controls in “El Shaddai” are so-so. Experienced gamers looking for a challenge may be disappointed, for the game’s controls are so simple that even the most inexperienced gamers can string together combos and defeat enemies; there are three main buttons to know aside from the analog stick for movement: the button to jump, the one to attack and the one to purify weapons with. It is also nearly impossible to die. The game is designed around the idea that Enoch has divine help (though mostly indirect) as well as divine abilities granted to him specifically for this mission; this somehow justifies him not dying after falling from the tallest tower on a level, or after an enemy clearly (though rarely) kicks his rump to a pulp. The player has a chance to button mash the “revive” Enoch as he’s dying, and regain some health. This option is available throughout most of the game, but is taken away from time to time without warning. When Enoch does die, the penalty isn’t severe; he merely appears back at the last save or checkpoint.
The gameplay itself, however, is an incredible hodgepodge that barely holds itself together. There are 3D battles and platforms, 2D battles and platforms, there are puzzles, there are levels that combine all of the above and there is even one level where Enoch races on a motorcycle.
The storyline binds the insanity together. Each angel is master of one level in a grand, massive tower that exists hidden on Earth (Enoch’s first task was to find it, and it takes him over 300 years), but with the aesthetic and capabilities of a separate dimension. Each angel represents a different sort of love, for that is why they fell – they wanted to be closer to and more like humans, as well as to rule them. They each also provided new technologies to the humans who worshipped them. Azazel, the second in command and architect of the tower, gave his humans technology of the 21st century, hence the ability to weave in a motorcycle chase into his level.
Despite the great fun that “El Shaddai” is to play (especially to weaker gamers, but seasoned ones as well), it suffers from two glaring loose ends. Whether UVG Ignition is holding out for a possible sequel, or they ran out of time and money and had to cut the game short, is anyone’s guess. But the game itself is beautiful, accessible, imaginative, daring, and more than worth playing at least once.