El Shaddai is a game that primarily consists of two things, deception and perception. The deception comes in several forms; from the illusion of choice in how to traverse a level to the overall complexity (or lack of) in the games combat system. How you perceive these elements to work for or against each other will determine what you take out of it.
El Shaddai is loosely based upon the book of Enoch, an obscure Jewish text that is only practiced by a handful of religious sects within Christianity and Judaism. Enoch was Noah’sgreat grandfather and the book named after him is his recounting of how angels from Heaven made their dominion amongst man, including having children with humans known as Nephilim. These giants as they are called are detestable to God and as such, must be destroyed.
Obviously there is much more to the story than that but unless you study the actual text, the majority of it will be lost on the average player. Despite having such intriguing source material, the games storyline doesn‘t flesh out very well in its telling. The perception given was that the story would play a key and central role in bringing the player into the world of ES but it largely remains irrelevant and incoherent throughout. What’s there is serviceable but don’t expect to be awed.
One thing that everyone seems to agree on however are the games visuals. Mostly impressive but sometimes questionable, the one thing that can not be denied is the uniqueness of it all. Some of the games stages if taken as still photos or paintings could easily be something you would see in the worlds finest art museums. This is something that has been said before about other games but it is absolutely the case with El Shaddai. To truly appreciate the artistic vision presented it would be beneficial to be schooled in the ways of art and the appreciation of it. While some levels are amazingly impressive others were too abstract for my taste and in some cases, it does more harm than good.
Take the character design for example. While some may see it as being on a different level, I largely found it to be unappealing. It’s almost as if you don’t want to take them seriously because they are so outside of the realm of what you’re used to. I applaud the developers for taking such bold steps in design but the enemies you find yourself fighting aren’t the least bit intimidating. They stay true to the ethereal feel of the game but that does little to make you feel like you’re combating some sinister foe and in some cases the designs are laughable. One would expect that the enemies of God that you have been sent to deal justice to would be vaguely sinister in their appearance.
That being the case you would be wrong in assuming they are pushovers. They definitely put up a fight and will test your skills and your patience. Button mashing in the beginning of the game will get you far enough but you’re going to have to figure out the games cryptic mechanics before advancing too far. Both the combat and the platforming are fun and difficult at times and unless you’re really paying attention, there is a chance of it all going over your head. El Shaddai doesn’t offer any “how to” on playing. You don’t even have a heads up display (something I actually found really refreshing) until you finish the game, at which time should you choose to play through again, you can activate. The problem with that was I didn’t really feel compelled to take it for another spin once I had fought my way through.
The music and sound are appropriately epic in a biblical sense. Chanting choirs and orchestral tunes will caress and haunt your ears. Rousing when it needs to be, dire when appropriate, the effort put into sound and music is equal to what was poured into the games graphics.
All of this brings us back full circle to deception and perception. El Shaddai is deceptive in the way that the story is told, the levels are laid out and the combat. How you perceive those deceptions-be it true innovation or a failed attempt at high minded gaming-is on the individual gamer.
Initially I saw El Shaddai as a “gamers game” and to some extent I still do. The one button combat is deceptively simple as is the platforming. The story while scant and confusing, is still interesting. Games like this don’t come along very often and based solely on that fact it is worth playing. However, this isn’t a game for everyone so recommending it as a flat out must buy isn’t something I can do. Renting it first and then deciding if you want to add it to your collection would be the prescribed route to take. It was a purchase I don’t regret but not one I can recommend for all.