El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

Bible-bashing takes on a whole new meaning with this mind-boggling action adventure

Taking its inspiration from Jewish religious work the Book of Enoch, this unusual videogame charts the adventures of Noah's great-grandfather Enoch on a Heaven-sent quest to save the world from seven fallen angels.

But don't let the game's religious themes put you off giving it a spin, as the mesmerising combination of Bayonetta-style third-person action and Rez-esque trippy visuals ensure that El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron couldn't be further removed from the stuffy old Sunday School malarkey of your childhood.

Developed under the watchful eye of Takeyasu Sawaki (character designer on Devil May Cry and Okami) El Shaddai... is nothing if not the most visually striking game we've encountered in a very long time. Eschewing photo-realism, the game's character design opts for an anime-style cel-shaded approach that looks for as if it's been hand-painted rather than coded.

The landscapes these characters inhabit are even harder to pin down, at once abstract and yet somehow recognisable. Organic yet manufactured. And then there are the 2D side-scrolling sections that break up the third-person action every now and again. These really give the designers a chance to truly cut loose with a stunning range of styles and approaches - be it the stark silhouette sequence that runs alongside the opening credits or the later sequence that has you riding undulating waves from platform to platform, it's truly breathtaking stuff.

Biblical bashing
But enough about how incredibly good-looking it is. How does El Shaddai... actually play? Very well as it happens. As mentioned at the start there's a modicum of Bayonetta's DNA in evidence in the third-person brawling that makes up the majority, particularly in the fact that El Shaddai... is ridiculously easy to pick up, but incredibly challenging to truly master. While the combat itself fails to offer anything like the depth of that provided by Platinum Games' cult hit, there's a similar sense of fluidity to the action, chaining together combos across just three buttons (Attack, Jump and Defend).

While the amount of weaponry available is similarly limited (the Arch blade, Gale dart-attack and Veil gauntlets/shield are your only options), truly mastering them takes dedication and careful timing. The fact that you can only carry one at a time adds a little strategy to the action as well, forcing you to stun an enemy and steal their weapon if you want to make a switch to something more suited to specific opponents or situations. A further challenge comes from the fact that when used your holy weapons become corrupted, weakening them. A simple button press purifies them again, but it takes time and leaves you vulnerable to attack.

Heaven or Hell?
The only downside to all of this is that the main gameplay does tend to feel a bit repetitious. Regardless of how inspired the landscape is, you basically run along a path, possibly with a bit of button-pushing problem solving thrown in, before coming to circular arenas where you face off against a number of enemies. Sure, there are plenty of boss fights and cutscenes along the way to distract you - but given the scope and ambition on display in the game's artwork, it's a shame that the world of El Shaddai... is so linear and limiting. That's not to say it's a bad game by any stretch. It's so utterly beautiful and completely bonkers that you can't help but enjoy it. But at the end of the day, it's 'merely' a very good game rather than the truly divine one it could have been.

Xbox 360 (version tested)/PS3, UTV Ignition Games, £50 approx, On sale now
HCC Verdict: 4/5