El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron Review (Xbox360)

How many games can be considered art? If El Shaddai was a film, it would slot into the Studio Ghibli catalogue nicely. If it was an album, it would pump track after track of mind-blowing dub-step right into your eardrums. If it was a painting, it would undoubtedly sit amongst the great cubist work of Picasso. Just like the examples mentioned, El Shaddai provides a unique violation on your senses that often opts for artistic flair rather than an easy structure to follow.

Based on the Book of Enoch, this title provides an interesting interpretation of the ancient Jewish text. You're quickly tasked with hunting a group of fallen angels with the aim to send them back to heaven. This premise sets up the game's most testing battles early on, as Enoch will come into contact with his winged targets many times before his powers are fully realised. Despite holding great potential, the narrative here is extremely muddled. There's plenty of references to the book and all things holy, but it amounts to a confusing mess most of the time. As with other elements of the game, El Shaddai's ability to tell a story plays second fiddle to the astonishing visual design.

It really is a treat for your eyeballs, too. There aren't many games that genuinely have me picking my jaw up off the floor, but this really is one of them. Forget ultra-realistic visuals that want to mimic other products, El Shaddai is a trend setter. It's the conspicuous friend who turns up to a funeral wearing a clown outfit, his very presence livening the mood. Each chapter varies in appearance massively, and it's fair to say there are plenty of stand-out moments. As Enoch progresses he makes his way up a tower, but this isn't your conventional spiral staircase. The opening level provides the atmosphere of a carnival, backed up by digital fireworks and an incredibly beautiful use of colour. Another chapter is styled like a watercolour painting, with the rasping landscape coming in handy when traversing from a side-scrolling point of view. There's even a section that imitates the neon-tinted Grid of TRON: Legacy, launching you into a motorcycle battle that takes a flattering amount of inspiration from the lightcycles of Disney's production. In any other game this would be unacceptable, but El Shaddai flaunts so much originality it hardly feels like it matters.

Away from the visuals, this game doesn't fair so well. You'll generally spent most of your time platforming or fighting opponents in mini-arenas, and it's the latter that serves up problems. In truly Japanese style, El Shaddai has you running along arcing paths, hopping across epic stages with the nimblest of touches. Each path ends with some kind of physical encounter, whether it's against an angel or lesser opponent. Early on it's explained that Enoch needs to use certain weapons against certain enemies, but this idea is hardly ever built upon. There's only three weapons in the entire game, and it's immediately clear that one is suitable for taking on every combatant. While the bow and the Gale are fun to use, they're ultimately useless. The best weapon takes on the form of gloves that can also be placed together as a shield, something that makes a massive difference.

El Shaddai does try to make it's combat exciting, but after a few hours it becomes a chore. Each weapon slowly corrupts over time, and Enoch must purify them to realise the true power they possess. While this only amounts to the press of a button, it's a clever way of pinpointing the battle between light and dark. It's a shame that you can mindlessly prod one or two buttons to despatch many who stand in your way. Throw the occasional block in there, and you have yourself a simple fighting system that doesn't thrill past the opening few chapters. As the Book of Enoch states, the hero cannot die, so El Shaddai provides the chance to re-open his eyes if things get too much.

Unfortunately, there's no HUD on the first play-through, so it's impossible to tell how many chances you have left until you've completed the game once, where extra on-screen cues become available. An odd design choice indeed.

Despite it's downfalls, El Shaddai is a memorable experience from start to finish. It offers a quirkiness and sense of style that is not only unique, it's surprisingly refreshing. Enoch's adventure is bizarre and often hard to keep up with, but this is definitely a game that should be experienced. It all comes back to the question I posed at the start of this review. How many games can be considered art? On a mechanical level, this title is simple and repetitive. On a superficial level, El Shaddai would sit inside the Louvre, it's demeanour and sense of expression as rare as the Mona Lisa.

Top Gaming Moment: Experiencing each chapter's visual design.