Despite its high subscription fee and ludicrously pricey rental costs, there is one worthwhile reason to get behind the prospect of Sony's new video game rental platform PlayStation Now.
That reason being the games. There are literally hundreds of them at your disposal, ranging from the ubiquitous like Mass Effect 2, Batman: Arkham City and ICO, to the more lesser known delights of The Swapper and Vessel. All of these will be available to play on various flagship Sony devices, meaning you can stream some absolute classics for a fairly steep $20 per month without having to own any or all of the 4 generations of PlayStation consoles.
But, despite that mixed bag of news, there is one game on this awe-inspiring and intimidating history-spanning list that manages to justify PS Now's odd pricing model. A modern day classic that manages to encapsulate the utterly unique beauty of the Japanese imagination, with the apocryphal thrills of the Old Testament's Book of Enoch.
A game that received unanimous critical praise, but suffered a lack of sales more than likely due to it being completely one of a kind.
This is 2011's El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, easily one of the best games to have released on the PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360, that you have probably never played.
Ascension of the Metatron
From the UK-based division of publisher UTV Ignition Entertainment, El Shaddai places you in the boots of a human named Enoch, who is enlisted by God to track down and capture seven fallen seraphim who plan on wiping out humanity with a giant flood. And, that, my friends, is the unique and simple premise of the game. One of the few simple things about it, in fact.
The game's aesthetics are absolutely stunning. But, to say the game is merely stunning feels like a disservice. El Shaddai's level design and its variation of themes and perspectives are genius and utterly, utterly sublime. I've never played or seen anything quite like it.
But, seeing as this was the handiwork of the legendary character designer Takeyasu Sawaki, who has cast his inimitable gaze over various iconic games such as Devil May Cry, Okami and even Steel Battalion, this should come as no surprise to even the most casual gamer.
The narrative unfolds over 11 chapters, each of them varying wildly from the last. For example, in order to teach you the basics of combat, the game's inaugural chapter thrusts you into its world with a battle against the minions of the fallen angels on, none other than, the gigantic palm of an archangel that is swiftly descending from heaven back to the realms of men. It's as insane as it sounds.
The game then takes you to the dramatically sublime Tower of Babel, with its abundance of demonic eyes surveying your every move, varying floating sections and backgrounds packed with action and color; then whisks you off on journeys through strangely tribal and sparse locals, before dropping you into a Tronesque motorbike chase, MC Escher-styled geometric madness and side scrolling platforming sections.
God From The Machine
Despite the overarching beauty of El Shaddai, another interesting feature of the game is its significant lack of a HUD. The omission of an on-screen display means damage is measured by the condition of Enoch's heavenly armor. Which leads me into my next point: the combat system.
This is where the game falters a little. Simple to grasp and silky to watch in the hands of an experienced player, El Shaddai's combat system revolves around three weapons: the Arch, Gale and Veil, which are utilized both by Enoch and his adversaries.
The Arch, similar to the Klingons' Bat'leth, is the first weapon Enoch gets his palms on...
The Gale manifests as explosive glowing darts that can ruin an enemy's day from a way away...
And the Veil, which look like Apple designed a pair of angelic boxing gloves, pretty much renders Enoch's hands an expensive yet infinitely desirable pair of hipster mallets.
Oh, and yet another interesting feature is all weapons degrade over time, which means they will eventually break. When that happens, you can simply steal another from one of your enemies. Though later you get the ability to cleanse your weapons of the demonic filth accrued by dispatching ghastly goons, which preserves the weapons for a longer period of time.
But, seeing as those three weapons are the only weapons you'll be using over the course of the game, combat does get slightly repetitive after a while, as do the enemy types. Though their visages may differ, their fighting abilities stay grounded within the framework of the three weapons.
A Divine Caper
Though the game's sentiment and feel is that of a traditional Japanese 3rd person action romp, the deploying of a protagonist that looks as if he was lost on the way to a He-Man open audition, and the game's art direction forced El Shaddai into its very own space. It's certainly not traditionally Japanese, and it as sure as hell isn't traditionally Western.
Where Japanese games draw from the nation's rich artistic history, El Shaddai constantly evolves leaving your mind spinning from a veritable barrage of visual perfection. I'm guessing that's what led this wonderful game to cult classic status.
Where critics were giddily drunk off the game's fountains of idiosyncratic beauty, the majority of gamers took one look at it and were left in stupors of "wtf is that?"
I'm not sure I can make it any clearer that this is genuinely a masterpiece of the human imagination, but, as Sawaki-san says:
I will say that like Enoch, we are all faced with difficult choices in our lives and we want to believe we made the right ones.
Now that Star Wars: Battlefront's beta is but a distant dream of shuttles, sparks and swear words, dust off your PS3s and give Ascension of the Metatron a go, because El Shaddai knows that'd be the right choice.
[Sources: Giant Bomb, Eurogamer, Wiki, Kotaku, YouTube]