NYR: El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

El Shaddai 01Last week I introduced my decision to make a New Year’s Resolution that curtailed my ever-escalating over-spending on video games, as well as actually finish a few games in the process.

The aim is to get my backlog of unfinished games to fewer than 100 – which means finishing 21 games – before I purchase another game this year. The criteria for choosing these 21? That will change from week to week. Sometimes it will be random, sometimes it will be with an agenda.

This week’s pick was crowdsourced.

It was a breezy Friday afternoon at work. We were ahead of schedule on our current project so I decided to rattle off twenty-odd game names to my co-workers and ask them to pick a game I would play over the weekend.

“You should play El Shaddai; at least it is visually striking.”

El Shaddai 02

This came from our resident Mass Effect/Dragon Age: Origins and Guild Wars fan.

I shrugged, figuring it might be nice to give this game another chance and finally cross it off the list. At the time I asked myself “what could be the worst that could happen?”

*

I was initially attracted to El Shaddai by Keza McDonald’s swansong on Eurogamer as well as some mildly encouraging grunts from Fighterpedia’s (and previously Arcadian Rhythms contributor) Woolie.

The beginning of the game was lustrous; a lot of attention was clearly given to the look of the game, with the visuals feeling otherworldly, and the opening was breathtaking.

You play as Enoch, a man prone to walking around topless and striking poses that would not look out of place on the Hawkeye initiative. He struts and pouts in an overly sexualised manner that Bayonetta would surely approve of.  Enoch is tasked by a celestial being called Lucifel – who chats to God on its cell phone – with destroying some defecting Angels.  The premise was delightfully Japanese in its willingness to mash up religious myth and do whatever they fancied with it.

My problem with El Shaddai was that everything outside of its presentation and premise was awful.

The action was supposed to be similar to Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden but the controls weren’t particularly responsive and the combo system was not deep enough to encourage experimentation. The platforming sections were deeply frustrating thanks to the false perspective of the art style making it hard to judge distances accurately, and the camera could not be adjusted so as to better view an area.

After six chapters of admittedly sumptuous-looking levels I gave up and placed the game in amongst a pile of my other regrets (namely Drakengard on the PS2).

*

Before my co-worker had suggested El Shaddai I’d made a few half-hearted attempts to go back to it. Occasionally I would flip through one of my CD wallets of games and look at it, contemplate playing it, and immediately turn to something else. Something always made me shirk away from it, the fiddly platforming probably being the main cause.

‘Not so this weekend!’ I told myself.

That was a total lie.

My housemate just recently got into the first Borderlands and even though I have dropped over 60 hours into that game I was itching to go back and use him as an excuse to dust off a level 17 Berserker I had lying around. On Saturday we ended up playing until 4 in the morning blasting through a lot of the early content and I had almost completely forgotten about El Shaddai.

The next day I woke up with a bit of a hangover and decided to distract myself with some Spelunky HD instead. For several hours I attempted to get to the top of my friends’ leaderboard and ended with a score that blew most out of the water and put me in the top 2,000 in the world. Suck it, oddvorb.

At around 7PM on Sunday, after epic amounts of Spelunky, I decided to finally get around to El Shaddai and searched for my copy. After rearranging my room – and by that I mean turning it into more of a pig sty than it already was – I still couldn’t find it. I went downstairs and resisted the urge to engage in a conversation about Borderlands and instead tracked down El Shaddai. It was inside my boxed copy of Catherine, next to a copy of Ninety Nine Nights II that I had no recollection of buying.

I put aside The Outfit, which was my reserve in case I couldn’t find El Shaddai. At 8PM I finally began playing.

It was 11PM when I seriously started contemplating ejecting the game disc and snapping it in half. I kept telling myself it would have been a pyrrhic (incidentally I have stuck this word in here for Shaun as he once had to figure out what I meant when I used it instead of the word ‘priapism’ he had to send me an email asking me what the hell I was trying to say before I realised the mistake) victory to destroy 50 dollars’ worth of property but walk away the bigger person. I mean, right?

The frustrating controls become more and more prominent after chapter 6, where the game begins requiring pinpoint accuracy for both jumps and attacks and the infrastructure it provides simply isn’t up to the task. In the beginning the platforming had mainly been limited to two dimensions for the more demanding sections and when shifting to 3D the platforms were kept static. By chapter 10 it didn’t just have a few moving platforms; it was like watching a kaleidoscope of possible death with too many moving parts… I just want to say that I never thought games could encourage violent thought but El Shaddai proved me wrong.

"Fuck you, fuck you and, seriously, fuck you"

“Fuck you, fuck you, and, seriously, fuck you.”

I believe it is part of El Shaddai’s thematic conceit that it tries to fuck with the player. Early on it does some hilarious things like return the player to the main menu as if it were a bug but then, when you press START, it takes you right back to the level you were on. It also dumps you in boss battles that it knows you can’t win, kills you, and then carries on to the next fight like it is a Square Enix RPG.

It simply goes too far in shitting on every expectation you might bring to it, and comes out the other end looking like that friend who tells you harsh truths “because you need to hear them”, but they take so much pleasure in doing so that they come off as a total bully.

As a result the game quickly became a challenge of my faith in both games and in not putting my fist through the television screen. I am pretty sure that many new swear words were made up during that short period.

I am not ashamed to admit that I gave up. Nursing psychological wounds I went to sleep and dreamt of a half-naked man falling into chasms over and over again.

I was utterly dispirited. It felt like I was going to stumble at my first NYR challenge and not only fail to complete any old games, but possibly never play another game again. It was Golden Axe: Beast Rider all over again. In my head I saw myself as that guy who gets on the treadmill to burn off a few turkey-induced pounds only to slip on the moving belt and face-plant onto the apparatus.

After a long day at work on Monday I tried to sit down with El Shaddai again, but the thought of jumping across those moving platforms made me shudder so I played Borderlands some more.  Lovely, warm, dependable Borderlands; never has making men’s heads explode felt so satisfying. I’ll admit that it totally plays into the male nerd power fantasy but it certainly entertains with its constant, addictive loot drops.

Lovely, lovely face punching.

Lovely, lovely face punching.

Several days later I put El Shaddai back in, took a deep breath and booted it up. I pushed my way through Chapter 10 and into Chapter 11, also known as the ‘soap dropped in prison showers’ level.

Azazel is the boss of this level. He is a total motherfucker and he knows it. I can see why Azazel is an absolute shit bag because, by virtue of being a shit bag, he has no friends. You would never use Azazel as a wing(ed) man as he would only be able to cock block you with his multiple genitals. A friend of mine once had an opportunity with a lady blocked by a gay man who decided to stalk him. Azazel is far worse than that because he turns into a giant mantis creature that saps your will to live. If the girl you were interested in ran off with that you would probably head butt walls until you lost teeth. And no one wants that.

Azazel, and more specifically Nether Azazel – who is the second form – has slow, unblockable attacks, infuriating long-winded patterns, and some of his later moves are devastating with only small windows given to dodge them and hurt him in return.

I turned the console off before I became a danger to myself.

It is at this point that I would really like to stress that I don’t think video games actually make people go into shopping centres and schools with weapons and let loose. I could be facetious and use the Matthew Lillard quote “movies don’t create psychos, movies make psychos more creative,” but that’s just being puerile for the sake of it.

This is not a picture of Matthew Lillard in Scream or Hackers. I hate Hackers

This is not a picture of Matthew Lillard in Scream or Hackers. I hate Hackers.

In many ways, I would argue that the way good games make me feel about expenditure of human life is directly at odds with what Fox News thinks is happening every time we boot up man shooter 2000.

Bad/good games do exactly what the army has tapped into with their own military shooters; the ability to make us not care about our targets. I am not talking about Borderlands which goes out of its way to make sure that the masked crazy people have no basis in reality. I am talking about the Call of Duty games, the Medal of Honors and the like that will have you believe the ‘targets’ that run in front of your scopes have no beliefs, no families and no direction. That they deserve to be murdered by default because they are right there with a gun.

There is a sense of deliberate desensitisation in these shooters, with anger and hatred not the result but merely indifference at best and outright delight at the worst.

What I am saying is, go and fucking play Spec Ops: The Line and fuck you Prince Harry with your stupid comments about shooting Taliban being like a video game. El Shaddai is so removed from reality that the anger I feel is towards celestial beings and a game. Much in the same way that I hate my console and myself for going through with this stupid idea. I have no one but myself to blame and I realise this very clearly because I am a responsible person. I don’t even want to say ‘adult’ because I believe that there are plenty of kids who are able to do the same.

To get back on track, I did something else I hate to do.

During my lunch break I caved and started looking for explanations or video tutorials on how to beat Nether Azazel. I hated having to concede to this. I always saw this kind of behaviour as a weakness but it was either that or experience the larger personal failure of reneging on my resolution.

My first Google search resulted in me going to IGN. IGN, when you give advice like this:

“…but you’ll have to be nearly perfect with your timing to avoid getting pummeled by his attacks. With enough patience, you’ll take down Nether Azazel and move on to the final encounter of the game.”

Then you can go fuck yourself.

A little more useful was Howcast, whose video at least showed weapon decisions, but the clear problem is someone was obviously trying to get a video up there rather than actually provide good tactics. The difficulty has to be on easy as there is no way that the player would get away with that many mistakes without getting murdered on harder difficulties.

It wasn’t until I went to Youtube that I found my true saviour. Not only did the description have a lot of detail (in less than 2000 words!) but the video is good with some detailed advice on the different forms of shit-bag Azazel. I would link it but I can’t find it any more.

Still, it took me over 40 minutes of controller hurling and screaming before it was over. I am not joking; one of my housemates had to ask me what all the banging was about – what they had heard was me pounding the floor in pure rage.

Like I said, video games do not encourage violence of the type that makes you want to murder children. That is for the mentally disturbed. It might, however, encourage you to murder upholstery.

Oh yeah, here is another image of El Shaddai so that it looks like I was writing about it.

header_el_shaddai_ascension_of_the_metatron

After douchebag Azazel was out of the way, the final boss took about ten minutes. Total doddle and I closed that game down and played Spelunky instead.

With that baptism of fire over, I moved on to a much harder challenge: no games at all.