Shadow of the Colossus Review

   16/02/2006 at 08:41       Phil May       9 COMMENTS. - Score 3/5
Look at the SIZE of that thing!

I'm no Ico apologist. Why apologize for one of the games the PS2 will be fondly remembered for. Each and every console or PC hardware revision has its cherished classics, and Ico will always be one of the PS2's.

Shadow of the Colossus will also join these hallowed ranks, and here's why...

Way back when I first saw a white blob bouncing across a black screen and realised I could control its actions, I knew Gaming would eventually have me hopelessly and irretrievably hooked. Back then, I spent a lot of time reading books and immersing myself in the various sci fi and fantasy worlds woven from the imaginations of authors who knew their craft well. Back then there was never even the faintest suggestion that there would come a time when games developers would be capable of taking their imaginations and making them almost tangible, touchable, controllable.

I will keep touching on Ico because it was the first game to come from Fumito Oueda's development studio at SCEJ. Not everyone got on with Ico (even those that have been given a second chance with its recent and timely re-release), a lot of people moaned and bleated about the combat, the quirky control systems and THAT piston puzzle. To me, this is like someone going to an opera and complaining about all the noise from the fat lady.

Ico gave me a world I could explore and feel part of. It did not mislead me with stupid hackneyed storylines and plots, it just placed me rather roughly into the world and said "OK, you're on your own, make of it what you will". Once you got to grips with the game mechanics, and realised what you had to do, it flowed beautifully (aside from that piston puzzle) from start to finish. More than that, it made you feel empathy for its central characters.

Yes yes shut up about Ico, what about Shadow...?

SOTC does the same. There is no rambling set-up storyline. You have a hero, an unconscious princess and a horse. Your mammoth task does not become apparent until you get on your horse, follow a few simple instructions from an unseen ungodly voice, and encounter your first colossus.

Remember the opening "thud" at the start of Bladerunner? Vangelis' impressive soundtrack starts with a noise like someone dropping the entire set of Encyclopaedia Britannicas off the top of the Empire State Building, and them all landing perfectly flat and face down at the same time. A huge metallic organic "THUD".

I swear this is the noise that came to mind when I first saw the colossus. Misted in the distance, carrying a sodding huge weapon, trundling around oblivious to me until I got closer and then...

Then I realised that this was the task ahead - I had to scale that thing, and plunge my sword into its glowing brain. Something told me the beast was not going to be overly co-operative in this task, so it would be fun finding out how I was going to get up to the top of its skull to do the deed.

In Shadow of the Colossus you have a few simple things to remember. One: Your grip meter is very important. Watch it like a hawk for when it runs down, you will lose your grip and the colossus is going to toss you to the ground, and pound you into it like a tent-peg. Two: You need to use your sword a lot for things like locating the beast's power centre (brain, whatever) so you know where you're aiming for, and you also use it as a navigation device once you set off from the temple you always start each level from. Oh and of course you ram that piece of tempered steel through the bugger's brain once you get the chance. The bastard won't like it at all, so be prepared for a bumpy chaotic ride.

You Go, Boss!

To most people the game will already be sounding like some mad challenge completely comprised of epic boss battles. To a certain extent, this is pretty much what SOTC is but it veils you in such a beautifully woven atmospheric game world as Ico did, that you will notice just how superbly structured the difficulty curve is. If you have difficulty with the first colossus, bear in mind you are probably going to find this game incredibly tough, in fact round about 6 or 7 of the suckers later and your task feels like trying to push mercury uphill with a chopstick. BUT it does feel attainable. It does feel like if you do things differently next time you might just fluke it and succeed, in this, SOTC keeps you playing.

When I see various criticisms levelled at the game's graphics, frame rates, and lack of onscreen furniture I feel slightly sorrowful that the world is slowly being taken over by the type of gamer who sees a bunch of technical specs and polygon counts as being more important than the actual game itself. Shadow of the Colossus never claims to be some powerhouse performer, it never claims to accurately represent actual horse-riding, nor does it make a huge fuss about water effects, physics, dust particles or any other tired old game industry benchmarks. What it does do is give you the gaming equivalent of a big hug, and the promise of a bedtime story. Think Grimm's Fairy Tales. Think Jackanory. Think Aesop's Fables, or the first time you felt like you could actually taste the chocolate in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory". Think back for a moment as your hero is swinging tenaciously from the fronds on a Colossus' leg, what it was like to be a kid climbing your first tree or riding your bike for the first time without stabilisers.

When 20 more years have passed and you're thinking back to the heady days of your gameplaying youth, I will almost guarantee you that you will remember this game.

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