Unique has lost much of its meaning-often used instead of remarkable. But shadow of the Colossus is truly unique.


Shadow of the Colossus (SotC) is the second game from the talented folks at Team Ico. There were high expectations for SotC after Ico was released to such high critical acclaim. So the question is, has Team Ico managed to create not one, but two, of the PS2's best games ever? The short answer is a resounding HELL YES!

The game opens with a hawk flying high above a cliff top on a dark night. The camera then pans down to a horse (Agro) carrying a young man (Wander) and a large sack across a precarious Cliffside path. As you hear the beautiful orchestral music, that plays as he risks life and limb, and as you see the wonderful animation as the magnificent horse scales the dangerous path, you know you're in for something special. Eventually Wander arrives at a temple. He places the 'sack' down on to the altar, and it is revealed that the sack contains a dead woman.

A powerful voice addresses Wander. It tells him that the young woman can be resurrected if he destroys 16 large stone statues. And how do you destroy large statues? Why, by hunting down and killing colossi of course! You jump on your horse on the trail of your first kill. We'll leave Wander there for now and talk about a couple of things.
First is the horseback ridding: not only is the animation absolutely superb, the controls are too; you press X and Wander will kick his trusty steed, and it shall respond by increasing in speed. When you get up to a healthy gallop you can simply hold down X and you'll sail smoothly across the world. Now that's all well and good but obviously you'll want to steer. Simply push the analogue stick left or right to pull the reins, or pull it backwards to yank the reins backwards and Agro will slowly grind to a halt. The smooth control, combined with the clip clop of Agro's powerful hooves, careening across the sandy ground- leaving a trail of dust behind you- really make it feel like you're riding a horse.

Second is the open world to explore: not only is the scale of it impressive, so is the detail and beauty. From the smallest blade of grass, to the largest empty temple everything is in a state of decay, and yet it all feels sacred and beautiful. Speaking of temples; to save you need merely find a statue and pray. It makes the saving seamless, and never detracts from the feeling of immersion. Not only that but they're quite useful for finding your next target. You see if you hold down circle with the sword equipped Wander will raise the blade and in an area where there is light the blade will shoot a ray of light in the direction of your next colossus. But apart from the odd instances of fauna which you can kill and eat, there is very little to do in the world. You just tramps across the sparse and empty world, to find your next colossus and that's all there is to it. Though, I must admit it does give you quite a feeling of isolation and perhaps even despair.

So if the world is that empty what about the colossi? Well let me start by saying that they're not called colossi without a reason! These are giant monsters of steel, stone, flesh and fur, that hulk their way slowly across the earth, or soar gracefully through the sky. There are three stages to taking down a colossus. 1. You stalk it; looking for weak spots by shining light from your sword across its body, while also looking for ways to climb the beast. 2. When you've found a way to, you climb across the hulking beast, as it does its best to shake you from its body. 3. When you have finally climbed to its weak spot; killing it! To do this you crouch down over the weak spot by holding R1, then you hit square and Wander will raise his blade. The controller will shake as he musters up the strength to plunge it deep into the Colossus' flesh. When he does, there is a sickening crunch and black blood flies from the wound. As satisfying as it is-you've just scaled a 5 story high walking beast, avoiding its brutal attacks, while finding away across its body, for Christ's sake!-something about it doesn't feel right. It feels almost as if you're desecrating something sacred, and as the colossus' lifeless body crashes loudly onto the ground you can't help but feel a little guilty for destroying something so magnificent.

I mentioned detail earlier, and just to add to that feeling of guilt and brutality, the more colossi you destroy the more tattered Wander's clothes become, the more scarred his body, and the more cracked his skin. It's as subtle an effect as any, but boy is it a powerful one!
This leaves us with one question. What the hell is SotC? A platformer, a puzzle game, an adventure game, an action game? I can't look passed puzzle-platformer. The puzzle is figuring out how to take the colossi down: from finding their weak points, to figuring out how to get to them. And there's no denying the scaling of the colossi themselves is anything but platforming. But this is what makes SotC so special. You can't tie it down to one genre; you can't label it as anything-except-perhaps-unique.

So clearly there are few similarities between Ico and SotC. As magnificent as Ico was, the actual level design and mechanics were not very original or ambitious. It was however carried off perfectly. It's the complete opposite with SotC: absolutely everything about it is ambitious. Yet I can't help but feel that there could have been something more to SotC, and this was certainly not something I felt during Ico. Yes, taking down the colossi is brilliant, from their beautiful design to the wonderful orchestral music that plays as you scale them. But it's the bits in between that are lacking. They're beautiful and powerful, but that's all they are. They lack substance. After a certain point you wonder why they are even there; why you can't just skip the Hors d'Ĺ“uvre and get to the main course.

It doesn't feel right ending on such a negative note so let's head for something I haven't covered in detail yet. The sound. Like in Ico there isn't a whole lot of music in the game, in fact it only features during cut scenes, and when you're up against the Colossi. But there's no doubt that this is a positive not a negative. The musicless world adds immensely to the feeling of isolation. And the music while taking down a colossus makes it all the more intense and powerful. In fact the sweeping score is definitely one of the best to have graced the PS2.

I don't think this review has done SotC justice. I've probably not focused enough on the positives, but that's because they're simply something you have to experience for yourself. Heck, I didn't even mention how touching the plot can be. At a few points I must admit I was quite moved. SotC is definitely not an uplifting game. In fact I'd say it's pretty damn depressing, but there's always a feeling of hope, and whether what he's doing is right or wrong, his motivation is never in question. But like I said you have to experience it for yourself, it's a game that truly deserves to be called unique, and like Ico, is a special game that should be experienced by all that own a PS2. And if you don't then this is worth both the price of a PS2 and the game!


Posted by Foolz Fri, 22 Aug 2008 07:19:38 (comments: 6)
 
Fri, 22 Aug 2008 09:53:11
What's the review section for then? Blogs? Nyaa

I will read this later Happy
 
Fri, 22 Aug 2008 14:08:28
I was too lazy to work out the scoring system o I posted it here. Nyaa
 
Tue, 26 Aug 2008 15:41:34
I finally got back to reading this. What a great descriptive tone your review hits. I haven't played the game yet I get the atmosphere just from your writing.
 
Thu, 04 Sep 2008 09:52:17
Thanks man, means a lot! Grinning
 
Tue, 09 Sep 2008 06:56:56
I found Shadow of the Colossus a very good game. I admit that it was very artistic though not the gaming Picasso people treat it as.
 
Tue, 09 Sep 2008 13:33:42
^
That honour goes to Ico. Nyaa
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