Shadow of the Colossus
Ico's spiritual successor takes a very unusual approach for a follow-up. Rather than reworking the original game's ideas, it flips them. It replaces the claustrophobic castle with a huge, almost Hyrule-style sprawl of fields and mountains. It swaps tentatively inching along battlements for dashing around on a huge, wilful horse. Most interestingly of all, you're no longer avoiding ending up as a sacrifice, but arranging one of your own: tracking down a hit-list of huge stone monsters and then taking them out, one at a time, in order to bring your pretty lady back to life.
Innocence and generosity have been replaced by something far more complex: a kind of self-interested - and yet paradoxically still selfless - slaughter that comes at an awful personal price.
Shadow of the Colossus is a far more ambitious project than Ico, but it's also a tiny bit clumsier. Cut-scenes are still minimalist by the wonky theatrical standards of most games, but they can run on a touch too long towards the end of the adventure, and there's just the slightest sense of being told too much, and therefore having less freedom to interpret events for yourself. Elsewhere, the first game's wonderful explorative pace is replaced with a much more predictable structure: find the next colossus, uncover its weak spots, get to its weak spots, kill the colossus.
That said, you're still climbing over monsters the size of mountains and then bringing them down, and while the game may settle into a recognisable rhythm, the colossi themselves remain genuinely magical - and their deaths bring on a strange mixture of elation and guilt.
Everyone has a favourite, and for me it's Number Five. Number Five is the eagle-type thing in the lake. The moment it rushes down to attack and you leap and grab hold, only to be lifted from your little island and up into the sky on a huge pair of furry wings: games don't really get a lot more astonishing than that.
In high resolution, it all looks glorious, too (upscaling is employed if your PS3 is set to 1080p). The textures, particularly when it comes to fur, are wonderfully tangible, while you may feel like you're seeing the game's craggy wilderness and bleached masonry afresh. Shadow's still got its camera problems - though it's easy to forgive a game for not knowing where to look as a tiny little character scrabbles up a monster's armpit - but the tearing that could often mar the original is but a memory.
Best of all, the game now runs along at a steady 30fps. Looking the original up, I was surprised to discover that it was released at roughly the same time as the Xbox 360 - and that kind of makes sense. Shadow of the Colossus was always a next-generation game stuck on current-generation technology, and while it was a joy to play, there were plenty of moments where ambition butted against aging hardware and the screen stuttered and stammered in response. That's all gone now, and you can race along on Agro in the wake of a huge, shambling leviathan while the engine copes with everything Ueda's imagination can throw at it.
It's a lovely restoration job, then, and the kind of thing Ubisoft could learn a thing or two from. Beyond the joys of seeing the games sharper and less shaky, and in 3D if you've got the right telly, is the simple pleasure of having them on the same disc and the same loading menu, where you can flick back and forth between them and ponder the way that they fit together.
And they do fit together: not just in their shared fondness for windy skies, sun-bleached temples and inky enemies, but in the air of religious nastiness they have; the way they take you to a strange world of scapegoats and sacrifices, rituals and retaliations.
Games often bring out the armchair detective in people. These two bring out the armchair anthropologist. That's a big part of why they've endured, and also why this HD collection is such a delight.
9 / 10