Shadow of the Colossus Reader Review
Shadow of the Colossus is so artistic. You will not argue with that. You cannot. This is art and that is something that we will all have to live with. Let us "unpack" that, as my lecturer used to say before I dropped out.
Colossus is a tale of tragedy and woe and shit. There's this guy (known either as Wander or Wanda, depending on how much of a fucking purist you ask) whose girlfriend died and he has taken the magic holy sword and run off to the forbidden lands to kill big giant beasts. Apparently that'll bring her back to life. People have been fooled by less believable stories. Long ago, vagrant English women would attempt to convince passers-by that a small wolf was gnawing at her breast from the inside. You can convince people of anything with a suitable level of theatrics, and there are few things more theatrical than Dormin's voice booming down from the sky. So our vaguely nameless hero sets off on his quest, leaving you to lead him to his destiny. His destiny in which he stabs things.
This game is less of a sequel or prequel to Ico (its predecessor), and more of a response to a critical reaction which stated: Ico is proof that games are art. Thus, Team Ico are artists. Thus, what they create is art. Conclusion: Shadow of the Colossus is art, because it was made by artists. Shadow of the Colossus is how they have decided to further the medium.
The first thing to note: it is deliberately kind of boring. The developers have eschewed the "easy" route of making a fun, accessible game in favour of the message. There is very little to do other than explore or fight one of the colossi. Sixteen in total, the game's only enemies. Gameplay is sacrificed for richness of content. Even the framerate is given up as an offering to the gods in order to render a solid world, washed-out vistas stretching into the distance. What I mean by "richness of content" is that the environment and colossi are as organic as the PS2 can allow. The movement of the colossi, unbelievable as such creatures ought to seem, is natural and credible. They sway, shift, or fly, always with a sense of weight and substance. The landscape comes across, for better or worse, as a natural landscape: beautiful to behold; tedious to traverse. When one faces a colossus, it requires a certain amount of patience to puzzle out its weaknesses. However, this can quickly become boring as you are bound by fairly realistic physics, and despite our hero's somewhat superhuman strength, he is rather easily tossed aside. Making a game difficult is not a failing by any means, but the gameplay can frequently feel a little too complex for those heated moments when you have to be doing several things at once. One has to keep track of the grip meter, as well as making sure to press all of the correct buttons at the correct time, in the correct place. I imagine Team Ico intended for us to feel overwhelmed in the face of being swung around on the head of a giant monster, but that surely cannot justify hampering the experience in terms of fun and gratification.
Ico met with critical acclaim for several reasons, including:
- No on-screen interface to deal with.
- The plot was simple, sparse, and sat well with the gameplay. There were about ten minutes of cut scenes in the game, including the ending.
- The attachment to the characters was through unadulterated experience in-game. It wasn't the story sequences that made you feel for Yorda. It was through the machinations of the game itself that one grew to care for their fate.
Colossus doesn't try to build on any of this. You have an interface, which you need to keep track of in critical moments. Every time you beat a colossus you are treated to a vaguely obscure video, furthering the plot. There are no reasons to give a toss about saving the dead girl. She's dead. We never even met her, let alone held her hand.
There are messages in this game. Themes and ideas expressed. There is a lot to say about it in these terms. However, they are largely literary and those to do with the gameplay are debatable at best. "The control scheme is unwieldy because... trying to hold onto a giant flying monster and stab its secret weak spot would be unwieldy in real life! Seriously guys they meant it like that it is art you know." &c. So I ask, is this the direction in which we want to head when it comes to games being art?
7 / 10