Shadow of the Colossus Reader Review
I've been spending some time thinking about how to write this introduction but nothing seem fair. I am myself a game developer and I was so stricken by this game that trying to put into words just what about it was so good was the only way I could get some sleep. As a fan of the prequel Ico I had been longing for a sequel ever since I escaped the castle.
The packaging of Shadow of the Colossus show a giant creature with a young man on a horse in the foreground. As you enter the world of SOTC you're following an eagle swooping down through a ravine to a young man on a horse. The horse is moving slowly as if weighed down by something and the camera shows the mans journey and how he enters a hidden valley and a shrine at the end of a long bridge.
The man has brought a girl on the horse and as he places her on the altar a story is told to you by a masked figure about the curse of this shrine. The man then makes a deal with the being of the shrine, the being who has the power to revive creatures made of light.
The being tells the man to hunt 16 colossi and bring them down.
And the hunt begins.
The question of why?
As you're sent on your way to hunt these colossi you are introduced to the basic controls and how the sword functions as your guiding light and your horse as your way of getting to your destination.
After an introductory acrobatics explanation you come upon the first colossus and the music ramps up and you start your hunt using your bow and arrow to get the attention of the giant creature.
You're nothing but a bug to the giant and your attempts to scale him merely annoy. After a number of attempts you realize what you must do to bring the giant down and bring your sword into the giants leg to make him kneel and then you climb up onto the platforms on the giants back. As you're climbing the back of the giant it shakes violently to throw you off but you're hanging on for your life and finally reach the head to bring your sword in for the kill.
As the game progresses you start to hesitate if this really is such a good idea, the colossi seem to be peaceful creatures that don't seem to do any harm and as you are returned to the shrine after each kill another shadow creature stand waiting for you in the shrine.
The mechanics of a game
You're the man on the horse left in this huge valley with nothing but small lizards and an eagle to keep you company. As you're riding through the valley the sky changes from clear blue to a brown dustfilled haze to a dark brooding sky with thunder and rain rushing down. The music is appropriately dynamic to handle the mood and gives you a feeling of harmony that then changes to a wild ride as you're on the back of a colossus.
The designers has decided that just like in Ico to give the companion of the hero a life of his own. The horse Agro will only be steered by the reins and while he appreciates your efforts he wont try to jump to his doom or gallop into walls and instead avoids them automatically or stops with a loud complaint. You learn to leave Agro to steer himself and merely hold down the X-button as you ride over the native bridges of rock that curve from left to right.
They also decided just like Ico where you could hold a button down to hold onto the helpless Yorda you can now hold R1 to hold onto the colossi that you're climbing. You'll learn to love this button and you'll learn to keep an eye on important hud-icon which is a step away from the nonintrusive approach that the team followed in Ico. A circular meter shows the amount of grip and a little bar shows the life left in the man. As you release your grip the meter charges and as you hold it slowly decreases.
The climbing of the colossi is the challenge and this is where the game differentiates itself from Ico. The challenge is dynamic and violent, while the challenge requires thought and every colossus is different from the last there is always a sense of urgency and always a furious battle against the colossus. In Ico the puzzles were mainly static and you could carefully evaluate where and what you would have to do to progress further in your escape. In SOTC the challenge is finding how to progress in solving the dynamic challenge and doing so while trying to hang on.
You'll feel a great sense of accomplishment after figuring out what needs to be done and the game rewards you with equally impressive scenes of the colossi falling to its doom after usually long and brutal fights that could last up to an hour the first time through.
What makes it so good
The designers have created a world so vivid and alive that it's quite astounding to realize just how empty it his. You're there on your horse in this massive landscape and there really is noone else but you and the colossi and you never know what to expect behind the next hill until you ride all the way there.
This sense of loneliness and regret is something not many games have achieved and it's something even books and movies have trouble resonating to an audience. Presenting these feelings can in a way be more successful than through any other medium as the user will experience it firsthand. He will move around and he will of his own volition attack these lumbering giants and climb all the way to their heads and shove his sword into them.
It is one of the first signs that games can and should be appreciated in just as high regard as works of art in film or books.
What doesnt make it perfect
The technical limitations of a 6 year old console and the ambitions of a team who wanted so much. As the game is perfectly playable it also shows the age of the console with a limited framerate and a noticeable lack of textures, while not necessary the world could easily have been given even more life with a little bit more memory.
Also the game suffer from severe camera problems where the player will, if he doesnt do what the game wants him to do, end up in situations where the camera cannot cope. When the game require precision in certain acrobatics and the camera works against the player frustration more than any other feeling shines through and you're more than likely to need a break before coming back to the game.
But then why is this required gaming?
Shadow of the Colossus is the perfect example of what more game designers should do with sequels. To not be afraid to change the way the game is played and to want to explore their storyline and still retain that feeling or style that their prequel might have had.
This is what next-gen gaming should strive for and hopefully exceed.
If they dont, what will we have to look forward to?
10 / 10