Shadow of the Colossus Reader Review
That's not randomly chosen hyperbole, spectacular is the most appropriate word for the game. While it possesses the sort of a constantly spooled, seamless and immense game world PS2 owners first got to properly experience with GTA: San Andreas, any comparisons can stop right there. Shadow of the Colossus takes the sparse beauty and isolation of its much loved predecessor and expands it to a vast landscape. Even more so than Ico, Colossus is a place to be and to admire as much as it is a game to play.
At first it can feel empty, some have gone as far as to call it barren; the gamers' instinct to jump off Agro's back and search crevices for hidden items can leave you strangely unsettled when nothing is there to be found. Except for a few fruit or honeycombs that can be shot down with your bow and arrow, and shrine-crawling lizards you can kill and eat, traditional item hunting will leave you empty handed, and, initially, feeling empty somewhere else you can't quite put your finger on.
But as your ordeal progresses the business of dispatching each successive giant will consume you. Pauses to take in the scenery becoming a contemplative respite from long rides across the silent expanses (I'd better keep this to a minimum in case the New Games Journalism pixies get me). And as your foes become more violent and unforgiving, initial guilt at this seemingly senseless slaughter will fade, as will some of your doubts about the motives of the disembodied voice that urges you on.
On the down side, with comparisons to Ico being unavoidable, Agro is not as soulful a companion as Yorda was. Sometimes, after a hard ride I'd call him over to share the fruit I'd shot down from a tree, but he never took a bite. He wouldn't drink when I happened across a stream or small lake I'd decided to dally at. I guess it's true what they say about leading a horse to water. Every so often, as I was running around waving my sword or climbing trees, I found myself wishing he'd chew some grass, or just sate his thirst once in a while. I would still pat him in quiet moments though, and he'd dip his head in appreciation.
Mention of gameplay has been left so late because that is really restricted to the battles themselves. You ride, you fight. Apart from two particularly small and savage beasts, you couldn't call these killings "combat". It's literally a mountain to climb... and stab bits of. Some Colossi I look forward to taking on again, others were deeply frustrating, a couple were even forgettable. However, these encounters were usually fraught, desperate, and tactical, showing that boss battles needn't be the cliched tedium that can still ruin otherwise good games (fighting Solidus Snake at the end of MGS2 being one of my least favourite game experiences of the 21st century). Personally I've always hated boss battles, so a game composed of little else should have been my worst nightmare, but the originality with which these have been crafted has prevented them doing any damage to the dreamlike qualities the bleached vistas leave imprinted on the mind. Other developers should take note and raise their game accordingly. Maybe this could signal the end of bad boss battles? Yes, probably not.
Those looking for Ico 2 won't find it in Shadow of the Colossus, but anyone who wants to know how good a boss battle can be if it's done properly, or anyone looking for a place of quiet solitude to hang out for a while should slap this in their slot and take it for a ride.
9 / 10