There is a certain language we too often use around video games, a particular body of criteria and expectations. You could call it the cult of smoothness. This is, I'll admit, more of a characterisation born of years spent trawling forums than it is some kind of scientific appraisal, but glance over the average review comments thread and you might know what I mean. It's the idea that an excellent game is, fundamentally, a game that knows how to get out of your way. This is the language of polish and seamless integration, of beautifully chiming ludic and narrative components, of vast realms in which you are never truly lost, and campaigns that "peak" and "trough" considerately, setting up a tempo of crises and revelations without ever seriously jolting you.
Today is Tom Bramwell's last day at Eurogamer. The former editor-in-chief leaves after nearly 15 years at the company. We're all sad to see him go, but wish him well for the future, whatever it may hold.
Did you enjoy part one? I thought so. Guards! Seize him!
Sony Publisher Sony What the heck is Ico? It's a puzzle game. Some say it's a puzzle-based adventure game, but Ico doesn't strike me as an adventure in the classic sense. The idea is to get from point A to point B, finding a way through for yourself and the frail and completely useless princess Jorda. Endless, Nameless... As far as storyline goes, there is none. There's an incomprehensible language of gibberish, through which you may occasionally spy a semblance of, well, consistency, but for the most part the game just asks you to get Jorda out of the castle and away from her enemies, and it throws as many obstacles as humanly possible into your path to try and prevent this. Irregular combat sections break up the puzzling, but they are mainly there to show off the shadowy nasties that haunt your surroundings. Visually Ico is one of the most spectacular PlayStation 2 games ever envisaged, particularly thanks to its use of light and water. You can find light all over the place, whether it's the sun through the rafters, the flicker of your torch or a reflection on the water, or any of a hundred alternative sources. Ico is a very eerie game, and the light seems to hang there in the air like a peculiar constant. Beyond the lighting the most impressive thing in the game is the animation, because there's just so much of it. The two main characters look reasonable, but it's not until you see them move that your heart really misses a beat. The way they shift their weight and move between objects is absolutely stunning, teaching other designers a lesson in humility. Actions like clambering over a ledge or leaping a huge gap could be confused with live action... Lemmings with a Heart Ico is basically a follow-the-leader puzzle game with some corking visuals. It also has some of the best ambient sound effects in any PlayStation 2 game to date. A gentle musical score underlines sound effects like the babbling of a brook echoing around a roomy cavern, or, my favourite, the voice of our hero calling up to Jorda to follow him. In a room the size of a small air force base, the walls amplify his shrill call to a bellow the likes of which Jorda's noble ilk would find difficult to put up with… The only game I can think of in recent history with the same sort of puzzle structure is Project Eden, and that was ultimately a very depressing game due to big issues with level design and AI. Ico succeeds not because its puzzles are delicate and intelligent, which they are, but because Sony has woven them into an extraordinary whole. Ico is one of the best-looking, best-sounding and most atmospheric games I've ever played. Actually, in terms of atmosphere, it's comparable only to Silent Hill 2, and Ico has more mystique about it. Ico is due out in the first quarter of 2002 in Europe, after an impressive reception in the States. We haven't completed it yet - playing the US version - but game time is estimated at some 10 hours for the uninitiated. The only concern we have is the game's questionable replay value, but as we all know, sometimes a game is so good and conveys such a unique and inimitable experience it can be forgiven for not lasting several months. Ico is almost certainly one of those games. - Ico screenshots