|The colossi dwarf anything you've seen before in a game|
Shadow of the Colossus is the follow up to PS2 classic Ico. Ico was one of those games that defined a system, like Doom on the PC or Halo on the Xbox, and rightly so; the game was truly something special. Shadow of the Colossus - out this past week state-side - is technically not a sequel, but it does take place in that same mythical universe, and follows a near identical look and art style.
It also fucking blows Ico out the water, and although not due in Europe for months, I just can't keep myself contained over this game. Behold these bullet-points for the full low-down;
Shadow is Brilliant in its Design Simplicity
There really is very little to this game. Controls are pretty basic, there's barely a hud and the total in-game dialogue is probably less than a page in all. Instead Colossus plays out in eerie, wordless silence for the most part, while you carry out your refreshingly simple objective and nothing else. What is that objective? You must slay 16 colossi.
These range from troll like beasts, to underwater monsters, to flying dragon things. And that is literally it. There's no henchmen to wade through, no evil rats to kill, no collectibles, no power-ups, no mini-games and no levelling up. The entire game is simply you versus 16 creatures of immense power.
Of course, you have to find them first...
It Has the Biggest Enemies of All Time
Did I not mention? These colossi are freakin' huge! Some hundreds and hundreds of feet tall! Battles subsequently become ridiculously under balanced David vs. Goliath style confrontations that put more traditional boss battles to shame. In fact they are so damn big that climbing and jumping around on their bodies in search of weak spots are - quite literally - entire levels in and of themselves.
Imagine Prince of Persia, except those platforms you're jumping around and shimmying along are in fact small rivets on the armour of a humungous living, breathing creature...one buckling like crazy and simultaneously trying like hell to throw you off.
|I was so blown away by some of these fights, I even video taped one and posted it in the forums|
There's a strong puzzle element involved due to this, for instance one (absolutely massive) walking colossus can only be scaled by waiting him for him to pound you to death with his club (which alone is about the size of a bus), before diving out of the way and finally clinging onto the side of said club during the few seconds it's buried in the ground.
These are genuine mano a mano showdowns too; there's little use of the environment most of the time, so when you drop that 50 story giant, you do it by the power of your sword.
The tactics and skills differ from boss to boss; some you'll need to scale, some you'll need to pop arrows at and some "high flyers" will - at the risk of minor spoilers - require you jump on board their wings as they swoop down to the ground.
The kineticism and ferocity of these battles are so stunning you literally can't believe what you're seeing half the time. More importantly, you can't believe you're in control of it all. You just know the scope and size of this thing is impressive when it starts dating every single thing you saw in Lord of the Rings.
At the end of the day, this game significantly raises the bar of both what's capable, and what we should expect from boss fights...if not games in general. I'm sorry, but it renders pretty much all previous and more traditional "end of level" battles redundant. Even Resi 4's.
The World is Magnificent
|SotC' gameworld is vivid, gorgeous and bizarrely eerie. Yes, it looks that good|
The boss battles are stunning, epic struggles that can easily last over an hour, but the other primary selling point of this game is the travelling between
those battles. This travelling - or more to the point, exploring - takes up a significant portion of the game, and provides some much needed calmness before the storm.
You know what though? Such segments were some of the greatest parts for me, and it's all down to this incredible world. Shadow's universe looks so god damn stunning...so picture perfect...so real...one has to ask why a PS2 is succeeding where most MMOs so regularly fail? Why is this most ancient of consoles conjuring up a world that the average PC could only dream of?
The universe is one of beauty, but also one of solitude. It's an immaculately presented place just ripe for screenshots...yet at the same time showing you some of the prettier sights would spoil 'em for you.
It's the Purest Example of Gaming as Art
|There is visual flair to this game we've never come close to seeing before|
With that in mind, Colossus comes across as something you look at, just as much as play. I don't mean that in the Metal Gear Solid sense of watching hours upon hours of dreadful cut-scenes, I mean it literally stops you dead in your tracks to stop and stare at the amazing sites all around you. You could frame this game and put it on a wall.
Whether it be the relaxing intro with its panoramic vistas (which at first I couldn't discern from CGI), or the miles of mammoth countryside, epic mountains and misty forests, the sites are quite clearly not the work of number crunching programmers, but true artists, talents and visionaries.
This thing just feels so god damn huge
, it really is the most epic game I've ever laid eyes on. Those endless views that reach as far as the eye can see, can all be reached and seen up close, and with best of all, no load screens whatsoever.
There's no villages to be seen here, and very little sign of life in general, instead SotC is all about exploring the cusp of civilisation. It all adds up to create this incredibly vast sensation of space and size, that's just as pretty as it is humongous.
Never before has a game married art and interactive entertainment in such a memorising way. Calling it a "video game" feels derogatory.
Shadow is One of the Best Sounding Games Ever
From the first haunting string onwards, it has you. True, there's very little sound other than the music, with not much more than the ominous wind keeping you company on your travels, but it all adds to the amazing atmosphere that this game conjures up, and more to the point, it works so freaking well
Ico used a similar technique of unnerving silence as its primary soundtrack, and it similarly works wonders here. Still, when that music does kick in (usually during the fights), it just supersedes all but the very best film scores. Even better, it pleasingly alters as the battles progress.
Remarkable, and affecting.
It's an Oddly Emotional Experience
|Your horse runs the risk of being misunderstood by many. This is no Warthog you drive around, it's a living creature|
This isn't done through traditional means for the most part either, Shadow is emotional by the sheer force of its atmosphere alone. More specifically, there's an odd sadness that runs through this game. With few signs of life and stretches of the land often appearing dead and barren, there's an oddly apocalyptic feeling to the whole thing that I've just never felt in a game before.
You also feel twinges of guilt from downing some of these colossi, who although immense beings of sheer force, aren't portrayed as particularly evil, and are pretty much just minding their own business until you come along (one even sleeping).
You also become overly attached to your horse, Agro. He's the closest thing you have to a friend backing you up in this haunted world, and his animation and overall look are so realistic as to border on creepy.
Riding your horse doesn't handle perfectly by any means, but I say this positively. It's not like driving a car, it's like, well...riding a horse. He's sloppy, slow to turn and takes a bit of a kick to get going, but the game captures that rickety high speed feeling of being up in a saddle perfectly. He genuinely feels like a living creature too, buckling at cliff edges, running off when scared and even leading you around by himself at times.
He is arguably the best implementation of a pet that I've seen in a game - if you can call him that - and I only wish he was used in the boss battles to a greater extent. Instead, he tends to sit the fights out (or run around screaming).
This is Dig's Fave PS2 Game By a Long Mile
Yeah, I talk some smack about the PS2 from time to time, but credit where credit's due, because this game is an excuse for every single person reading this to import an American machine immediately.
I don't care if you hate the PS2, hate all consoles or just hate games in general. A PlayStation can be picked up for under 100 sheets these days, and it's easily worth it for Colossus. It's gonna be a long wait for a PAL release...don't put yourself through that.
As I said, this is no mere game...it's art.
And Yet, It's a Missed Opportunity
|Would a PC incarnation of Colossus blow this one away? We'll never know...|
Look, colossus literally pulls off feats with the PS2 that aren't possible. I have no idea how, but here's a game that renders miles upon miles of terrain with full screen motion blur, depth of field, stunning particle effects and HDR lighting that puts even Day of Defeat to shame. We've never seen all this stuff piled on together on any
system, let alone one five years old.
So I just wonder...what if these magicians of game creation known as Sony were using a more powerful machine at its core? Wouldn't this miracle of miracles be even better? To get so much out of a machine with so little...well it just boggles the mind what they could have pulled off without those restrictions.
Driving this point home more are some technical niggles here, such as choppy frame-rates, some horrible jaggies, the odd bit of pop-up, plus the fact your strangely androgynous warrior can often appear jerky. To be completely honest though, these are all oddly invisible problems; the unanimous beauty of the game - both visually and figuratively - literally mask any such shortcomings. It's a truly odd phenomenon.
One thing's for sure, when we see these chaps developing on PS3 hardware...forget about it. I'm on the edge of my fucking seat.
This Could Well Be the Game of the Year
I shit ye not.