Release Date: October 18, 2005
The preview build of Shadow of the Colossus starts with an introductory scene spliced together from what I imagine will be in-game cinema footage in the final product. The music here is absolutely breathtaking; it sounds very Lord of the Rings, with lots of haunting choir work and sweeping string arrangements. The intro scene looks nice enough, but it's not until the playable portion of the preview build that things look truly breathtaking…and let me tell you, they are very breathtaking.
Everything in the game has a light bloom effect to it, as if it's been painted with a thin coat of white paint, lending a dream-like quality to the endless plains and cyclopean ruins that make up the environment. In the beginning of the build, we find ourselves inside a huge cathedral-looking structure, made out of white stone. Soft light shines in through windows, and in front of us, on an altar, lies a girl wearing a white dress. The build doesn't explain who she is, or what her role is in the game, but the whole scene is highly reminiscent of the work of artist Alan Lee.
It's here that one of the most stunning features of the game is revealed. The right analogue stick rotates the camera. Yes, that's the most stunning feature of the game because you see, when the direction of the camera is rotated in this manner, the entire background blurs dramatically as if it's speeding by at hundreds of miles per hour. Resident Evil 4 may have pioneered the first truly interactive cinema, but just moving the right analogue stick in Shadow of the Colossus gives the whole game an instant burst of cinematic energy and makes even mundane tasks seem exciting. No, you don't need to rotate the camera while you jump between cliffs, but hell if it won't be the most stylish and cinematic cliff-jumping you've ever seen if you do.
Complementing the already fantastic graphics and sublime camera blurring technique is the superb animation for the main character of the game. Just watching our hero jump is a sight to behold; every effort was obviously made to make him look like he's really using every last ounce to strength to leap, and when he hits the ground after making such a leap, he stumbles, and we're not quite sure if he'll keep his footing. Our hero's fighting animation also feels incredibly natural, staying just a little unpolished as he slashes and rolls, his sword momentarily leaving a blurry black trail in the air whenever he attacks.
At this point in the preview build, when we're standing in the huge cathedral-like structure, there is no music, only the sound of an ominous disembodied voice speaking to us in an unknown language from time to time. When this voice speaks, subtitles appear on the screen, giving us vague instructions.
When we've spent a sufficient amount of time getting used to the controls and playing with the camera, we're ready to explore the vast plains outside of the building. Of course, these plains would take a long time to traverse if we didn't have a faithful steed, and again, it's obvious that the horse was made to act like a real horse. Pulling on the reins too hard, or trying to turn sharply, will only agitate the steed, but once we do get a feel for controlling the horse, it feels very natural and easy. In no time at all, we'll have our nameless hero standing on top of the horse, shooting arrows with ease.
Eventually, we find a cliff area that's made to teach us how to jump and climb. It's not particularly tough, but it does show off the nearly flawless control of the game, as well as the wonderful camera system.
At the top of the cliff, awaits the last section of the build, a fight with a colossus from the game's title. The thing that's most apparent from the beginning of the battle is how huge the colossus really is. The main character is the size of one of its toenails, so the thought of fighting this thing seems almost insane. When the colossus walks, the earth shakes, and our character struggles to keep his balance. If we see the colossus getting ready to swing his giant club, we might start running away from it, and possibly even think we're out of its range, only to be smashed into the ground by the great club. As I said before, the sense of size and power that the colossus emits is awesome.
Everything we've seen and done previously really comes together once we figure out a way take down the giant monster. There is more than one way to do it, but I chose to have the hero jump and cling to the tangled mass of fur that covers the colossus' leg. Just running towards the colossus feels epic and exhilarating, and it's here that the aforementioned camera panning technique really shines and adds an element of cinematic style to the whole affair.
Once the hero actually has a firm grasp on the leg of the colossus (which can be hard, as it's always trying to shake him off), a charge attack can be performed. The character animation here is incredible; it looks like the character is completely exhausted as he sloppily plunges his sword into the colossus' ankle, letting loose a primal scream. This blow causes gouts of black blood to spurt from the wound, and the colossus will fall to one knee momentarily, allowing us to climb higher, stabbing as we go.
Once we finally reach the head of the colossus, it only takes three or four more stabs to make it drop, the geysers of blood pouring from its dying body absorbed into our character, and he falls unconscious, and the build is now over. I felt kind of sad and regretful that I had just killed the colossus, as the preview code doesn't give away the reason why we have to kill it in the first place.
We're treated to one more video montage that showcases the myriad colossi that we'll be able to fight in the retail version of the game. Now, I know I'm supposed to stay sort of neutral when writing game previews, but when this game is released next week, buy it. If you like action platformers, buy it; if you like inventive graphics, buy it; and if you just like good games in general, buy it.
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