Release Date: October 18, 2005
Buy 'SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS': PlayStation 2
It's hard not to get caught up in the hype and expectations of a highly publicized release, especially when its creators have a significant achievement or two on their track record. When information began to surface about a follow-up from the creators of Ico, the ears of many gamers and members of the media perked. Throughout the course of development, the game took on other names (Nico and Wanda and the Colossus), and of course, finally rested upon the moniker, Shadow of the Colossus. Despite some notable technical drawbacks, the final product is one of the most engrossing titles of the year, and is a sure buy for anyone looking for a unique, albeit short, experience.
There isn't too much in the way of text in SotC; however, the graphically-driven storyline is still intriguing, and as deep as your ability to ponder. The game begins with a series of cut scenes displaying a young man (your character) on a horse, with a girl that is apparently deceased. After traversing various landscapes, you cross an enormous stone bridge that leads to a massive temple. In this temple, you lay the girl on an altar in hopes of bringing her back to life. A booming voice speaking in a different tongue comes from above, that basically says in order to bring her back, you must slay 16 colossi … but beware of the consequences.
Now, some may argue that SotC doesn't really have a storyline. It does, but not in a traditional sense. As you progress and take down these colossi, you begin to ponder why you're doing what you're doing. After all, who are you, some insignificant creature, to wake these ancient monsters and exterminate them? Are you being manipulated by the voice from above? Isn't it selfish to slay these colossi that have been here for all time, just so you don't have to mourn your lost love? The fact that there is so little text that tells you how the story "should" be lets you explore different concepts in your own mind. The story does come to somewhat of a conclusion, but still leaves you with a few things about which you can theorize.
SotC may remind you of a few different games as you play it. Tomb Raider and Prince of Persia come to mind, mainly because of some of the platforming aspects and ancient stone locales. Some influences from predecessor Ico can also be found, both visually and control-wise. However, notable similarities to other games pretty much end there. There are 16 colossi that you must locate and defeat, with no other enemies to stand in your way. It's just boss after boss. The game is linear, in the sense that each colossus is encountered in a predetermined order, but it's up to you to explore the world of SotC however you like. The landscape is massive, with tons of nooks and crannies to examine. Your adventure will lead you through forests, barren wastelands, ancient temples, deep canyons and even through water. Luckily, you have a rapid companion in your horse, Agro, who helps you get from point A to point B.
Locating colossi is managed by using a special sword. By lifting the sword high, it reflects sunbeams that reveal location of the next colossus. As you turn the sword in the direction of the foe, beams of light become more focused, directing you to the colossus. The catch is that this only works when you're in an area with sufficient sunlight. Because of various landscape obstacles such as mountains, canyons and caves, you can almost never take a straight shot at the location of colossi. This also gives you the opportunity to explore the vast landscapes.
Once you reach a colossus, you're treated with a cut scene of the beast rousing, and you get a true sense of just how huge these things are. Colossi shapes aren't limited to humanoid figures; each one has its own distinct form. You'll find huge winged creatures of the sky, water-dwellers, and various four-legged beasts, among others. They vary in size, from moderately gigantic to inspiringly goliath. Not only does each of them have a distinct appearance, but thanks to some well-thought A.I., each one also claims its own personality. Some will charge at you mindlessly like a bull, and some will be much more methodic, peeking into recesses to find you as you run and hide.
Prepare to be amazed by the size, variety and personality of the colossi, because if you salivate too much, you'll be tossed around. Each colossus is a brainteaser, and all of them are defeated by different means. The colossi all have weak spots, and your goal is to find these weak spots and run them through with your sword or pierce them with arrows. Environments are often utilized to defeat your enemies, whether you're hiding in a cranny to draw a curious colossus closer or jumping from pillar to pillar, causing a crazed colossus to destroy the environment around it. The colossi themselves are puzzles as well. You have to find ways to coax a colossus into leaving an opening, so you can crawl all over the creature and have your way with it. Finding out exactly how to take down a colossus is exhilarating and requires patience.
Not all is completely well in the land of colossi, as the game is blemished by some notable technical issues. The control can be imprecise at some inopportune times, such as when you're crawling all over a colossus. In addition to your sword, you have a bow and arrow, which brings up a bead and zooms in for you to aim. Unfortunately, every time you draw the bow, it resets to a direction that often you don't intend, and you have to re-aim. The imprecise controls are compounded by a camera that insists on pointing wherever it wants to. Depending on the position of the camera, your directional scheme will shift, causing you to jump or crawl in the wrong direction. Finally, because of the massive visual scope of the game, the framerate chugs along roughly and sometimes causes disorientation. These are serious issues, for sure, and would likely be the death knell for lesser games. However, rest assured that it will become easy to look beyond the technical shortcomings as you adapt to these character flaws.
SotC is also a testament to the fact that games don't need to be 30-40 hours long to be worth playing. You can get through the game the first time in around a mere 10 hours. Because of how fun and engrossing this game is, you may yearn for more colossi to slay. Fortunately at the end of the game, you're treated to a lengthy and fascinating ending that brings a small amount of closure. Also, a hard mode is unlocked, along with some other goodies that increase the replay value just a bit.
The visuals are at times awe-inspiring. Sure, there are frequent framerate issues, but the sheer magnitude of the landscape and especially the colossi outweigh the problems. Your character isn't really highly detailed, but something about the style just seems to fit. The colossi, on the other hand, are rendered meticulously, with realistic hair and fur along with stone armor. Lead artist Fumito Ueda said that he based the design of the colossi on buildings and industrial objects, and this design angle works to great effect. Another thing that SotC absolutely nails is the perception of the size of the foes. A lot of other games have featured huge robots or creatures, but few games if any have really captured the magnitude of a character quite like this game has.
On the audio front, you can expect extraordinary orchestral tracks by Japanese composer Koi Otani. The music is used sparingly, only during dramatic moments. For example, the music changes to a quicker, more lively pace as you close in on a colossus' weak spot, intensifying the moment. Sound effects are also well done and really capture the magnitude of the game. Ground-dwelling colossi stomp thunderously, and heavy-blowing winds add to the anxiety of grasping onto a colossus in flight. The sound overall is very well textured with subtle nuances throughout.
SotC delivers on a true sense of adventure, and it also makes you think. Trying to avoid gushing about this game really is difficult, because it truly is an experience. There are some technical issues in the framerate, camera and control areas that hold it back from being completely unblemished. Nevertheless, it will likely give you goosebumps with its cinematics and rousing musical score, and it often amazes with the excellent sense of size. It's not Ico 2, but rather a highly memorable title on its own merits.
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