A fantastic, immersive experience like no other
Before I get started, let’s just consider this scenario.
“Okay guys,I have this new idea! We’ll make a game that’s entirely made out of boss fights!”
“Yeah! Just really awesome bosses!”
“So you just teleport from boss level to boss level and fight them?”
“No! You have to ride to each boss for several minutes from the starting point first!”
“Ah, I see! Any enemies on the way there?”
“Obstacles then! Tough platform challenges?”
“That’s..... nice. Anyway, we’re doing sushi for lunch again?”
I can picture a similar scenario in a lesser studio, where the concept of Shadow Of The Colossus would have been shot down in a heartbeat. However, we’re talking the brainchild of Sony’s (ex) trump card, Fumito Ueda
, who came up with this very idea, and Team Ico went through with it.
And made one of the best games in video game history.
The premise itself is quickly told - you, the young hero, travel with your trusty horse to a place virtually at the end of the Earth, trying to appease the divine forces there to resurrect the girl you love.
You are given a chance to win her life back by defeating 16 colossi. And thus begins your adventure.
Following the light reflected off your sword, you head in a direction in the vast barren land until you encounter the next colossus to battle. The actual fight typically involves climbing up the body of the huge colossus, finding a weak spot and plunging your sword into it until the monster is dead.
This is not easy, given that you can only climb on the furry parts of the beast, that you can only hold on for a certain duration, and given that these giants thrash about like crazy when you start getting on their nerves, forcing you to hold on to your dear life.
Let’s go to those colossi - they are the substance of the game, and they are fantastic. Each one is very distinct in look and behavior, each one requires a different approach. The game will give you just enough clues to figure out what to do without being too easy or too cryptic. Most of them are absolutely huge and intimidating, with the camera placed strategically to emphasize their dimensions.
Paired with that is absolutely gorgeous and atmospheric music, great particle effects and visuals. Every single battle is nothing short of epic, and I mean that in the classic sense of the word.
Even the rides to the bosses I made fun of in my intro are great. While they might appear a bit hollow, gameplay-wise, they’re fantastic to set the scene. You get to experience the vast landscape with swamps, mountains, and sheer drops that appear almost endless. They are complemented by a fantastic soundscape - loud winds in the canyons, roaring waterfalls, and the rustling of leaves in the forest. The graphics themselves have a minimalistic sense to them, as you would expect from Ueda, but they’re by no means ugly. While simple in geometry, they are nonetheless enormous - the plains are spacious in side, the mountains are tall, the dangerous cliffs span miles.
The story, while simple, has a fascinating twist to it that slowly unfolds as you progress. There is no sense of repetition, every fight presents you with a new area, a new nemesis, and a new strategy that you need to find. I don’t want to go into the resolution of the narrative, but it works out great.
There’s really not much that I didn’t like about the game. At best, I can find some trifles to nitpick about. And just to keep this section wordy, I will.
The controls can be a bit tricky sometimes. One of the silliest exercises is trying to mount your horse - you’ll usually spend some time hopping up and down next to your horse while it looks at you with confusion.
This is more of an issue in the short platform sections right before you get to a boss, the worst one being a long ascending walkway over a big lake that forces you to make two jumps at the top, which you’re likely to miss... causing you to plummet down into the water, where you have to slowly swim back to the beginning of the walkway and try again. I think I ended up with some bite marks on my controller.
You think you’re clever and save the game at the top of said walkway? Nah, you can only save at the end of a boss, or at a few save locations sparsely scattered around the world.
I’ll briefly mention the PS3 version - it’s definitely an improvement over the PS2 version, mostly in terms of framerate (the PS2 can get very laggy during boss fights, which is precisely when you don’t need it), although the graphics themselves haven’t been updated much. The textures could have really benefited from a higher resolution. Overall, you could say that the PS2 version is on the upper spectrum of the console’s capabilities, while the PS3 is on the lower end. If given a choice though, you should obviously go for the PS3 version.
The Bottom Line
Shadow of the Colossus is simply stunning. From the intro sequence down, it oozes atmosphere every second. It doesn’t waste time with gameplay fillers like mini-bosses or waves of enemies. Instead, it tells a story and delivers carefully tuned gameplay where it matters.
If there is any doubt as to whether games are art or not, this game should eliminate any possible doubt. It has everything you could possibly ask - fantastic atmosphere, great visuals, a film-like score, solid gameplay, and a touching story.