Written by  :  Matt Neuteboom (989)
Written on  :  Dec 13, 2005
Platform  :  PlayStation 2
Rating  :  4.86 Stars4.86 Stars4.86 Stars4.86 Stars4.86 Stars

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Incredible, emotional, artistic, and brilliant. Just a few words that describe Shadow of the Colossus

The Good

I tried to make this review as short as possible, but the truth is that I simply can not. The truth is that this game cannot be summarized with words alone. Despite the fact that I try not to over hype this game, it is not easy to give this game an honorable review without writing multiple pages of paragraphs and paragraphs filled with why this game is so amazing. This game can simply suck you in for hours on end without so much as letting up.

And despite the fact that this game is one of the best I have ever played, I have continually put off writing this review for a while until I think I have contemplated it enough to give it a decent review. I mean that when you think you have covered everything this game offers you, it throws some more stuff at you for you to cover. For this reason, I will be writing one of the longest reviews I have ever written for this game.

But God, where do I start!? I suppose I should start off with the games basic drive. Well to start off, you are a man (the instruction manual says his name is Wander) who is traveling to the far end of the Earth. You are carrying your dead lover Mono, who has been sacrificed because of her cursed fate. You finally reach the end of the Earth, and you meet Dormin, a god-like being who hears your cry for help. Wander pleas to the being for help in bringing back the woman’s soul. Dormin says it is the law of mortals that no soul should be brought back, however, with the sword he possesses it might not be impossible. Despite the warnings of heavy consequences, Wander accepts the challenge of defeating 16 colossi that are scattered across the land. And so the adventure of a lifetime begins.

As soon as you leave the main temple, you are thrust into a rich, detailed world sprawling with secrets and things to uncover, filled with colossi the size of mountains to defeat, and adventures to be had. The world lies before you as you can see literally miles around you. And I do not exaggerate. The world consists of miles and miles of land to explore. Some parts of it are teeming with life, while other parts have become a barren wasteland. You set off with just a horse, an ancient sword, a bow, and the clothes on your back as you fulfill your quest. And it soon becomes obvious that these are the only weapons that you will be getting for the rest of the game.

One thing I would like to point out is what these guys were aiming for: immersion. They made the world as realistic as possible. The made it seem like nothing seemed artificial, that this world they create could possibly exist. There is no RPG system to bog it down, no magic spell casting or stupid upgrade systems where you can buy armor off of a screen. They aimed for realism, and they did it nicely. Nothing seems out of place in this world. The characters are probably some of the most believable characters ever created, and the world flows naturally through sections. There is no loading time to make it seem even more realistic. Okay, maybe giant rock monsters isn’t the most realistic, but my point is that there’s nothing out of place to remind you that this is a video game and some cheap manufactured plastic disc game. And it’s for this reason that it can capture your emotions and your mind so effectively.

The game play is simply unflawed. I don’t think there is any other game like it. You are first thrust into your first colossus battle and it does not skimp on the content. The purpose of the colossus battles is to find its weakness and exploit it. Your adrenaline will rush through you as you scale and slay a hundred foot beast. As you play this battle you need to use all of your resources and your intelligence to overcome such beasts.

The colossus battles are often huge and over the top. Fighting a giant 100-foot colossus is not only fun, but it is dramatic and beautiful in its own way. Not only are these battles epic, but they are packed with action. In order to slay a colossus, you need to climb up it using hair, ledges, and sometimes quick jumping to get to the spot where you can actually slay your foe. Not only this, but the colossi aren’t going to give up that easily. They will resist, sometimes shaking you very violently. Others will turn completely upside down! You know you got a good game when a giant flings you around 100 feet above the ground, as you desperately try to cling on and make it to its head. It’s these types of things that make the game so simply amazing. The game consists of 16 of these epic battles as you continue through on your quest.

As these battles rage on, you can’t just use Rambo moves to take down the colossi. In order to bring them down, you must attack it at a certain weak point, where a symbol is displayed. But first you must figure out how you are going to execute this entire battle. And that’s where some of the beauty of the game is: simply trying to get on these beasts and getting to the weak point. Doing this requires quick thinking. Every colossus has a different way for you to bring it down. For example, you may need hit the colossus in its weak spot, and then get it to fall over and climb up it before it gets up. Or you may need to reach a higher spot and drop down on it as it constantly attacks you. Most of the time, it is a constant combination of both. Between a combination of action and puzzle solving, the colossus battles turn out to be like something no other game has ever been able to do. They are heart-pumping and tough, and it is always necessary to be a quick thinker or else you’re not going to make it through the battle.

But colossus battles are only half of the game. The other part of the game is simply exploring the massive landscape the designers have set up for you. The developers did an amazing job to make this world seem like a living breathing world. Everywhere you go there are always birds flying above you and in every lake there are little fish swimming around. There are no loading times throughout the entire map, even during boss battles and in giant, mile long fields. The landscape is so literally beautiful that when you stand up on top of a mountain and look down, you can see miles around you in all direction. And not only this, almost everything you see is able to be explored.

As well, they have created a diverse landscape filled with forests, lakes, rivers, beaches, plains, canyons, and fields. They do such a great job at creating this, that most of the time you will pass through to a different landscape without even noticing. They blend the world together, that it seems like one giant level rather than being divided up into sections. Unlike the Zelda series, where all the parts of the map are divided up into sections, SotC does a great job of mixing all the areas up to seem like one big realistic world. They made sure that all of the fun wasn’t just fighting colossi over and over again. That would be boring and repetitive. 1/3 of the game is actually getting there and enjoying the landscape. Not to say that getting there isn’t a challenge. Sometimes it is very hard just to find the colossi, let alone kill it.

On top of that, there is no combat to keep you from the next colossus. That’s right. There are no enemies in the game besides the colossi. Even though this may seem like a bad thing, it is in fact one of the best things they chose to do. Menial in-between combat would seem trivial compared to the colossal battles waiting for you. Not only would enemies distract from colossus battles, but it would distract from the landscape and atmosphere. It would take away time for you to just ride in bliss and take in the landscape. Imagine taking a car ride through a picturesque landscape of rolling hills and castles. You could take in the tranquility and sereneness of the area. It feels like there isn’t a person for miles around. You are heading to your favorite sporting event, [insert favorite sporting event here]. It is the biggest game of the year. Then all of a sudden you arrive at a 10 minute traffic jam. Not only this, but these traffic jams happen almost every 5 minutes, and all look exactly the same. This is what putting enemies in the game would do. It would mar down the fun factor, as well as this, they would seem trivial to put in compared to the boss battles that await you. Plus it would take away from the atmosphere of this land that seems so devoid of life. Enemies would just destroy the illusion of immersion.

The storyline of the game is like that of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It does not need words or dialogue to stop you from truly appreciating the story. It uses mood and atmosphere to tell most of the story. Instead of having to talk and go on long monologues to develop the story, the developers used the character’s actions and facial expressions and the atmosphere to paint a story. Through action alone we can come to conclusions and the nature of the scene. An example of this is how they paint the scene of the over world. It is populated by some trees; however there are barely any animals save for some small land mammals and birds. And then there are areas of the map which are literally paradises while other parts are cold and desolate and devoid of life. The game doesn’t tell you how the land has come to this but we can draw our own conclusions.

Furthermore, it does the same for characters. Characters aren’t the plain 2D cardboard people we are used to seeing in series like The Legend of Zelda and Mario and Resident Evil. The hero is all that “heroic”, the damsel in distress is far from being in “distress”, the evil guy isn’t all that “evil”. In fact, they aren’t clichés at all. They all have depth and persona behind them which we can observe through their actions rather through their words. In fact, sometimes the sides of good and evil are skewed. Rather than there being a defined good and evil, there are just people and a conflict, with no definite side of good and evil. Through this beautiful narration we see that all of the characters have depth. They all have things which motivate them, and they all have personalities through their actions, not words.

Even the colossi aren’t the cliché dungeon bosses that we are used to. All of the colossi carry with them a majestic feel. As if they really were filled with life. It feels like they really are intelligent and thinking creatures. As if they really had emotions like anger and passiveness. All of the colossi have a unique character to them. Some are slow, some are incredibly fast, some are big, and some are small. Some are aggressive, while others are passive, some are angry, while others at peace. Some will attack you head on, while others will flat out ignore you. It is far from the cardboard cutout enemies like other games. When you defeat them, it feels like a god is falling from its power. These enemies have personality. Every one is unique, and as a result, are a vital contribution to the game.

Shadow of the Colossus can do all of this without using dialogue. Shadow of the Colossus can paint these images of characters and story without having to use long monologues or having characters talk to themselves. And when they use feelings and atmosphere to convey a story that is when the player will put his or her feelings and emotions into this game. That is the beauty of this game. It pulls peoples feelings from deep inside them and puts them into the story. It is in fact one of the most immersive stories I have ever played because of this.

The graphics are some of the best I have seen on the PS2. And let’s face it. The PS2 has never been the console of choice for graphics. If anything, the PC sports better graphics than any system. But this game is a true exception. Every hair on the backs of the colossi is animated and flows with the wind. Every tiny crack on every surface is a polygon all its own. Not only that, but the game has no loading times between anything, making a truly magnificent display of landscape and textures. The game has a beautiful way of making textures. Everything seems real when you look at it. The water actually looks real with everything that touches create a magnificent ripple on the surface. The animations, especially on characters, are some of the most realistic I’ve seen on the PS2. The animations on the horse are especially realistic.

The lighting effects of this game are simply astounding. Because light is a key factor in the game play, the designers needed to make the lighting effects high quality. It is pure bliss when you see the sunlight pouring through the pillars in the temple, or the shadows the landscape creates. When every leaf on a tree is a polygon, when every hair on the colossus is animated, when the lighting effects rival that of the movies, and when you can see miles around you without any graphical slipups or cutting anything out, you know the graphics are good. I am not kidding when I say that the graphics must be seen to be believed.

The amount of detail the developers also put into the game needs to definitely be noted here as well. For example, at the beginning of the game, you are clean and perfect. By the end of the game, you are beat up and dirty simply from the physical and mental anguish of battling the colossi over and over again. And also, the opening sequences are all done with the games game play engine, so cut scenes are not intrusive and flow seamlessly in and out of the game. A lot of detail was put into this game just to make it seem realistic and immersive.

While I do admit the graphics are great, it is probably out shined in the sound department. The sound is both epic and dramatic. It is perfect during any scene. While you are battling a colossus it is tense and fierce. When you finally get on top of the colossus, it becomes like Lord of the Rings or Indiana Jones, with epic and heroic music chiming in. And when the colossus finally topples over, it becomes dramatic and somber. When you see one of these colossi falling over, it is almost as if a god was falling from its power, and the musical score that accompanies it is flawless.

Ambiance really adds some atmosphere to the game. On your long trips to the colossi, it really adds something to the atmosphere of the game to hear what you’re expecting from the scene. Like in a rich lake filled with wildlife you will hear some soft splashing of waves and birds chirping, while on the cold cracked plains you will hear nothing but the cold wind and some hawks overhead. Truly it only serves to add to the atmosphere of the scene, whatever that scene may be.

The voice acting is good, despite the fact that it isn’t in our language. I believe they truly could have screwed up here, but accents are done fairly nicely. Voices match the lips of characters well, and are well matched for their character. Echoing seems to be done pretty well with voices. But like I said before, this game isn’t built upon dialogue so voice-acting needn’t be a huge deal here. But like I said, it was good but not a real contributor.

The controls are nice and tight for Wanda. You use R1 to hold onto everything and use square to stab anything and everything. This really adds a good feeling of “being there”, because as you press down on the R1 button, it really feels like your grabbing onto something. The square button is used for the sword, which also makes you feel there because you get that satisfying feeling when you jam down on the button; it feels like you really are doing the stabbing. Other than that do have to admit the controls are pretty much unremarkable.

And lastly, this game will keep you coming back for more. Even the 2nd time around, I still had found tons of things to do. An example of this is the time trial mode, where you can play any colossus over any amount of times you want. As well as this, it allows you to unlock cool stuff like a cloak that makes you invisible. There also some cool collectibles to find in the over world, but I strongly recommend that you beat the game before you attempt to collect these, lest you take away from the fun the first time around. I also noticed that I had yet to explore a good 1/3 of the map, or more or less failed to take a good look around and enjoy the scenery. So undoubtedly this game has plenty of replay value, as well as content, innovative game play, and a great storyline and atmosphere.

The Bad

Well I did notice some minor errors in Shadow of the Colossus which seemed like some minor annoyances rather than huge disasters.

First and foremost, I did not like the horse controls. You have to continually keep tapping X just for the horse to maintain a top-speed, which in my honest opinion isn’t all that fast. As soon as you stop tapping X the horse begins to slow down which is a true annoyance. Most of the time you won’t actually even notice you tapping X, but occasionally it becomes way too obvious. An example of this is when you run into a wall. Your horse completely comes to a complete halt, and you have to tap X a million and one times just to get it back up and running. Also, the horse has no stop. Pulling back on the reins makes it slow down, but it takes a good 10-15 seconds for it to come to a complete stop. Sometimes it is just better to run into a wall or jump completely off. In fact, most time you will just jump off the horse and let it run off.

And despite the fact that the horse was well-animated, its AI seemed stupid at times. Sometimes it will completely veer off course and stagger into a rock. As well, sometimes I will jump off of a 10 foot cliff and then all off a sudden it won’t slide down a 30 degree slope. Also, shooting your bow off the horse is similar to Zelda, in that you have to get your horse on a straight away, aim the bow, fire, and when you’re done change weapons and speed up again. Also, the horse will not go fast at all in a narrow space. For example on a thin land bridge he will walk slower than a turtle with its legs chopped off. The horse also has some trouble in forested areas due to his problems with veering off course.

The game also has a few minor graphical hiccups. The opening cut scene can sometimes have some choppy graphics. Also, sometimes some textures don’t fill in (the area will remain completely black). However you will be pleased to know that I have never experienced a slowdown, and never once has it frozen on me. So it is nice to know that even though these do occur, they are few and far between.

The last point I would like to show you is not a fault of the designers at all. It’s just sometimes these types of games are not for all gamers. As I stated before, 1/3 of this game is just taking in the landscape. It is a beautiful thing and needs to be enjoyed and savored. But that is just not for some gamers. The times in between exploring the landscape will seem like down-time in between colossal battles. Also, the lack of enemies, though it was a good move, will simply bore the Hell out of some people.

Truthfully I could see how it could bore someone. When you look at it from a technical standpoint, its pretty much just get to colossi, kill it, and repeat the process over again until all 16 are defeated. But when you look at it in a bigger perspective, it is much more complicated than that. The world is filled with more things to do than kill colossi, but some gamers will not see this and that is why it probably won’t entertain them much. This is why I recommend you rent it before paying full price for this game.

The Bottom Line

Here is my complete recommendation for this game:

Clear out an entire day. Do whatever it takes just to get a good solid day free for just you. No one else needs you that day. If necessary, disconnect the phones or set it in a place where it won’t bother you and turn on the answering machine. Bring your PS2 to the biggest TV in your house, especially on in high def to bring out the colors and contrast. Surround sound is brilliant, but optional. Block out all natural light sources with blankets or shades or whatever. Grab some good snacks and drinks, snuggle under your favorite blanket on a great, comfy chair and turn out the lights. I can assure you this game will suck you into it for hours.

This game is something that needs to be played to be felt. Words alone cannot describe how immersive it is. How everything feels real and nothing is out of place. How the world is so majestic and the storyline compelling. How everything clicks and nothing seems artificial or intrusive just to make the game seem better. How it will suck you in from start to finish without letting go. This is the world of Shadow of the Colossus.