Shadow of the Colossus
Release Date: 10/18/05
I think it’s fairly safe to say that Fumito Udea is not your stereotypical video game concept creator. In September of 2001, his first brainchild, Ico, was unleashed stateside onto the PS2, and received critical acclaim for its beautiful graphics and superb presentation, but was poorly received by the gaming public. Now, four years later, his newest creation, Shadow of the Colossus, has sent the gaming media into a frenzy of hype and lamentation. Fans of Ico are declaring SotC the single greatest video game ever made, game magazines are already declaring it the most underrated game of 2005, and all sorts of hyperbole about the game’s wonderful presentation and style is being spouted by people who haven’t even played it yet. None of this, unfortunately, answers the one question I’ve been asking since the announcement of SotC: is it any good?
Now, I know this isn’t exactly a popular opinion amongst video gamers in general, but it must be said that Ico, for all of its beautiful graphics and amazing presentation, was somewhat lacking in playability and length. And, logically, it would not be unreasonable to assume that SotC might possibly have similar flaws. That said, the idea of hunting down giant monstrosities had me intrigued from the get-go, so I sat down with the game the first chance I could and tore into the religious experience everyone was proclaiming SotC to be.
The story of SotC is surprisingly simple: The protagonist brings a dead girl to a temple on forbidden land in the hopes of bringing her back to life. The god that calls the temple home informs the main character that if he wishes to resurrect the girl, he must slay sixteen massive beasts, called Colossi, that reside throughout the area, and without a second thought, he agrees. So, armed with a sword, a bow, his horse, and a hit list, he travels out into the countryside to destroy the Colossi.
The concept is nothing new, but the execution brings the story beyond its simple premise. The game offers little direct exposition or explanation, but manages through simple things to convey everything you really need to know. You won’t be told what the relationship between the main character and the dead girl is, for example, but you understand from his actions that he loves her in some way, which really tells you everything you need to know. The cutscenes that play after you’ve killed each Colossus, while they feature no real dialogue or explanations, do a great deal to convey the tone of the events. In fact, there is virtually no meaningful dialogue here; except for at the beginning and end of the game, almost all of the actual dialogue occurs when the disembodied voice of god informs the character of his next task. In the case of this game, the “simple is better” philosophy works well, but it probably won’t appeal to people that desire more exposition and less inference.
Story Rating: 7/10
SotC is, without question, one of the most beautiful video games ever made. The sun-bleached visual style that was seen in Ico makes a return here, and while SotC lacks the constant darkness of Ico that made this effect so artistically amazing, it is certainly no less pretty. The game world is massive, and each area is highly detailed and visually pleasing. Birds flying by, grass rippling under the breeze, and other bits of attention to detail exist for no other purpose than to convey a sense of life in an otherwise empty land.
Of course, the game isn’t really about the environment, but thankfully, the character models deliver the goods too. Your character’s animations are fluid, and many of his actions convey the idea that he’s doing this because he must, not because he’s good at it, which adds to the experience. The Colossi, of course, are the real stars here, and each is as well detailed as the last. Many of the Colossi, as well as certain other aspects of the game, show a rather distinct Incan or Mayan influence, from their totem pole faces to the angles and patterns engraved onto their bodies. When you enter into your third battle and find yourself staring at a beast that’s something like seven screens tall, with all sorts of intricate bodily cracks and bits of armor mounted on his body, that’s when you’ll realize exactly how amazing the visuals in this game truly are.
The graphics aren’t without fault, however. There are several points where you will see hills and valleys re-texture map as you approach them. Also, when in fights with the Colossi, there will be occasional bits of slowdown, though not enough to hurt the gameplay. Beyond these minor issues, this is quite possibly the most beautiful game on the PS2, and I can’t imagine anyone getting anything more impressive out of the system at this point.
Graphics Rating: 9/10
The game music, when playing, is all heavily fantasy oriented orchestral fare that is both powerful and very well suited to the game. You won’t hear it when you’re randomly riding around looking for Colossi, but when you face one down, the music kicks in, and changes appropriately depending on the situation. The sound effects are also very well done, especially the noises the Colossi make, which sound appropriately scary and monstrous. There’s some voice acting in the game as well, and while it’s all in a gibberish language made up for this game, the voice acting conveys the appropriate emotions when expected. Overall, the attention paid to the aural aspect of the game shows well, and even if you don’t find it amazing, you certainly won’t find fault with it.
Sound Rating: 9/10
While the graphics and sounds more than fulfill the promise of a quality game experience, the controls leave a little something to be desired. Aside from the usual attack and jump commands you’d expect, you have a separate grab button, which allows you to, obviously, grab onto things. While this is understandable, as you need to use this button to hang onto the Colossi as they try to throw you off, it makes the frequent jumping puzzles a bit more unwieldy than they would otherwise be. There are also some very mild collision detection issues, most noticeably when you are trying to mount your horse and simply find yourself jumping around at random. And speaking of the horse, the gameplay elements of horseback riding are designed to be very realistic. Realistic, unfortunately, does not translate to easy to use, and there will be several occasions where you will find yourself fighting with the horse to try and turn or accelerate as quickly as you’d like.
You will also spend a fair amount of time fighting with the camera, though this is understandable when you realize that most of the monsters you’re facing are usually three or four screens tall. One of the most noticeable camera problems, however, has nothing to do with the massive creature size. When a Colossus draws near to you, the camera feels the need to take the creature in completely, regardless of whatever you might have been doing at the moment. This is severely annoying when you’re trying to line up a jump or run in an entirely different direction from the thing the camera is stuck on, but you can learn to deal with it. Other camera problems, like the camera getting stuck on landscape or the Colossi on occasion, are more frustrating, but happen less frequently.
Assuming you can get over these issues, of course, the actual gameplay here is highly entertaining. Each of the Colossi has a specific way in which they must be taken down, and it’s up to you to figure it out. The game does offer up the occasional oblique hint, but otherwise, you’re on your own. This is to the game’s benefit, though; figuring out just how to take down one of the Colossi with no assistance is a satisfying feeling, second only to watching one collapse after you deliver the deathblow. Unfortunately, it seems the game is centered more on discovering a weakness than killing things dead… combat usually boils down to hanging onto a Colossus for dear life, sticking it with your sword when able, then repeating. Injury isn’t of much consequence, either; your life meter will refill gradually over time, so you won’t usually find yourself on death’s door. You do have a limited amount of time you can hold onto a beast, which does make things more interesting, but grip is easily replenished, and should you fall off of a Colossus, it’s easy enough to get back on.
Control/Gameplay Rating: 6/10
After completing the game for the first time, you’re offered a time attack mode, a hard mode, and a hard time attack mode. Hard mode allows you to carry your stats over after each completion, thus allowing you to build your character up to even higher grip and health levels. The two time attack modes allow you to unlock new items, equipment, and weapons that all have different and interesting effects. Unfortunately, once you’ve figured out how to best the Colossi, that’s half of the experience, so once you’ve figured out what to do to beat each one, there’s much less of a reason to go back and beat them again.
Replayability Rating: 6/10
Each of the Colossi provides an interesting and different challenge, with each being more difficult than the last. The challenge here is determining what must be done to defeat the creatures, and the game does a good job of balancing out the difficulty of the puzzles as you progress through the game. Once you’ve figured out how to hurt them, though, killing the Colossi tends to be a simple affair, and it was rare that I saw the character die.
Balance Rating: 7/10
The idea of hunting down giant monsters and slaughtering them is certainly nothing new, but the actual implementation of the idea in SotC is highly original. It’s unlikely that you’ve seen anything quite like this before. The only game that SotC could claim as an inspiration would be, obviously, Ico, but beyond the art style and control scheme, they’re radically different experiences. If you’re looking for something that’s not quite like anything you’ve ever seen, look no further.
Originality Rating: 9/10
Once you’ve gotten the hang of the game, you’ll find it very hard to tear yourself away. The desire to defeat just one more Colossus, combined with the exhilaration of seeing each new Colossus the game throws at you, proves to be a very addictive combination. The fact that there are also new and different locations to travel to each time you play, each with new and different secrets and Colossi, will have you hooked from the first time you play until you’ve slayed the final Colossus.
Addictiveness Rating: 8/10
9. APPEAL FACTOR
Sadly, the only people that SotC is going to appeal to are most likely the same people that bought Ico. The unconventional premise and design of the game will scare off casual gamers, and anyone who dislikes “games as art” will be staying far away from this. Fans of the fantasy genre and Lord of the Rings fans might give this a second look, but otherwise, this game most likely won’t be a major seller.
Appeal Rating: 4/10
I would like to note that, at two separate points in the game, I experienced game-ending glitches. During the battle with the seventh Colossus, I simply glitched out of the game world, fell into empty space, then died for no reason. Also, during the battle with the fourteenth Colossus, as it was running around the map, it got stuck against a pillar, and nothing I did could dislodge it. In the former case, I was allowed to simply start the battle over, but in the latter case I had to reset the console entirely. Game breaking glitches like this really sour the game, and while it is possible you’ll never encounter any problems like this, it’s something that needs to be mentioned.
Miscellaneous Rating: 3/10
Overall Score: 6.8/10
FINAL SCORE: 7.0 (GOOD).
Short Attention Span Summary
Shadow of the Colossus, while far and away a superior experience to Ico, still shares a lot of the problems that kept Ico from being a true classic. If you can get past the control issues, you’ll find a lot to love here while it lasts. Unfortunately, for some people, that may be too much to ask.