Unique and thoroughly satisfying adventure from the makers of ICO.
Originally written on January 8, 2006.
Shadow of the Colossus is unlike any other game I have played. It has elements of other games but the main focus is something entirely unique. A game where the only real objective is to defeat sixteen humongous creatures called colossi in some of the most fantastic boss battles ever conceived. There are no minor enemies or dungeons in the game, just a massive overworld environment, a huge temple, which serves as a headquarters, and a boy and his horse.
You play as a young man known only as Wander (or the Wanderer) who arrives at the temple with his horse Argo and a dead girl. The Wanderer is willing to do anything to bring the girl back to life so he makes a deal with a mysterious spirit known as Dormin, who orders him to defeat the sixteen Colossi that are scattered throughout the world in exchange for the girl’s resurrection. You agree and set off to bring down all of the creatures.
Each battle with a colossus is almost an entirely unique experience, other then the fact that each has one or more weak spot located on their body and you will have to do a bunch of climbing and stabbing in each battle. The main challenge in the game is simply figuring out how to go about defeating each one which usually involves finding it’s weak points or devising a plan as to how to get on top of it. Most of the colossi are literally hundreds of times bigger then you are so it is quite an experience to take on these monstrosities. The colossi come in a variety of forms. Some fly, some swim and others simply lumber around on two or four legs. Each battle takes place in a unique part of the environment so it never feels repetitive or boring as you continue through the game.
The game’s graphics are really fantastic considering they are being produced by the aging PS2. The massive world streams in seamlessly as you travel and the size of some of the geographical features and buildings are truly awe-inspiring. Occasionally it becomes quite apparent that the game is struggling to load the environment as you charge through it on horseback but its still pretty impressive. The game also boasts some fantastic water and lighting effects that really add to how immersive the environment is.
The battles with the colossi are where the game looks its best. The colossi look great and animate really well. As was also true of ICO, the character animations of the player- controlled character are really fantastic. The animations are entirely credible, adding a realistic element of clumsiness as your character struggles to hang on to a colossus as it shakes violently in an effort to halt your attack. The climbing looks great, as does the horseback riding. It all seems somewhat realistic yet in a surreal way, which really gives the game a unique feel. Unfortunately, the game’s frame rate occasionally slows down but the developers cleverly devised a blurring effect that really hides the hitch-ups quite nicely. Personally, I think other critics have been overly hard on the frame rate in this game. It never detracts from the experience in any serious way.
The sound in the game is also top-notch though it may not always be apparent. The game actually utilizes silence quite effectively. Unless you are battling a colossus, there is no music whatsoever which really adds to the feeling that you are alone in a strange, forbidden wasteland with no one but your horse to keep you company. This is definitely to the game’s credit. When there is music, however, it is really epic and definitely adds to the battles. The theme that plays when you successfully mount a colossus is very memorable and really adds to the moment. There is little voice acting in the game but what is there is in an entirely fictional language much like that spoken in ICO. This adds to the fairy-tale feel of the game and works quite well. The various roars and grunts of the colossi are very well done and definitely sound organic and dangerous at the same time.
What may discourage some people from buying this game is its length. Since it is essentially a series of boss battles it removes much of the filler seen in other games and its length definitely reflects that. It took me about 8 and a half hours the first time through though there is tons of incentive to replay it at least once. Beating the game unlocks a harder difficulty setting, which not only increases the amount of damage you take but also adds more points you need to attack on each colossus. There is also a time attack mode that is made available which is where the real challenge lies, especially on hard mode. You are given a limited time to defeat each colossus, which can be quite the challenge, especially with some of the trickier colossi. Playing the time attack mode also unlocks additional weapons and items, which makes playing through the main game again more interesting then it normally would be.
Overall, Shadow of the Colossus is one of the most unique and truly inspired games to appear on the Playstation 2 or any other console, for that matter. It successfully combines a simple yet interesting story with some unique and varied boss battles resulting in a game that must be experienced by all. If you like adventure games such as ICO, Prince of Persia or even the Zelda games then definitely pick this one up