Shadow of the Colossus – a review

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A young wanderer travels to a forsaken castle to enlist the help of a creature to restore his lost love to life. A bargain struck, he travels across the desolate landscape to find and slay the sixteen creatures that stand between him and saving his companion. The Colossi are huge, deadly opponents, but Wanderer must defeat them all before the Riders who follow him can catch up. Unfortunately, if you want to bring someone back from the dead there is always a high price to pay…

Shadow of the Colossus is an utterly unique, utterly compelling game with a very simple principle. Easy to pick up, it can take hours to master. By the makers of Ico, another classic PS2 game, Shadow of the Colossus takes place in the same world.

Graphically this game is stunning. The detail on the landscape, and the washed out but realistic earth tones is incredible. The movements of the horse and his master, and the colossi are excellently modelled, and each is imbued with a unique character. Agro, the horse, definitely has his own personality expressed in movement and reaction and acts as a companion in the desolate landscape, as well as transport. The sound fits the game and the voice acting (in the language made up for Ico) expresses emotions accurately. The game is subtitled throughout and this creates a slightly foreign feeling which works for the game.

The other overwhelming feeling in the game is solitude. Wanderer and Agro are virtually the only living things in the landscape, certainly the only people, and it shows. The quests to locate and kill each colossus take progressively longer, giving you a view of a range of desolate terrain and an increasing awareness of being utterly alone.

As befits their name, the colossi are huge. The entire game revolves around their design, and each presents new and unique challenges. The attention to detail in their build is incredible, and the sense of threat they present is very real. The first monster you encounter is entirely stunning in scale and design, its foot filling the entire screen.

The gameplay revolves around locating each colossus, then climbing and manoveruing around it to find its weak points and eventually slay it. The display on the screen is very simple – a grip meter that shows how long you can hold on for, and a health bar. If you run out of grip you will fall, which can be a long drop. Wanderer is equipped with a sword, bow and his trusty steed Agro, and will need to choose the best way to defeat each monster. Locating the colossus purely by reflected sunlight takes time and can be rather difficult – without Agro it would take hours to cover that amount of ground.

Replay value is high, as there are a few subgames in the game which players must discover for themselves. Completing the game unlocks varies modes, new equipment and new challenges, for example Time trial, or the sword from Ico. These modes add additional challenges to defeating each colossus and may require completely new approaches.

The background story is sparsely shown throughout the game, in three short clips, and then the game kicks back to defeating the Colossi. In practice the game’s story is more about Wanderer alone in the barren landscape than about the background and cut sequences. The ending is touching and rather sad, but also slightly confusing, unless you are familiar with Ico.

Overall this is an excellent game. It is unique in concept and graphic design and has a stunning look and feel. However it may not be suitable for those looking for a quick or easy game, nor for people without patience since it can take over 30 minutes to track down a colossus. It also requires precise positioning, and several parts of the story may be distressing for younger gamers, for example I found one decidedly upsetting and I am not that young. However for older gamers, graphic art fans, or those looking for a unique game this is definitely worth playing. It has been out for a while and may be available on budget or pre-owned. If so, it is definitely worth getting.

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