Shadow of the Colossus

Gamestyle Archive Intro: a game that has grown over the years in stature. That’s Ico and the follow up which Usman reviews here with much praise. I’ll have to return to Colossus, after Ico I was expecting something else; such was the impact of the original. This review dates from late 2005 being an import version.

Sotc_boxart

Everyone remembers the pre-release hype surrounding the PS2 all those years ago, with buzzwords like ‘Emotion Engine’ ringing somewhat hollow for the first generation of games – well, all except for one: Ico. Its setting, graphical style and atmosphere made it more akin to a work of art than a game. In fact, it was one of those titles where Gamestyle would just stop playing to zoom out the camera and let out a long sigh (a reaction not dissimilar to gazing upon the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo or Da Vinci’s The Last Supper).

Shadow of the Colossus is no less breathtaking; if anything, it’s more so. Imagine taking your PS2 controller to the National Gallery and plugging it into any painting – because each scene and location is like a masterpiece come to life, thanks in no small part to the wonderful animation of your horse and the living architecture of temples, ruins and fortresses. And we haven’t even touched upon the Colossi – true giants that inhabit this landscape. Indeed, their appearance makes Shadow of the Colossus one of the most technically astounding games of this generation. It’s hard to describe the impact they have when you first lay eyes upon them; because it’s not just their overwhelming size, it’s their presence. So much so that when you carry out the main premise of the game (ie, to seek out and destroy these Colossi), each one feels like an epic conquest.

First you’ll stand in awe, just observing them in bewilderment, before realising that these creatures are coming towards you – sensing you’re a threat and driven to eliminate you before you do the same to them. It’s such an overpowering joy being so small, having to evade something so big and seemingly invincible, needing to hunt for their weaknesses; their Achilles heel. The strange thing is you’ll never feel like killing a Colossus out of desire, only out of compulsion (because you need to in order to progress). They come across as a greatly-endangered species, and each time one is taken down it feels like a sin. (And a little bit of Gamestyle’s heart crumbled with every creature’s defeat.) But therein lies Shadow’s strength. It’s essentially a game about riding though barren lands on horseback while fighting enormous bosses – that’s all, and there’s no denying that.

However, it achieves this in such an entrancing and delightful manner that it feels like more; a feeling that Gamestyle has yet to experience in any other game. In fact, Shadow of the Colossus breaks the mould, and calling it a ‘game’ feels like an insult. In fact, for the very first time, the ‘Emotion Engine’ could be justified – because that’s what makes Shadow special, its transparent yet subtle impact upon your senses. For instance, the soundtrack only plays in stereo, but it is so beautiful and captivating that it doesn’t need a surround mode.

The visual beauty, as has already been suggested, is a sight to behold even when viewed through a composite lens – and is actually quite a feat considering the ageing PS2 hardware. Further, in spite of the fact that it features a complimentary widescreen and progressive scan mode (in the NTSC version), Shadow of the Colossus’ normal display output manages to mock the whole hoo-ha about high definition gaming being essential for taking things to the next level, such is the subtle artistry.

For ten magical hours (which is roughly how long the game – er, ‘transformation’ – will last), it is an eye-opener as to what can be achieved with the interactive medium (well, apart from ultra-sharp resolutions of the same old thing). It manages to enlarge its scope from being something which entertains on a functional level to becoming something that emits enchantment and appreciation on a purely ’emotional’ level. Welcome to the next real dimension of the gaming world; welcome to Shadow of the Colossus.

Gamestyle Score: 9/10

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