A True Masterpiece
Simply awe inspiring, but in a completely different way. This isn't going to wow you with ultra-realistic character models like Half-Life 2, but what Shadow of the Colossus does do is present a game of immaculate art design and animation. Without being the best graphics ever seen, the game is simply beautiful. The architecture mixed with an unsaturated color palette create an elegant other-worldly vibe to the game which is great. The draw distance is astounding which creates a believable world as you explore. The best part though is that the wow factor never gets old. Every time you find a new colossus, and the cutscene (which is always in real-time) shows him charging out or slowly standing up, you'll find yourself stunned and murmuring "Oh shit...". They aren't joking when they call these things colossi. The sense of scale is amazing. Also, there are no load times throughout your adventure. The world covers lakes, forests, caves, deserts and everything else imaginable, yet as you ride your horse throughout, you will never have to wait thanks to the streaming technology within the game. The only negative I can muster is that the camera isn't perfect. Overall, while not the sharpest graphics, this is one of the most stunningly beautiful games ever seen.
Shadow of the Colossus successfully blends many genres together with its gameplay and ends up being one of the most original experiences in gaming in a long time. As you set out into the world, it's just you, your horse, and your trusty sword and bow. At no point are you killing giant rats or spiders. You do not gain experience. You do not earn new skills. You do not upgrade your weapons. It's you and the quest to save the girl. While this may sound overly simplistic and empty in terms of content, nothing could be further from the truth. The game has a pure feel to its approach on the adventure genre. Your sword has a magical affinity that allows you to reflect sunlight into a beam of light. This is not a weapon, but a tool to help you find the next beast to slay. Also, once you find the colossus, you can use light to find his weak spot. Each colossus you find is an enormous walking puzzle. Some of them are 100 times your size, but as you avoid their massive attacks, you must be figuring out how to take them down. What this usually entails is somehow climbing onto the colossus and scaling him in search of the weak points. Of course, they don't like you climbing all over them, so they will constantly shake and try to buck you off. This is where the grip meter comes in. You can only hang onto ledges, hair, armor, etc for a certain amount of time before you will fall. So it's a constant pressure cooker as you try to stay on board. There are some platforming elements in the adventure, which fans of ICO will recognize, but for the most part it's all about the puzzle elements of the colossi themselves. While each enemy basically boils down to finding their weak point and stabbing them repeatedly, it truly is a lot more than that. The repsonsiveness of the controls in the platforming elements could've been better, but overall the adventurous gameplay is excellent.
All of the voice over work remains in its original Japanese, which a welcome feature. It adds to the other-worldly nature of the game for the North American audience. The rest of the game's sound while subtle in every way are perfect. The music is excellent and fits the style of the game and sets the mood perfectly for every situation.
Due to the nature of the game, it is rather short. Figuring out how to defeat each colossus is the bulk of the game. Using a spoiler would ruin Shadow of the Colossus more than any other game. Although you can probably complete it in around 10 hours, they do offer some new modes once you beat it, including a higher difficulty and a time attack. I feel like this is a game that you will return to down the road, not for a challenge since you'll know how to defeat each of the 16 colossi, but for the experience. It's just that unique and memorable that you'll want to come back to it six months or a year from now.
Like I said before, it's hard to convey clearly how good this game is without completely ruining it for those who haven't played any of it yet. It is an easily spoiled game since it relies so heavily on the puzzle of each colossus. Just know that you have never played anything like this game, and you owe it to yourself to play it. The sense of wonder will bring you back to a simpler time in gaming. Throughout the game you will constantly have moments where you just stop your horse and stare at the world in awe. Shadow of the Colossus will vividly remain in the minds of those who give the game a chance.
*** This review was written for Flamevault.com shortly after the game's release. ***