A towering head above the competition.
Shadow of the Colossus represents a unique approach to the action based role-playing genre, but honestly, it is one that should be used a lot more often. How many titles have we played where leveling up was a requirement? Going to a certain area and tediously acquiring experience just to keep up with the AI is very lame; as is stopping to fight ridiculously boring and meaningless enemies such as skeletons, ogres, and slimes. Once in a while though, a game comes along that tries to break that boundary of repetition. And Shadow of the Colossus is that game. The developers that brought forth the innovative classic Ico have done it again and have presented us with a game that paints a picture unlike any title in the oft-debated genre has done before.
As the game introduces you to the main characters, you can take a guess as to what seems to be the problem. You see a young man and his horse Argo, slowly walking through a massive temple, carrying the body of a lifeless girl. His purpose at this destination is to attempt to revive this woman, who appears to be a lost love. After some discussion with a mysterious spiritual entity, your mission becomes clear, but at the same time perhaps not as clear as you’d like it to be. The voice states that the only way to restore the girl’s soul is to destroy sixteen idols. The idols, statues that lie in the temple, cannot be destroyed by a mere mortal such as yourself. So, take up thy sword young warrior and journey into the land. There you will meet sixteen gigantic creatures known as colossi; kill them all and the ritual will be complete.
Quickly mounting on your horse, you venture out into the vast landscape, and if it isn’t truly a sight to behold. And even though the graphical quality may not be too impressive at first glance, it is the superb art direction that makes Shadow of the Colossus so breathtaking. Lush valleys spread across rolling green hills, windswept deserts, and articulately crafted ruins will all be some of the sights to take in as you progress throughout. Using your sword, you will be able to locate each of the gigantic beasts simply by raising it into the sunlight. As you do so, a luminescent beam will appear and point to the colossus you are currently seeking. And as by tradition, a health and fatigue bar will keep track of your endurance, allotting you a certain amount of acrobatics and sword swings. Yet, this is as close to a traditional action game as you're going to get. From here on out, it is nothing like you have seen before.
You will understand this statement the first time you lay eyes on the colossal beings. These beings, consisting of ancient technology, as well as some living elements, tower over their respective domains. Nearly every single one stands at least ten stories high and will make your warrior feel like an insect in comparison. Whether it be running frantically from a club-wielding giant to soaring thousands of feet up on the back of an angry bird, the colossi are as diverse in appearance as they are in their furious attack patterns. Patterns that you will have to stop with the help of just three things: your bow, your horse, and your sword.
That is what I told myself when I was face to face with the first of the colossi, glaring at the meager amount of resources I had at my disposal. Luckily for our protagonist, each monster has a weakness, and finding this weakness is half the battle.
Now perhaps I can hit his leg with my bow, thus giving me the chance to begin the climb toward the weak point on his head.
Then again, maybe I can circle him with my horse and provoke him to attack my current position. While he is taking the time to recover, I can acrobatically jump from the horse to his leg and weaken him from behind; allowing me to climb up his back-side and begin my attack from there.
The options are seemingly endless and help keep the combat both intense and fluid at the same time. Execution of your predetermined strategy makes up for the other half of the battle and it is the resultant of that plan that will be the difference between his defeat and yours. And believe me when I say that each colossus will not make it easy for you. Regardless if you know the key to beating them or not, each foe will try to keep you away through a series of attacks. Several of which have such force behind them that they can injure or disorient you, even if the attack didn’t hit you directly. The realistic physics and hit detection really make it feel as if you are right alongside these creatures, with an experience furthered with the dual shock option kept on. Accompanying the exhilarating encounters is a brilliantly orchestrated theme that helps complete the dramatic scenario brought about by the “David versus Goliath” esque battle.
If you happen to bypass the offensive barrage then you will have to deal with the trouble of staying on each of the colossi, as they shake violently to get you off. Keeping your grip, all the while watching your fatigue bar, requires a great deal of attention, providing several frustrating moments as well. Just try not to break the controller if you happen to fall off the creature, when you have him at his last few hit points.
So, you’ve downed your first colossus and you’re feeling quite good. Instead of making your way to the next one, take a time out to relax and explore the great outdoors a little. Notice the detail of a sunbeam resting on the forgotten ruins in the forests just north of the temple or the tremendous body of water situated beneath the series of diversely shaped canyons. Another element that sets Shadow of the Colossus apart from the crowd is the quaint feeling of barrenness that encompasses its enormous world. No other soul aside from the main character, his horse, the maiden, the colossi, and the mysterious spirit reside in this peaceful plain, save maybe a handful of birds or reptiles. This means no random thugs or barbarians, no ecto-plasmic blobs, and no pointless mini-bosses. Nothing but you and your primary objective, a situation that truly lets you sink into the role of the character you’re playing. And giving you an incentive to succeed and help the troubled hero accomplish his ultimate goal.
After everything is said and done and you are treated with a brilliant finale, the game opens up a new dimension of play, that being the time attack mode. Thought it was difficult downing the colossi before? Try doing so with a timer in front of you, ticking down second by second, giving you a greater sense of urgency, and providing a manly challenge. The game-play is considerably tougher in this mode and will test the type of gamer that enjoys the combat portions of their particular adventures. This is what makes Shadow of the Colossus so rewarding; catering to a range of gaming styles, while bringing something completely new to the table, that actually seems to work. Such a feat is rarely accomplished and it is what makes this gem seem so much more.
No game though, no matter how great the experience, is without a couple of minor quibbles, and Shadow of the Colossus is no exception. First off, the controls, especially when on the horse, feel a little too loose. Turning corners or attempting to climb up a particular surface will sometimes be troublesome due to the weight you have to apply on the control stick. This becomes a further inconvenience when the camera decides to be stubborn. Though it is not often enough to be looked at as a negative, the views you receive when climbing up the colossi for instance, can make it hard to see what you are doing. Especially since you are pressed for time when hanging on for dear life. Nevertheless, despite a subjective mis-queue or two (that anyone could adjust to with time), Shadow of the Colossus is one of the most error free titles I have ever had the privilege of playing; now if only I could say the same for the other “innovative” titles out there.
In the end, the hardest thing to deal with is in knowing that the game will eventually come to an end. Shadow’s brilliance lies in its desire to be different from any other game out there. Even without a plethora of characters to interact with or additional itemization with which to equip your hero, the game succeeds because it lacks these features. It is as if you have been handed a blank slate, a world to do with as your own, and been given the chance to explore the possibilities as you see fit. From the epic confrontations with the impressive creatures themselves to the tiniest attention to detail, Shadow of the Colossus is far and away one of the best in the action-RPG genre today. Providing a gaming experience I’ve not felt since Ocarina of Time itself.