Review: Shadow of the Colossus Games | My Reviews 28 AUG 2007

Shadow of the ColossusShadow of the Colossus must be one of the most amazing game experiences that I have ever encountered, as simple as that. Essentially an action/adventure game, Shadow pits you against some of the hugest creatures ever created. The game itself is a spiritual successor to ICO, the award winning 2001 PS2 title, itself a legendary experience amongst gamers, and Shadow of the Colossus acts as a bit of the prequel to the game. The story is very bare bones, revealing little to you and keeping it that way for much of the game. All you know is that a young warrior has brought his fallen love to a faraway temple in the hopes of restoring her to health. According to a mysterious presence that dwells within the sanctuary walls, the only way to save this girl is to hunt down and destroy the 16 colossal beasts that roam the varied lands surrounding the temple.

You are armed with a sword, a bow and have your trusty steed Agro as your only companion in this strange and desolate land. There is no one else, save a few birds and nothing between you and your targets except for the vast landscape making up this land. Shadow’s gameplay basically consists of two parts. You leave the temple in search of the next colossus (under instruction from that disembodied voice), and when you find the beast, you engage it and kill it. Once you’ve slain and absorbed the essence of that colossus, you return to the temple in a dreamlike haze so you can repeat the process all over again. There’s no quantifiable levelling up, and no menial combat to get in the way of each encounter. You’ll fight each colossus in quick succession, and you’ll finish the game in essentially the same state as you began it. Simple, yet very effective and even more engrossing. It is actually quite incredible how this adventure and tale sucks you in, even if it lacks all things pertaining to current adventure/action genre games.

There are some light platforming elements built in, but to be honest they are as simple as the actions that your warrior is capable of in the first place. Everything has a minimalist tone to it, with quality and attention to details overriding quantity here. The real challenge of the game is figuring out how to defeat the colossi, each of which is unique in its own way. Your sword and bow are indispensable tools in the appropriate situations, but your most important weapon against the great beasts is your wits, which you’ll need to use in full to puzzle out the right way to defeat each colossus without being ground under one massive heel after another. This honestly turns the game into more of a puzzle game than anything else, often leaving you quite frustrated when you are unable to figure out just how to beat a particular colossus. That said, there are enough clues and hints given in the game to help you along should you ever stray off to far in the wrong direction.

The battles themselves are something to experience. Frantic and exciting, and not because of you trying to indiscriminately hit things. Each battle has you trying to access the giants weak spots and grabbing hold of any vantage he offers, moving around to try and plunge your sword into a vital spot. The upbeat orchestral score heightens the action and the intensity of the battle, leaving you gripping the controller in a cold sweat.

I must also mention that it is fairly hard to die in the game. As with ICO, Shadow is pretty generous with health and even if you fall off high cliffs, you wont lose more than a chunk of your health (of course, youll have to climb back up the cliff, that being the frustrating part in battling giants as large as skyscrapers). These epic battles do however bring about a sense of moral ambiguity. The colossi are usually not aggressive – rather it is you that are attacking these fantastic creatures. And with every struggling death scene of a dying colossus, you cant help but feel a little sad for them.

Visually, Shadow comes across as absolutely artistically stunning. Muted colours, a soft unsaturated palette and an absolutely huge unbroken landscape engenders a feeling of awe and wonder. It is a detailed world offering all sorts of hills, mountains, forests, rivers, canyons and plains. Everything is lavishly designed and oozes with simplistic character. The character models for the colossi are as equally impressive. They are detailed and animated with the most loving care and truly are wonders of the modern world. Our hero is just as well detailed and animated, but the horse is the real star of the show. Despite being a little tricky to control in the beginning, he looks, and moves, just like… well a real horse. The only slight hassle I noted in this beautiful world is that is sometimes puts a little strain on the PS2 processor, slowing things down a little sometimes, but usually not too noticeable as to detract from the experience.

The game also features one of the best and most cohesive orchestral scores I’ve heard in a game for a long time. Beautiful and melodic, yet strong enough to make you feel the sense of energy and emergency during a battle, the score definitely helps with the whole ambience of the game. The games theme of desolation is further helped by the fact that no music is played during the time that you roam the world. All that supports you are sounds of nature, nothing else.

To sum it all up, Shadow of Colossus is truly a unique and beautiful experience in game playing, particularly to more senior gamers who can appreciate its qualities. The story is short, probably about 10 hours long (obviously if you know how to defeat a Colossus then that figure is far lower) but challenging enough to keep you engrossed for some time. The game is definitely a must play if you can appreciate a slightly more cerebral adventure title to the norm.

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About Craig Lotter

South African software architect and developer at Touchwork. Husband to a cupcake baker and father to two little girls. I don't have time for myself any more.