It is refreshing to see a game released that actually surpasses the potential that was assumed during its pre-launch hype. Sony Computer Entertainment grants PlayStation 2 owners Shadow of the Colossus, a third person, action adventure (you know, one that’s actually creative). Weird, huh? Since its initial release, the game has even incited heavy debates on the very definition of art itself. But should it really be called a masterpiece? Is it even enjoyable?
Gameplay - 9
The gamer plays as Wander who (along with his trusty steed Agro), must defeat 16 colossi in order to resurrect lost love Mono in accordance with an agreement with the enigmatic spirit, Dormin. It is the gamer’s job to take down every unique giant by frequently using those problem solving skills that were hopefully learned in junior high. First and foremost, players have to traverse the forests, lakes, caves and valleys of the forbidden land in order to get to one colossus using their magic sword as a compass and their horse Agro as transport. The travels can range from 5 minutes to 2 hours since the land itself is quite large, seemingly going on forever. This is good because it allows players the time to perfect actions with Agro’s sometimes erratic controls. Gamers can fire arrows while riding, aim their magical sword in the intended direction and even ride while standing on Argo’s back. This can be bad because too often the player can wander off course due to initial readings of their sword, camera alignment, and again, Agro’s sometimes erratic controls. Though it’s wise to use the sword periodically, I often found myself lost and wandering through deserts when I needed to be at a lake. Though a tad frustrating, the gamer can check their map in order to backtrack.
The land itself is useful as well, allowing for many save points, stat boosting opportunities to hunt animals, and even the freedom to re-battle fallen colossi. But, gamers itching for any kind of fight will have to travel some distance before arriving at the enemy.
These gaps in between, although allowing for anticipation of upcoming fights, would have been great opportunities for Sony Entertainment to have placed other kinds of beasts (besides ankle high lizards) for gamers to fight. Even a “surprise colossus” or two would have added to the experience. Though this could have taken away from graphical elements of the game (explained below), there are times when players will dive off of cliffs just to reset the game at the temple’s starting point in order to search again. Basically while searching, something exciting to do would have been nice.
The most engrossing part of the game, of course, is when fighting a colossus. Each menacing goliath has a weakness that the gamer must quickly exploit. However, not all of these weak spots are easy to find which is where the true brilliance of this title lies. Players must constantly use their brains in order to force down the monoliths, an effort that could take hours. After first finding a way to climb these walking mountains (which in itself is a task), gamers have to stab the enemy’s weakness and hold on for dear life using the R1 button as the colossus shakes, stomps and rears in pain before they try again (if they haven’t fallen off). Did I mention that sometimes the horse gets in on the action? While some are easier than others, most colossi won’t take a beating from some 5 foot runt with a sword so nicely. Each battle is well thought out and epic in its own right; however the camera could be more cooperative.
It is sometimes difficult to negotiate with the camera when it swings the gamer between a colossus, its armpit and a hard place, especially during critical moments. Each battle spotlights a colossus’ strengths and personality, making it necessary for players to keep an eye on what their opponent is doing before making a move. The battles are so massive that they no longer remain as mere boss battles, but become exciting adventures and escapades.
Sound - 9
It’s strange to realize how much sound plays such a heavy role in entertainment nowadays. Take for instance the high score for sound that you see above. How does a game score a 9 when in fact 70% of the game lacks any soundtrack altogether? The player rides on Agro through the forbidden lands solely to the sound of the wind, the call of eagles or the rapid clip clopping of Agro’s hooves. The statement before clearly noted, SOTC uses a simple method of anticipation, allowing players a sense of ease as they traverse the bumpy terrain. The sound effect symphony consisting of colossal head butts, thunder stomps, energy blasts, explosions and epic music is one of the biggest strengths of this game.
For example, the Geyser Turtle Colossus is one of my favorites. Everything is silent. The gamer nears a cave shrouded in the deepest of shadows. The colossus awakens, stomping forward and snarling as the adventure music starts up. Nearly every crack and grinding of its mountainous hide can be heard as it advances. When the player finds a way to knock over the colossus, the music goes silent again… right before hitting its height as the mighty brute hits the ground and quakes the area. It’s all about presentation and Sony Entertainment hits the mark with sound synchronization scenarios like this. The one drawback is the silence while traveling just to get to the colossus. Though the ambience prepares the player mentally for their next battle, it gets a little borihearing Agro’s neighing as the only audio until players reach their objective.
Graphics - 8
Believability is SOTC’s greatest strength and greatest weakness. Gamers will find the world surrounding them is gorgeous, full of soft light and dust particle effects. Seeing Wander being blown away by energy blasts is glorious thanks to the rag doll effect, allowing for wind and gravity to take their physical toll on the character model. The colossi themselves are the most convincing elements of the game. The amount of fur and rock texture on these giants is astounding and considering the PlayStation 2’s age, it’s amazing how each colossus is unique in every way, as if each has its own history. And when you gamers actually take one down, prepare to feel like a total tool because they all die in the most sad and undeserving of ways. However, since the game runs so much information all at once, the frame rate stutters in various points, especially during a colossus fight.
The game lives and breathes off of the concept of creating an epic story. Everything from crevices, trees, birds and tiny lizards to the skies, rock formations, cloud effects, textures, lighting effects and colossi are simultaneously running in real time. It is a miracle the PS2 doesn’t explode when the opening sequence starts. Even when players are riding with Agro, textures will pop up out of nowhere, creating an obstacle that they’ll abruptly have to ride around. I stupidly found myself asking, “Where’d this wall come from?” more times than necessary.
It is also mentionable that the fog effect coupled with lighting will sometimes blind the gamer from seeing their goal. They can raise the majestic sword to cut the intensity a bit but they still have to steer Agro through the “still loading” landscapes. Realism may have been the intended objective but some separation of environments could have helped the game run more smoothly. Fade-outs and fade-ins of area entrances and exits could have been accomplished seamlessly while still retaining the cinematic feel of the game. Though the idea here was to create one continuous journey without breaking or cutting fromcamera often, the PS2 can only handle so much at one time. Instead the journey, though gorgeous and very convincing, can seem sporadic and uneven as opposed to continuous.
In a nutshell…
It is a rarity to find a game that immerses the gamer so dramatically as SOTC. Each colossus battle can seem like a fight for sheer survival with the great music and sound added to the highly detailed (though spastic) graphics. It is unfortunate the director himself doesn’t consider this to be a work of art (he hired Concept ARTists, ART directors and animators right?). But art is in the eye of the beholder anyway, isn’t it? And, imagine what another installment could look like on the PS3, running smoothly with all the detail and action displayed at once. But even with its flaws, the game lives up to being as captivating as it is ambitious. Though not a masterpiece, it is indeed a work of art.
It’s like $20 now. Get it.