If I had to sum up Shadow of the Colossus in a single word, that word would be “Epic”, not in the watered-down overused schoolyard form of it, but in the true sense of the word.
With its European release only in 2006, already quite far into the PS2’s lifecycle, I never got to play SOTC during its original run. This was due to my own console cracking under the strain of pure gaming awesomeness that my older brother and I had brought down upon it in years previous. Thankfully owing to Japanese developer Team Ico’s own delays on their next project and the likely and inevitable need for funding, the HD rerelease SOTC and it predecessor Ico, made it to PS3 in 2011 giving me a another chance at giving it a go.
Essentially a David vs. Goliath struggle in game form, half the beauty of SOTC exists in the restraint of the storytelling. Deliberately light on characters and dialog, the story follows the journey of a lone warrior named Wander and his faithful steed Agro as they traverse a forsaken and forbidden land in the quest to restore the life of a young maiden. The large gaps in the story paint the events of the game as just one small part of a much bigger tale that is left to the players’ imagination.
The only enemies come in the form of the titular colossi, ancient behemoths that are almost whole levels in themselves. Each colossus must be sought out through the use of Wander’s magical light reflecting sword as he travels the vast and empty world on horseback or by using his acrobatic skills. Each colossus must be killed by attacking their hidden weak spot which is found by scaling the creatures’ massive bodies as they lumber across the countryside, dive under the water or fly through the air. Every colossus requires a unique strategy to beat and the final stab that brings the towering creatures down gives you such a great feeling of might in the face of staggering adversity.
SOTC was, in my opinion, a game way ahead of its time. Although it does suffer from some slight frame rate issues at certain frantic points of the game, the character animations and the use of camera angles have moments of tremendous smoothness and subtlety that were unseen on anything else in that console generation. Watching the way as Wander swings around like a flea as he clings to the giant colossi , or the way the camera zooms and sweeps as Wander and Agro gallop across the plains, all enforce the feeling of scale that is so important to the game.
The game world is for the most part empty and one can’t help but feel a sense of loneliness and sacrifice as Wander goes about his selfless quest. The tale is a sad and tender one right up to its gloomy conclusion that should haunt players long after they’re done playing. Sadly Team Ico completely missed the PS3 with the development of their next title, The Last Guardian, which has faded from the public eye. One can only hope that if the title does ever see the light of day, it’ll be able to deliver on the same emotional level as SOTC.
I have a special place in my heart for games like SOTC, those that not only dare to be different but also push the envelope in the games as art debate. It’s a shame that something so beautiful will probably go unplayed by many mainstream gamers who will acknowledge its existence but overlook it in favour of explosions and gun battles, to date I’m the only person I know whose ever played it. It’s more The Lord of the Rings than Harry Potter (the books not the films), but for me that’s just fine.
Did you enjoy Shadow of the Colussus? Can games be art? Drop me a comment and let me know what you think.