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"Pick on someone your own size, you big bully!..."
on 23 March 2006
Shadow of the Colossus is the second game to come from Sony's Studio 1, the same team responsible for 2001's cult hit ICO. Whilst the jury is still to whether this is a sequel or a prequel to ICO, it can be seen as its spiritual successor as both games share a similar style, theme and control dynamic.
SOTC begins with a cut scene portraying the journey of Wanda, our main character, on the back of his sturdy steed Agro. The landscape Wanda must traverse is flanked by deep chasms, towering mountains, he passes through a dense forest which gives way to reveal a expansive bridge, leading to a lofty shrine in the middle of an ancient cursed land. In the shrine we discover that Wanda is not the only burden that Agro has had to bear. He also carries the body of a girl, Mono, who has a 'cursed fate' as she has been sacrificed for unknown reasons. Wanda takes the lifeless body of Mono and lays her on an altar. We discover that Wanda has travelled to these cursed lands after stealing the body of Mono and a powerful 'ancient sword' in an attempt to restore Mono to life. What stands in Wanda's path to his objective are 16 giant creatures scattered throughout the capacious land: The Colossi.
At this point control is handed over and Wanda sets out with Agro, guided by his magic sword to find his first Colossus. These huge lumbering beasts are the main attraction in this game. Most totally dwarf Wanda, and the prospect of attempting to take them down armed only with a sword and a bow is an intimidating one. But Wanda does have other tricks up his sleeve; At times the environment can be utilised, and Agro can also be an essential companion in your fight. The Colossi take on many forms, most are bipedal, some are aerial, and a couple of battles take place in water. They are armoured creatures, some bear weapons and they will normally attack you on sight. Each of the Colossi have a different weakness and each battle generally involves trying to find ways to climb onto the Colossus, and then searching that weakness. After each battle Wanda becomes infused with the dark wraith-like essence of the Colossus and is transported by to the central shrine, ready to set out again to search for another Behemoth.
Visually the SOTC is an amazing achievement. The character models of the Colossi are well rendered and animated, but probably the most amazing achievement is the landscape that provides the backdrop for Wanda's quest. The area of the wastelands is enormous with a draw distance that stretches as far as the virtual eye can see. The look and animation of Wanda and Agro are also very fluid and realistic and they somehow invokes memories of the original Prince of Persia. The general pallet of the game is subdued, with washed out greens and browns providing most of the spectrum. There are also some pretty neat light glare and heat haze effects. But this is on the PS2, it is 5 year old technology and the strains are starting to show. Textures can appear flat and lacking in detail up close, and at times the frame rate can suffer as the PS2 tries to keep up.
SOTC sound design is also quite strong. The roars and stomps of the Colossi provide them with a great sense of weight, and the stabbing 'splut' sound has Wanda jabs the monsters with his sword is extremely satisfying. The score feels grand and epic with sweeping chorales and rousing orchestration that provides the perfect background for these colossal battles.
There is an ambiguity in SOTC which instils a sense of emotional empathy with Wanda. Wanda is simply told where to go, much like you as the player, but he is never given a reason why the Colossi should be killed. And the Colossi themselves, although they are aggressive when they become aware of you, they are passively minding their own business when you find them. You/Wanda are the aggressor. Half way though the game I found myself asking, 'who is the bad guy here?'. Additionally it is not clear who Mono and Wanda are, what their relationship is, and why she was sacrificed. And the majority of the story is related in the first five minutes before you pick up a controller. What this provides you with is a blank canvas for you to paint your own emotional background, your personal experience with this game will colour it.
It also should be noted that SOTC is quite short. Completing it for the first time can take only about 10 hours. There is some replay value though, as completing it unlocks alternative game modes such as a time attack mode, and a hard mode. This is a game that is easily recommendable to anyone with an interest in the action adventure or environmental puzzle games, but whilst SOTC cannot be described as 'adult' in the same way as the GTA franchise it is definitely a 'mature' game, so it may be unsuitable for young children. Not because of anything offensive, but if this was a movie, it would be a French art house movie on Channel 4 at 3 o'clock in the morning. With giant monsters of course.