Forget About This Month's Releases, Shadow of the Colossus is Still THE Greatest Game You Haven't Played
We all have a backlog of games we hope to play. My backlog just so happens to be filled with what some consider classics in the gaming world. With the series, I will take a look at these games and see how well they have held up over time. Most of the games in this series will be at least ten years old or more, with some exceptions. Rather than a retro review, these pieces are going to be more impression-styled, written after a few hours or so of play. So grab your nostalgia cap and let’s see where this ride goes!
Shadow of the Colossus was released in 2005 for the PS2. The game was Team Ico’s follow up to the critically acclaimed Ico (a title we will look at in the future). Colossus was a best seller and critical sensation, sitting at a 91 on Metacritic and Gamerankings. Colossus and Ico were re-released in HD for the PS3 in 2011. With all of the praise accompanying it, the game and I were overdue for a rendezvous. For this article, I played the HD version on PS3.
About a year ago I actually wrote about Colossus, but I had only played as far as the first boss when I wrote that article. I got caught up with work, school, and other games which needed my attention for work. With everything going on, I somehow let Colossus fall to the wayside. Writing this now, I have no idea why I let that happen because it is clear this game is positively terrific.
You play as Wanderer, a nomadic man seeking to resurrect his lost love. Guided only by strange, all-knowing disembodied voices, Wanderer's only thread of hope lies with slaying 12 mammoth colossuses which roam the land. I have heard there is more to the story, but i have yet to reach that point in the game. The game is straightforward though. There are twelve colossuses in the land which need to be slain for you to have a chance to be reunited with your love.
Does it hold up?
I can't believe it's taken me this long to play this masterwork. Even though I played the HD version, I would have gladly played the original. Despite being ten years old, the game is still gorgeous. The art direction emphasizes the natural beauty of the environment over hyper-realism. The rolling hills, huge lakes, and deep valleys encapsulate a beauty few games have managed to capture.
Despite being ten years old, the game is still gorgeous. The art direction emphasizes the natural beauty of the environment over hyper-realism.
The landscape is populated only by some fauna and the colossuses. No NPCs; no random enemies strewn about; no party members or sidekicks. It's simply Wanderer and his horse against the roaming behemoths. This allows players to focus on their quest of slaying the colossuses and not get distracted by countless enemy encounters. This design also encourages more exploration of the gorgeous world around the player. By keeping the focus of the game honed like a razor-sharp sword, players are more apt to explore the massive landscape since they cannot incur the wrath of countless enemies strewn about the map.
The most striking part of the game is the design. The game is an exercise in minimalism. Unlike some games though, Colossus shows the beauty in the minimalistic design. Everything in the game is very restrained and relaxed, especially when compared to a lot of the spastic,bombastic titles of recent years. It's more akin to Primer than the Michael Bay Explosion Fest 58 school of games. It's a welcome change of pace to have something more relaxing and soothing to play.
The minimalist design also leads to one of the best UIs I've seen in a game. The UI conveys all of the information you need to know in a simple, concise manner. I probably spent more time than a sane person marveling at the UI. With this tiny bit of screen space, I know the weapon I currently have equipped, the length I can grip a colossus, my attack strength, and my health.
Some games struggle to convey basic information in larger spaces, yet Colossus pulls it off with magnificence. And by keeping the inventory limited and streamlined like the rest of the game, you don’t have to worry about any hideous and unintuitive inventory management *cough* Skyrim *cough*. Despite being out for ten years now, many games have yet to learn from the example of user friendly U.I. set forth here.
The design of the colossuses is truly splendid. Each one manages to have a distinct design and personality, lending a sense of discovery to every encounter.
The design of the colossuses is truly splendid. Each one manages to have a distinct design and personality, lending a sense of discovery to every encounter. My favorite so far was a flying creature which inhabited some flooded ruins in a lake. First, I had to draw the creature’s ire by shooting him with my bow. Second, I had to time and position my jumps to grab the beast when he swooped in for the kill. Needless to say, my success in the battle led to a great feeling of triumph. While some encounters are stronger than others, each battle is interesting and thrilling as the music swells and you struggle to maintain your grip on the beasts.
Speaking of the music, it’s sublime. While exploring the land, the music is suitably ambient and restrained. However, when engaged in battle, the music swells into epic highs and heightens the thrill of combat with the beings. I wrote before about how the music playing during first colossus encounter sets the tone for the game perfectly, and it really does. The music is memorable, but also knows when to kick in and when to release the player from its hold. Mr. Kow Otani created one of the best and most memorable gaming soundtracks with this game. (Skip to 3:30 in the video for the good stuff).
I only have two issues with the game. The camera leaves a lot to be desired. While the controls in general are loose, the camera feels especially slack and uncooperative. The zoom level is also a bit too close to the player at times, leading to some slight frustrations. The camera, thankfully, withdraws to a perfect distance when in battle. I understand wanting to instill a sense of scale and awe with the camera perspective, but having the camera so close leads to some unnecessary frustrations.
Should you seek it out?
If you have not played this game, you must rectify this mistake. The game is splendid. The game is considered a classic, and I must agree. Since you can get the HD release of the game packaged with Ico for as little as $20, you really have no excuse not to play this masterpiece. So what are you waiting for? You have some monstrous creatures to deal with Wanderer. Now if you will excuse me, the game beckons to me.
Despite some niggling control and camera issues, Shadow of the Colossus is undoubtedly a masterpiece of gaming. If you have never played it, you would do well to give it a try. If you have played it, then know it still holds up as well as you remember. No really. It is that good.
I am putting my fate in your hands, dear reader. Leave a comment with which game you would like to see me tackle next from the options below. Just don’t get upset if I am less than kind to your choice!
Your choices are:
Choose wisely and see you next time!