Shadow of the Colossus

21 October 2011

I am definitely not the first person to be blown away by this game, but what makes it special is different for every person. I've read so many reviews of SotC, but the only way to really get a feel for it is to play it.

The thing with SotC is that it should not be a great game - the controls are poor, it is basically a series of boss fights, it is incredibly infuriating AND there is no real coherent narrative or plot. Yet, playing it feels like watching an epic take unfold in your head, in which you are both a narrator and participant. Yes i had frustrations, yes the game made me practically throw the controller across the room and YES I DID NEED A GUIDE for every boss... but not once did I feel like I was diluting my experience. Rather, i was playing a game that challenged me, left me wondering and painted such beautiful pictures with limited tools and I was left wondering what could have been...

Its not really fair to review it any conventional way, given that i basically cheated to play it, but there were certain things that stuck at as raw genius and beauty that I have to comment on....

1. The Challenge...

I could not pick up and play this game. I tried - genuinely tried. There is basically no tutorial, the instructions are vague and the challenge immense from the outset. There are no directions to go, no simple guidance, no opportunities to "learn" save from the message that "collosi have weak spots". This is a bit like saying you can take down an amy...if you know how. The beauty in the game is exploring the colossus. And it is DAMNED hard.

That said, though i used a guide, it was still bloody hard. Guides tell you what to do - doing it is another challenge entirely. And this is why SotC has a special place in my heart - even though i completed it, i still feel that if i had to do the whole thing again I would struggle.

However, the sense of reward that comes from defeating a collosus is huge. even the first one. it always feels epic, challenging and, most of all, believable. It is not believable in the sense that the game is realistic, but believable in that it defines its rules early on and sticks, totally, to those rules. They are : Find out how to get on a colossus, find its weak spots and stab them. The game surprises and shocks, but not at the expense of its integrity. It is not like the challenge in many other games - i was infuriated, but infuriated because I was not good enough, not because the game was being ridiculous.

2. The Colossus

I dont want to say much about the beasts themselves. If you play it, you will have your favourites (the sand snake and ALL the flying ones, oh and the monstrous one with the sword....) and the ones that drive you to distraction (the smaller the harder + the end boss), but you never want to give up.

All I'll say here is that the sense of wonder is never diminshed. I mean, hell, my dad who hates video games even helped me beat the first one. It is genuinely engaging, interesting and above all, fun. clinging on for dear life has never felt so much fun...

3. The Game

Put simply, you can't break this game into its component parts -it is permanently more than the sum of its parts. Just playing it makes you think about the story, the beauty, the world, the characters and, ultimately, the breath taking magnificence of what the designers were trying to do. To my mind, they wanted to create something that feels intuitive, yet challenging, original, yet basically the same challenge looked at from different perspectives and a feeling of isolation without ever being truly alone.

That may sound clichéd, but the point is you are never truly alone - you have a horse, and enemies, yet always feel isolated. Isolated, not because the world is sparse (which it is), nor because there is basically no dialogue (which there is not), but isolated because it makes you create the story around you. The setting is stunning, even by PS3 and Xbox standards, yet it is always sparse. You are not just "killing big beasts", you are killing them for a reason and killing them with sadness at what you have to do and killing them with nothing more than your basic tools. You end the game with what you start with (less so, but ill not spoil that...) you are isolated because you create the story around the game, create the characters and create the whole experience. The game is just a tool to show you the beauty of the creatures you are killing, the rest is, so to speak, up to you.

Verdict

Play this game. At least, give it a go. It is one of the most pure challenges i have had and, while the game can be boiled down to 16 boss fights, it is so much more than that. Every place you visit, every enemy you see (all 16 of them) have personalities that you have to discern for yourself. Weaknesses you have to discover and exploit. But more importantly, Every time you face of against a Colossus, you are doing so as an unequal. You are doing so in a very human way - you are no super man, no soldier nor no epic hero. You are a man on a mission with very defined skills that dont improve. You have a simple set of tools.

Yet, like the game, your tools are more than the sum of their parts as it is your brain and fingers that dictate where you get to. Your brain and fingers that decide what to do and how to do it.

Ultimately, it is your brain and fingers that make the game what it is - the old question of "if a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound if no one is there to hear it" has never been more apt.

Shadow of the Colossus is more that a game, it is about creating an experience that allows the player to immerse themselves in it with a simple rule set. The rules dont change, but your experience will. Your experience grows and your view of the game and its story grows, but it is always dictated by what you think, feel and do. It is a game designed to make the player own everything in it, from the plot, to the challenge to the cinematics - even the cut scenes, in isolation have no meaning. They have only the meaning you assign to them.

It is remarkable. It is wonderful. But, most importantly, it is, absolutely, a game to be played, rather than talked about. And that is the greatest compliment.

DD