It is my humble opinion that Shadow of the Colossus (http://www.us.playstation.com/PS2/Games/Shadow_of_the_Colossus/OGS/) is quite possibly one of the greatest games ever made. The learning curve on controls is not very steep--after about half an hour, to an hour of gameplay—one ceases to realize that one is holding a controller at all. The button layout is so designed and responds so well that the player literally feels a part of the action and can immerse themselves in the Forbidden Land. The artwork and award winning music also help to draw the player into the forbidden land. The story is wonderfully presented in that it does not overly crowd or take away from the game. The story provides enough information to get one through as well as enough depth and meaning for one to reflect on. A closer look into these areas is deserved for a rare gem such as this.
The discussion of the interface will come in two parts, the control scheme and the visual interface provided to the player. There really aren't too many commands available to the player, though there are plenty of interactions possible. Movement is controlled with the analog stick. The two weapons (sword and bow) and empty hand are selectable with the directional pad. The R1 button grabs and crouches, when held down it allows slower, stealthier movement. When crouching the character regains health at a much faster rate—so the player can “hide” from a colossus if he is damaged to heal himself. The L1 button locks the camera onto the enemies. The square button attacks (swings the sword when standing, aims the bow when held down, stabs the sword when crouching or holding on--the stab is based upon one's grip meter and must be charged in order to deliver an effective blow). The triangle button jumps, rolls when one is crouched (an effective dodge), and when one jumps and holds down the grip button one can grab climbable objects--ledges, vines, or hair. The x button calls the player's horse, Agro, and speeds up the horse when riding. The horse controls are also very intuitive and will be mentioned later. The circle button holds up the sword (when equipped) to shine light in the direction of the colossus, and to shine light to find the weaknesses of the colossi. These few controls come together marvelously well, one doesn't have to think about the controls later in order to play the game well. The only thing that really takes getting used to is the camera, which is controlled with the right analog stick. Camera management is mostly up to the player, and is usually quite difficult to get the hang of until one learns the controls and surroundings quite well. When allowed to move freely the camera can provide a very cinematic feel to the game (and make the player look quite professional to watchers), but the camera angles can sometimes be a dangerous hazard—and rather difficult to maintain during a fight. The controls while riding Agro are slightly different. Only the bow can be used to attack from the mounted position. Turning left and right while using the x button to increase Agro’s speed are the only movement controls. One may stand up by pressing the grip button, jump from the horses back with triangle, or use the sword to find one’s path by shining light with circle.
The interface displayed to the player is quite simple; you have the game screen and a two small meters at the bottom. The meters are a pink circle representing the grip of the player, a red bar representing the remaining health of the character, and a square containing an image of the character’s equipped weapon. This small interface works well with the game, and when it is idle (no grip is being used and the health bar has no damage) it disappears to allow the player to ignore it and focus on the artwork.
For PS2, the graphics are stunning. The landscape is huge and varied. Any terrain type imaginable is presented—forests, deserts, caverns, mountains, plains—it’s all there. Beautifully drawn characters, giant colossi (except for the few smaller, faster ones—which are still somewhere around ten to fifteen times the size of the character), and richly drawn landscapes help one to forget they’re playing a game at all. The artwork and the option to allow the camera to move freely make one feel more like one is watching a movie. The drawing distance limitations of the PS2 hardware are offset by lighting and haze effects, so that objects generally don’t just appear in the distance—but slowly become visible. There is an extremely long bridge in the game that one with sufficient grip and skill may climb to. From this bridge one can see most of the game’s terrain from a great distance, and the view is stunning. The cinematic way distant objects are handled in the game really adds to the feeling and overall environment of the game. The character designs were original to a point, though reminiscent of Ico (which I believe was created by the same design team). The appearance of the hero changes over time after more colossi have been beaten, which is a reflection of the story.
The soundtrack is wonderfully laid out. Often there is no music or very serene music playing while exploring the landscape. When a colossi is engaged the music changes tempo quickly to very engaging music that definitely gets the player’s adrenaline and pulse going. The music is always more than adequate and very appropriate in every setting. From fighting a colossus to their death scenes, the feeling of the game is captured and impressed on the player by the music. Other sounds are quite lifelike, whether it be the neighing of Agro, the clang of the sword, the twang of an arrow, or the roars of colossi.
The story revolves around the hero’s quest to revive his lost girlfriend. The hero travels to a forbidden land seeking the powers of an old god or demon to revive her. Sixteen colossi seal away the old god’s power which is released into the hero after they are slain (which changes his physical appearance). I cannot in good conscious mention what happens toward the end of the game concerning the hero or Agro because it would not be fair to the player. Hints are given after each colossus is slain about finding or defeating the next. These hints are given because it can often be a difficult puzzle to defeat some colossi the first time encountering them. An interesting aspect of the game is that there are no enemies aside from the colossi in the game. The rest of the world is exploring, and the only fights are colossi. It sounds boring, but it truly isn’t because of the open area to explore. Some animals inhabit the world, but they keep to themselves. The profound solitude that this communicates to the player can be compared to that shown in the opening sequences of the Will Smith movie, I Am Legend. The game world and story combine to provide a lot of metaphor for a player that enjoys reflection. The fact that the game is full of metaphor and symbolism was subtly used when the game was featured in the movie Reign Over Me.
==Modes of Play==
Once the game has been completed, additional modes of play open up. Hard mode—which is significantly more difficult (more damage received, far less max grip and life, and grip depletes faster), and Time Attack mode—which allows the player to attempt to beat a suggested time for each colossus. Completion of Hard mode allows the Hard Time Attack mode. Completing time attack mode on Normal and Hard unlocks different items that can be used in game. These items are mostly for aesthetic bragging rights. Here is as good a place as any to mention the two power ups that exist in game, the white lizards that may be consumed, after being shot with an arrow, to increase the grip meter; and the fruit in various trees that can be consumed to increase the health bar. There is also a negative power up hidden atop the main temple (that it is rather difficult to climb anyway) that permanently decreases one’s health and grip.
Any gamer worth his salt or thinking, feeling human being will enjoy this game. The mood and feelings presented by the music, artwork, and story will reach anyone. The odd, very Japanese ending also provides closure and is well worth seeing. This game has quite a lot of replay value, even if the extra modes of play did no exist, because simply—it’s freaking fun to play. There isn’t a lot of games that can make the player feel as invincible as taking down one of the HUGE colossi as a small guy with a sword. It just isn’t comparable.
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