Shadow of the Colossus (2005)
for Sony PlayStation 2
Developed by Sony Computer Entertainment
Published by Sony Computer Entertainment

The developers of Ico and its spiritual successor Shadow of the Colossus have mastered the art of taking the player into a realm that can only otherwise be accessed when not in the waking world. The game is not at all related to Ico in story, but seems to take place in the same forgotten environment, a place seemingly stuck in time, which has been and will always be that way. Whereas Ico contained you in the confines of an ancient fortress, and you could only see the rest of the world with vague glimpses of the horizon, Shadow of the Colossus lets you see and explore that world, or at least one very much like it.

You play as a boy named the Wanderer, who travels to a forbidden temple to resurrect the girl he loves. Guided by a mysterious voice from above, he is sent out into the world to dispatch 16 colossi, upon which his wish will be granted. As soon as you strike out into the open plain, the sense of isolation hits you. The sun peeks through the clouds but never fully shines down. There is grass, and trees, and water, but the world is mostly unforgiving rock. It is a place that time and society seem to have abandoned, and there is a palpable feeling of despair.

After hearing a vague hint from the voice as to where the colossus you're hunting is, you are only guided by holding your sword up to the light, which shines towards your destination. You must hop on your horse, your only companion in this lonely environment, and traverse the desolate terrain and broken-down citadels to find the sleeping giants.

The first encounter with a colossus is a sight to behold. As a puny little human, the first reaction is, "How am I going to even hurt this thing, let alone kill it?" as it stares at you menacingly from its cold, stony eyes, 50 feet above your head. Once you run around and get a good idea of the proportions of the beast, you discover it has patches of grass growing on its body that you can grab onto. You climb up its legs and torso and discover vulnerable points into which you must stab your sword. The first one goes down pretty easily, but as you go on, you run into progressively more difficult colossi, each representing some kind of human or animal archetype. There is a knight, a bull, a stallion, a sand worm, a dragon, a basilisk, and so on.

Each encounter takes on an epic quality, as the colossus tries to shake you off its body, and the grand, sweeping orchestral music kicks in, befitting a battle between a man and a god. Some of the colossi present the single greatest boss encounters ever in a video game. The sheer size of these things is staggering, and it doesnŐt get much more fun than flying on the back of a gigantic winged colossus, 300 feet in the air, jumping off as it plunges below the surface of the desert, and sand kicks up in every direction.

And that's all the game is. It's just you hunting down 16 colossi. The process is repetitive, and certainly starts to feel that way after a while. There are no real puzzles to solve (except figuring out how to defeat each colossus), certainly not like what Ico presented. SOTC is its own game, to be sure, but something to glue together each "mission" would have been a welcome addition.

Another problem is the extremely clunky control of the horse. While it strives for realism, and achieves it to some extent, it happens far too often that you run into a wall, or a hidden bit of terrain that stops you in your tracks, and gets quite agonizing after a while. It barely detracts from the overall experience, though.

Although not at all similar to Ico in gameplay, SOTC succeeds on its own path, while retaining that same feeling of subtle hopelessness its predecessor fostered.

Review by Appomattox Courthouse