Ico and Shadow of the Colossus: The Collection review
Shadow of a Great Game
- Outstanding creature design
- Artistically beautiful
- Some fantastic boss battles
- Frustrating camera
- Several control scheme issues
- Mostly useless help/hints
- Still some graphical problems, even on PS3
- Disappointing story
[NB: This review is solely of Shadow of the Colossus on PS3. The overall score does NOT in any way take into consideration the 'value' of the two-game bundle or ICO as an experience]
Shadow of the Colossus was yet another title in the PS2's late-run of 'great' games, before handing over the reigns to its next-gen brother. Indeed, such was its popularity, that it was re-released on the PS3 as part of the 'Classics Collection' series.
As the spiritual successor to the critically-acclaimed ICO, Shadow of the Colossus is the story of a young man who will do anything to bring his deceased love back from the dead - he travels to a forbidden land, and is tasked with slaying 16 unique beasts which dwarf him in size and strength.
As far as a storyline goes, however, that's basically it. Sometimes simple stories are the best, and yes, there is something elegant in the simplicity of the overall storyline. However, there is no effort made to flesh out the characters themselves. The dull names of the main characters, Wander and Mono (which I had to look up just to find), are reflective of their total lack of personality. It is nigh-on impossible to form an emotional connection with these essentially mute characters, especially in an age when developers such as Naughty Dog and Quantic Dream have made such huge strides in this area. Moreover, there is little to no exposition as to the Colossi themselves, nor the now barren landscape in which they dwell. The bare bones of a good story are all here, but Team Ico have, for whatever reason, chosen not to flesh them out.
Nevertheless, it's probably fair to say that a lot of people will be drawn to the game purely because of its premise – 16 sprawling, epic boss battles against creatures far larger than any seen in gaming before. It is here that I have to give full credit to Team Ico – even as the PS4 approaches, the Colossi are still among the best designed, detailed and animated creatures in videogame history. These creatures, ranging from water-dwelling snakes and winged furies to gigantic behemoths and nimble lions, all move with an unerringly accurate sense of scale and size. Their steps thunder and their movements are appropriately laborious but always maintain a sense of menace. Each Colossus has a weak point that must be reached and stabbed repeatedly with your sword, but the challenge is in reaching these weak points. At first, this is as simple as finding some fur and grabbing on, but as the game progresses, exposing weak points becomes increasingly puzzling and difficult. There's even a psychological element to it with some Colossi, who need to be fooled and second-guessed in order to get the upper-hand.
Suffice to say, when this works, it works brilliantly. Striking the killing blow after a long and arduous battle of wits and stamina is a great feeling. However, in this reviewer's experience, it doesn't work nearly as often as it should. This is, ultimately, what stops Shadow of the Colossus from being a truly great title, and instead merely a good one.
Allow me to elaborate. Firstly, your biggest enemy in this game is not just the Colossus – it's the camera and the control scheme. The camera has a mind of its own, and when in close proximity to a Colossus will often spin madly out of control. This is infuriating whenever precise camera control is needed. Equally frustrating is the bizarre bow-and-arrow system, because it ignores a programming trend that is so widespread that you take it for granted – until you play this game and realise they left it out. In every third-person game which involves aiming with weaponry, it is assumed that when your weapon is holstered, and you turn the camera around, when you unholster it, you want your character to be facing the same direction as the camera. This is a given in every other title. Not in Shadow of the Colossus. Instead, your character will aim their bow in the direction that they are facing, not the camera. In one particular boss battle, you are tasked to shoot an arrow into the eye of an approaching Colossus, while riding away from it on your horse. Of course, it doesn't work that easily – you will turn your camera around to keep an eye on the Colossus, but when you go to aim, it will revert back to the front, because that is the direction your character is facing. Unfortunately, there is no control option to speed up your aim, and so you have to turn laboriously slowly around and attempt to pull off a quick shot. This is daft programming and simply frustrates the player.
Mercifully the bow-and-arrow is used sparingly in the title, but when it does have to be used, these issues continue to raise their head. Even when it isn't, the control scheme leaves much to be desired – it relies mostly on triangle to jump (with little precision) and R1 to hold on for dear life to anything grabbable. Yet, for some bizarre reason, you are to press both buttons together to roll, resulting in falling off the Colossus when all you meant to do was to grab on. Triangle also gets you onto your horse, Agro, yet more often than not you won't mount your horse but instead jump in the air, because you're not in precisely the right position for the game to recognise what you want to do. Other issues include the unclear purpose of the circle button, which ends up playing a vital role in one of the more difficult battles and yet is virtually never used in battle outside of this.
Suffice to say, the control scheme needs work. Equally frustrating at times is the lack of direction in terms of how to defeat the Colossus; you are given vague hints at the beginning of each new challenge which do not help at all, while the voice in the middle of the battle only kicks in after about 5 minutes, by which stage you're often dead. Even if you are privileged enough to hear it, the voice is rarely of any help. The reason for this is because it's telling you what to do (which you, 99% of the time, have figured out), but not explaining how to do it. In one battle, I knew that to defeat a Colossus I had to draw them towards the geysers in the ground – I knew this before the voice told me, “Even the Colossus cannot contend with the power of the Earth”. What I didn't know, and what I had to consult a walkthrough for, was that the geysers went off at random intervals, and that they would have no effect on the Colossus unless he was over one precisely when it went off. Another battle told me to “reach higher ground”, which again, I already knew; what it didn't tell me was that hitting parts of the Colossus would make it move in a certain direction, because there was absolutely no suggestion that this was the case. These are just two examples, and there are many more. I am not suggesting that the game should hold your hand, but the problem is that the game's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness – scale. The Colossus are massive, the arenas you battle them in are huge, and you are very, very small. Trying to figure out strategies for defeating the Colossus in some situations like this, when they appear to have no discernible weakness and the arena is too big to navigate easily, is a huge problem.
A lot has been said about Shadow of the Colossus from an artistic point-of-view. I would agree with much of this – the overall stage and atmosphere is sparsely yet beautifully designed. However, in terms of graphical prowess (even for a PS2), the game disappoints. Even running on PS3 hardware, texture pop-in is atrociously bad, perhaps even worse than San Andreas. Undoubtedly it takes away some of the immersion when cliffs only appear a few seconds before you reach them. Nevertheless, as an artistic achievement, the game is unique and should be praised for that.
Overall, as someone who joined the Shadow of the Colossus party late, I was disappointed in what it offered. Yes, the creature design is absolutely sublime and arguably has never been bettered, artistically the game is beautiful and a joy to take in, and certain boss battles are amongst the finest moments in gaming history. Yet despite all this, it is hard to recommend Shadow of the Colossus as an overall package – the glaring problems in control, camera and puzzle direction take away from the full experience, with some battles ending with a sense of relief rather than achievement. When you've just felled a giant the size of a skyscraper, your first thought should be, “That was incredible”, not “That would have been over 15 minutes ago if my character was able to aim the direction they're facing”. Ultimately, this is why Shadow of the Colossus is a good game – but not a great one.
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