Developer - SCEI Publisher - Sony Computer Entertainment
ESRB Rating - Teen for Blood and Fantasy Violence
You can tell at once that Shadow of the Colossus is an unusual game. In fact, pretty much everything in this game is quite unique in its own right. For one thing, you’ll face a total of sixteen enemies in the entire game. I’m serious. Not even so much as fodder in between these sixteen enemies. Just sixteen enemies. Of course, if you’ve seen anything about this game previously, you probably know why there are only sixteen enemies. It’s another unique aspect of this game: The enemies are enormous. The term 'colossus' the game uses to describe them is a gross understatement of the sheer scale of these monsters. Just look at the colossus featured on the cover of the game or in the above screenshot (see the little you on his sword thing?). And yes, you’ll have to kill each and every one of them.
But first, let’s cover why you’re here doing this in the first place. You start off as a wondering Asian-looking guy that’s managed to somehow stumble upon a mysterious, magical sword. At first, all he really knows about it that it’s cool looking (well, at least I think so), but he’ll come to know more of its secrets in due time. A woman close to him (whether it’s a sister, a girlfriend, or whoever it's left unexplained) has recently died, and he’s looking in a new, mysterious land for answers on how to bring her back to life. As he enters this land, he comes across a magnificent, glowing temple (of light, no less, which explains that glowing). Upon entering he encounters an unseen, mystical being speaking in an ominous voice. This god-like character informs your character that the sixteen statues lining the sides of the temple’s interior must be destroyed in order for the woman to be brought back to life. But there’s more to it. According to this being, the statues can’t be destroyed by any weapon made of man (sure a few hundred pounds of dynamite won’t do the trick?), but instead \'life-size versions\' of these colossal statues roam this land. If these colossi are killed, than their counterpart statue will also be destroyed. Normally, these colossi also can’t be killed by ordinary weapons of man, but apparently that’s the cool thing about your particular sword: It can. And with that you’re off. You’ll have to wonder this mysterious, new land searching for these sixteen colossi, and defeat each one of them in order. (Unfortunately, you can’t take them in an order that you choose.) At your disposal, you’ll have your trusty horse Argo, your magical sword, and a bow and arrow. And…that’s pretty much it. You’ll have to utilize each one of these items in special, specific ways along with the game’s interesting new 'grasp' mechanism to bring each colossus to its knees or to get yourself to its weak spot(s) so you can deliver the coup de grace with your sword.
How The Game Play Works
It’s quite intriguing to fight these battles. As you probably guessed, just random damage to them will not be anywhere near sufficient to bring these beasts down. (Think about it – It’s like a fly trying to attack a human.) Each colossus will have something special about them that will serve as an obstacle to defeating them, and half of your job is figuring out how to get past these obstacles. Then you have to figure out the unique way to reach the one or more weak spots. You then stab each spot with your sword until either the colossus is dead or until the spot no longer becomes a weak point.
One thing in particular will be used in this puzzle/mountain climb, and that is the game’s new 'grasp' mechanism. To use this, you press R1 to grab onto a surface (or sometimes a ledge). If you have grabbed onto a correct surface (like a stalk of vines or a patch of fur on a colossus) your character will crawl Spiderman-style along it. Since almost all colossi have fur or edge-lined armor (or a mixture of both), you’ll need to use this mechanic to climb to their weak spot (which is usually found on the head). But if you think this is all there is to it, you’re in for a rude awakening. You think that that colossus you’re trying to kill is just going to stand there and let a little pest like you try and climb up him? Well, would you let a spider or something just crawl up your leg? The colossi generally try to shake you off. While this doesn’t necessarily knock you off, it does stop you in your tracks as your character has to struggle to keep his hold. This is more than a gimmick, because the amount of time you’re able to use your 'grasp' ability is finite, and the more your character is shaken, the less time you’ll have to reach your destination or a “rest stop”, which is normally a type of makeshift platform built into the colossus’ armor where you can replenish your strength without losing your progress. If your 'grasp meter' runs out (it’s represented by a circle in the corner of the screen which slowly is depleted of its color), then your character is then knocked off, and most of the time that means starting your climb over. While this mechanic can get annoying sometimes, as the times when your character is 'shaken' are usually out of your control, it does make for some intense moments, as you desperately make a last grasp (no pun intended) for your destination before losing your grip.
A little while ago I referred to the obstacles each colossus has which hinder you from starting your climb. For the most part, this is also as unique to each colossus just like the actual paths themselves. However, they occasionally get a little repetitive, as many of them simply use their heights to your disadvantage, forcing you to basically just find a way to reach a point to start climbing up their bodies. Still, this is somewhat remedied by the fact that they individually have a few deviances. The rest though are actually quite unique in the way they make you approach your enemy.
The most interesting colossi are the ones that use their environment as an obstacle. For example, one boss favored swimming underwater. I had to figure out a way to get him to surface so I could grab onto him (and then have a wild ride underwater). Another colossus flew through the air, and I had to get it to lower to a level where I could ride full-speed on my horse to make a daring leap onto its wings. Yet another was a snake that blazed trails underneath the ground, only popping out its eyes to see where it was going. I had to ride Argo full speed on this one also, this time twisting around on the saddle to yank off a shot at the creature’s eye, which would cause it to careen out of control into the wall, bringing the rest of his body to the surface. These kinds of battles are most interesting because of the way they are presented. They really have an epic, cinematic feel to it, making you feel like you’re going all-out in an intense adventure rather than feeling like a simple puzzle-solver, which is where some of the aforementioned \'super-size\' battles tend to falter. Shadow of the Colossus takes about ten to twelve hours to complete the first time through. There’s also reason to go back again at least two more times to complete additional game play modes. One is the super-hard difficulty, which retains the upgrades you got from your first play-through (you get your health and grasp limit increased after each defeated boss) but makes a few subtle changes to the battles to toughen up the colossi. Another option is to go and essentially play through all the battles again in a time-attack mode of sorts, where you try and defeat each colossus in the allotted time. This is a bit more appealing, as you are awarded a few neat (though a bit gimmicky) upgrades to use in the mainstream game. And that is the final replay option: Play through the game just like in the super-hard difficulty mode with all your upgrades (including the time-attack ones) but keeping the standard difficulty level. All in all, you’re looking at some serious potential game play time for a single game purchase, provided you can get into it.
At the beginning of the game, as your character rides on his horse across a bridge seemingly infinite in length, you get a glimpse of the world that Shadow of the Colossus takes place in. You see at once that, just like the colossi previously mentioned, this world is incredibly enormous in scale. As you play, you’ll discover that this is easily one of the largest in-game worlds on the Playstation 2, and even on all the current-generation consoles. All this land would be meaningless if it was repetitive, largely the same, and/or relatively ugly, and SCEI took appropriate notice. Everything about this world is beautiful, and the environments are diverse. There’s jungles, mountains, grasslands, deserts, enormous waterfalls, plains, rainforests – you name it, it’s probably in there somewhere. And all of it is very detailed, lush, and appropriately colored. There’s plenty of architecture scattered around this land, and they follow the crowd: Humungous and artistically-beautiful.
The animation is incredibly fluid in every aspect. The larg, hulking colossi lumber around with force, the water and air colossi move fluidly, your character moves with a nice bout of clumsiness (hey, not all of us move with grace of heroes), and the horse animations for Argo are flat-out some of the best I've seen in any game on any system. This area of the game isn’t perfect, however. For one, some of the environmental textures can get a little low-res at times, even for a PS2 game. Second of all, the character models are really pretty ugly. I’m not talking about the colossi, but rather the few human characters that show up in the game. Unlike pretty much everything else in the game, the models look pretty bland and lacking in detail. It occasionally sticks out like a sore thumb. Also, the faces on the characters don’t animate very well, so any emotion that is tried to be expressed during cut scenes aremostly missed by the player.
Audio and Music
There’s not too much sound to be heard in Shadow of the Colossus, but what you do hear is usually well-done. There’re small, ambient noises typically found in nature as you wonder the countryside, adding to the atmosphere of the game. The music, while mostly subtle, is well orchestrated. Other more blunt sound effects fit in nicely, such as sword clanging on different surfaces, Argo\'s galloping hooves, and your character’s footsteps on grass or on stone. The voice acting is where it fails here. Just like the lack of character animation, the voice acting simply cannot properly convey the emotion the game is trying to show. However, this isn’t so much a problem with the actual quality of the voice acting itself, but rather that it’s all in a foreign language (presumably Japanese). This forces the player to read all the captioning. Personally, I felt this reduced the effect of the drama being played-out.
It’s Not All Perfect
While most of the game places out like a well-done Zelda-style title, there are a few points where it falters, and prevents Shadow of the Colossus from achieving true greatness. This goes beyond the few smaller points I’ve already pointed out, and instead seem to have real negative effect on the playing experience. First off, there’s the game’s system of how you travel the game-world. Large as these colossi may be, the world is still big enough where finding them can still be a pain. Unfortunately, the game’s solution isn’t really much of one. One of your sword’s abilities is to focus the sun into the direction of your next opponent. While this sounds pretty neat, it simply doesn’t work very well. It points you in the straight direction of the colossus, but leaves it completely up to you of how to navigate the maze of trails leading there. And as I’ve found out the hard way, you sometimes have to wonder somewhere completely out of your way to find a path to the colossus. The world is simply too big for you to be finding little paths without a proper navigational system.
One-third of the total game play time can be attributed to travel, and the majority of the reason why is because you’re having such a hard time figuring out where to go. Second, the controls, while intriguing in concept, don’t always deliver. For one thing, the grasp meter is simply used to much. A part of the traveling involves platforming, where you sometimes are jumping from one ledge to another. The game’s grasp mechanic is used to full effect here. You have to position your character in the exactly right direction, simultaneously let go of R1 and press the jump button, and then hit R1 again at the right time to grab hold of your target ledge. While this does seem to add a bit of realism, after playing with it I think it’s simply too complicated. I’ve needlessly missed of a lot of jumps that should have been easy to make because I got twisted up trying to perform the dance of hitting all the right buttons at the right times. A simpler system found in a more traditional platformer such as Jak & Daxter probably would have worked a lot better for the game’s platforming segments.
Third, there is the ending of the game. It’s got a few good twists in there, but ultimately I felt unsatisfied and disappointed. It didn’t quite have the finale you’d hope for in an epic game of this caliber, and some of the segments were plain dumb. Basically, the developers were trying to give you some interactivity during these final moments of the game’s story. Again, it sounds good in theory but fails in practice. They give control of a new colossus appearing only in the final scene to kill some people, but the control is so clumsy that it’s impossible to get anywhere near. Also, there is another point where your character is being pulled by a suction force, and is trying to hang on for his life. You use your grasp mechanic to hold on to a ledge to try and stop from getting sucked in. I see that the developers tried to add some suspense of 'can you hold on?' but it doesn’t work, mainly because by this point your grasp meter is so large that you can hold on for several minutes (an eternity in game time) before losing hold. I appreciate that the developers were trying to give some interactivity, but these segments detracted from the experience of the finale and were best left as cut scenes.
Finally, what is probably the worst problem with the game is the camera. There’s not much good to say here. It pretty much just plain fails. The default positions are hard to work with. While riding Argo, the camera typically puts you and the horse to the right and more towards the top of the screen, giving you a nice view of the horse’s rear end. Sounds a little crass, but it’s the way it is, and it gets annoying. Other times, when you try and use the game’s rip-off of the Z/L-targeting system of Zelda fame, the camera gives you a nice view of the colossus, but removes you from the screen, so you can no longer see where you’re running or if you’ve, say, run into some sort of obstacle. And if that weren’t bad enough, the game pretty much eliminates most options of manually reorienting the camera. No matter how much you shove that right analog stick to the right to reposition the camera angle to where you want, it simply likes to stay behind you. So forget it if you want to take a look behind you while you’re running, or to the side, because unless you’re a master of constantly manipulating controls without losing attention concerning the action at hand, the camera is just going to automatically reposition itself to a behind-the-back view. This gets extremely frustrating.
I’d say that for the most part Shadow of the Colossus is a pretty clean game. The biggest things that Christians have to worry about are the references to a different god controlling the world, as well as a few elements that appear almost demonic in nature. They aren’t anywhere near the caliber of games like Doom 3 or Resident Evil 4, but it’s worth noting. Also, when your character stabs the colossi, there is a large spray of non-realistic blood. The game, as I touched on a moment ago, takes place in a fantasy setting, though there’s only a little magic actually being used by the player or by any enemies the player is confronting. There is no language or sexual content whatsoever to speak of, nor any kind of social prejudices or law-breaking that I could discern. On a positive note, there is a bit of a positive moral lesson in the game, as the game gives a parallel of sorts to the lesson of not messing with the occult.
Shadow of the Colossus is a good game. It's artistically a masterpiece, and has a really great concept that for the most part plays out well. There are a few disappointing stinkers however with the game play, camera, and control that prevent it from achieving true greatness.
Gameplay – 16.5/20 Some of the methods towards defeating colossi get repetitive, as a good portion relies on simply size to challenge you. Also, the game ending is disappointing, with failed attempts of interactivity that end up killing the intensity of the moment.
Visuals – 7/10 For the most part this game is strikingly beautiful, with magnificent and lush environments and wonderfully-designed architecture. However, it suffers from low-caliber character models and a horrid camera system.
Audio – 8/10 There are many subtle sound effects that really add to the atmosphere of the game, and the more blunt effects still sound appropriate. The music is quiet but well-orchestrated, but the voice acting lacks drama due to the fact that it’s in a unfamiliar dialect.
Control – 3/5 It’s largely a hit-and-miss here. For the most part, the new grasp mechanic works well in adding to the player’s strategy of tackling the colossi monsters. However, its implementation as a platforming mechanic ends up being too complicated.
Stability – 5/5 Nothing to speak of here. Speaking in this context the game is well-polished.
Violence/Blood/Gore – 4/10 You are killing pretty realistic-looking (meaning not cartoonish) fantasy monsters. When delivering a critical blow, which is a powerful stab, blood (it’s pretty non-realistic, but blood nonetheless) sprays out like a geyser from the wound.
- Killing non-human, fictional beings (-3.5 pts)
- Blood spraying (-2.5 pts)
Foul Language/Sexual Dialogue – 10/10 As Truthseeker put it, ESRB didn’t catch anything, and neither did I.
Sexual Content/Nudity – 10/10 There’s absolutely no sexual content whatsoever in the game, and the only female character in the game is fully-clothed and can’t really be called immodest at all.
Occult/Supernatural – 5.5/10 The player uses a little bit of non-aggressive magic to (supposedly) help guide his way to each of his battles. The world is controlled by a supernatural being very similar to a god, and there are a few moments that seem a bit demonic in nature (though displayed as evil).
- Game takes place in an environment with minor occult references (-3pts)
- Fairy tale type magic is used in game by player (-1.5 pts)
Cultural/Moral/Ethical – 10/10 There are no social biases or prejudices. The main character is in this quest purely to save a person that he loves, and not for selfish reasons. There is no crude material or lawbreaking in the game as well. Bonus Points – Plus Three The game delivers a parallel to the theme that one should not be messing around with the occult or other un-Godly witchcraft-like activities, as they only lead to negative consequences. Game Quality Total – 39.5/50 Appropriateness Total – 39.5/50