Saturday, 3 January 2009

Thing 46: Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of the Colossus is one of the most breath-taking and atmospheric games on the previous generation of consoles. A bit strong for an opening line perhaps, but I'm pretty sure that anyone who has played the game will be right there with me. A young man journeys to a faraway land in the hope of finding a way to restore life to his true love; on arrival he is told that this can only be done if he defeats sixteen stone giants, the Colossi, massive, almost invulnerable...

One would normally expect sixteen levels of increasingly tough battles, fight a horde of minions before facing each "boss" - except this is a game which throws away many gaming conventions. Instead of sixteen levels, there are just the sixteen stone giants, all different, all seemingly alive and with their own personalities when it comes to attacking and defending themselves. In order to reach them the young man rides his horse across a lonely landscape, no background music, just the sound of the wind and his horse's hooves beating away at the plains.

You reach a Colossus and as you size each one up you think, "It is on." Most of the creatures are so massive and so well defended that you can't simply walk up to them and start attacking: in fact, you can't simply attack them at all. Each creature requires a specific plan of attack in order to find vulnerable spots on their body. The gameplay of clambering over these living playgrounds, jumping from place to place in order to find a weak spot, or leading the Colossus in a certain direction in order to crack a piece of armour or allow you to jump on it... What can I say, it makes you feel like you're there. I'm gushing, but watching this little man with a little sword run like hell as a massive hand seems to fall out of the sky to crush you - literally edge of your seat stuff.

And that's just the gameplay, the story itself is also... different. At first you don't really notice it. Subtle differences that seem to accrue as you progress through the game, your character's appearance slowly changing, almost imperceptibly. Short cut scenes after defeating every fourth Colossus also indicate that all is not what it appears to be, leading to an ending that is at once shocking and bittersweet. There is some hope in the end, and a promise for the future, but you're left with a great feeling of loss.

Have you ever read a book that you secretly wish was written just for you, but which is so great and wonderful that you want to share it with everyone you know? The first book I ever read that made me feel that way was Earth Abides by George R. Stewart (more on that some other time perhaps). Shadow of the Colossus was the first game that gave me a similar feeling. Replaying it as part of 101/1001 was brilliant, almost a present to myself, and once again it gave me so much to think about. I've been playing quite a lot of independent games recently; low res, low memory but completely addictive games that go for gold by virtue of their gameplay. Shadow of the Colossus goes for gold and beyond by virtue of being a wonderful story, leaving so much to the player and yet providing a magnificent platform for in game exploration and adventure.

I'm gushing again. I'll stop there. Just trust me, if you ever get the chance, give it a go.


Matt_Evans said...

I love Shadow of the Colossus, though I've actually not beaten it. This is one of those games that is something beyond just a videogame: it is an experience. (The game makes me gush, too)

I'm still at the tenth colossus, right now. I haven't played in ages due to new games coming into my life, as well as a Nintendo Wii....

zero_zero_one said...

Don't be ashamed or afraid to gush, some things are deserving of it! :)