Shadow of the Colossus
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre: Action Adventure
|FIMP: Shadow of the Colossus [PS2]|
After taking down four of the 16 giants, it's safe to say so far that the word "riveting" doesn't begin to describe the experience. It's truly a unique gameplay experience rarely found elsewhere. Sure, the concept of defeating "boss monsters" almost exclusively has been done before - Alien Soldier on the Megadrive (never before released Stateside) and Chaos Field on the Gamecube to name a few. But none have offered the harrowing experience of clinging on for dear life while a mighty, 50-foot tall monstrosity tries to shake your protagonist loose.
It's also probably safe to say, from a gameplay mechanics standpoint, that one can see all the game really has to offer (if other reviews and hands-on tales are to be believed). The general chain of events repeats itself: start off at a central hub, lift your sword and follow the resulting beam of light to your next target (a la Gandalf), navigate the landscape atop your trusty steed, and battle the mighty beast you encounter. The crux of taking down something so many times your size is solved by the mechanic of first finding a way to climb the monstrosity, and then finding your way to its weak point. I found my index finger and thumb working the triangle (jump) and R1 (grab ahold) buttons more than any other button during gameplay, and more than in any other Playstation 2 game prior. At all times while confronting a colossus, you have to find hair, fur and ledges (provided by their bony portrusions and/or armor) to grab a hold of. Eventually you find a weak point on the colossus' body, and you hack at it with vicious downward stabs while simultaneously trying not to plummet to your doom.
Before you can even get to clambering all over the giant, however, the question of "How the hell do I even get on in the first place?" comes to light. This is where the bulk of the thinking comes in. In some cases, you just find a string of fur on the colossus' calf muscle. It's low enough for you to grab - simple enough. In others, you have to force an action out of them to bring some sort of accessible grappling point close to the ground - be it a weapon, tail, or what else have you. Out of the first four, two have had clever solutions while another was just plain frustrating. (The first one, serving as a simple introduction to the gameplay, was just plain obvious.)
The unique gameplay concept is so far both bolstered and marred by the visuals. The stylized art design used for the main protagonist - seemingly a mix between cartoon-like and realistic shading - gives him a unique, almost glowing aura as he bounds about the many green fields and rocky mountainsides that the game has to offer. The "faked" high-dynamic range (HDR) lighting effects are pure beauty regardless of their being spoofed, and have got to be a first for any Playstation 2 title. The animations are also very vibrant. Colossi lumber, your horse gallops elegantly as its mane flows in the wind, and your protagonist's arms and legs flail as he runs. Some might wonder why anyone would run the way he does, but I would venture to opine that it resembles a more subdued version of the way many characters in anime cartoons run.
But oh, what I would give for those running animations to be flowing at 60 - no, even 30 frames a second. You've no doubt heard about the "slideshow" jokes referencing this game. The framerate really does get abhorrent at times - and not just during the actual colossus battles. Run around the central sanctuary - a location with no enemies, characters or oudtoor environments - and you'll notice the framerate dip jarringly and suddenly. It seems that the sheer level of detail in the sanctuary causes the framerate to drop when the camera pans to certain areas! This is a testament both to the attention the developers paid to the structure as well as the ineptitude of the hardware at handling this much heat. If it weren't for the intriguing climb-the-hairy-beast gameplay, I'd say this is a classic example of high-concept design at the sacrifice of playability. It's fortunate that actually bringing down the colossi manages to be fun even with the framerate inconsistencies.
Sadly, the camera when not on a colossus needs work. Navigating on your horse is not entirely intuitive, because the camera often takes a more cinematic approach and veers off to one side. While the landscape scrolls towards you in a traditional 3D perspective, your horse and protagonist are pretty much following along in the corner of the screen. This makes it a bit tricky to understand just where you're going to go when you tilt the analog stick. Surely, plunking your horse and hero in the center of the screen would obstruct the view of your horse's beautiful galloping and flowing mane, but are we so ready to concede playability for the sake of cinematic camera angles?
Nonetheless, so far I can say with great confidence that Shadow of the Colossus is something that every PS2 owner should give a try at least for its unique concept. But be forewarned: lots of patience is required.
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