I think the title of this post pretty much sums it all up. If you’ve played Shadow of the Colossus, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, what the hell are you playing at? BUY THIS GAME NOW. (Or even better, get the shiny new HD remake for the PS3.)
While you’re busy ordering the game from your favourite internet retailer, I’ll give you a brief rundown of the plot. In a nutshell, you play a young chap by the name of Wander, who journeys to a forbidden land in an attempt to revive a dead girl by the name of Mono. There’s little explanation for who exactly Mono is, or indeed her relationship to Wander, but one of the game’s endearing strengths is its willingness to present only the barest amount of exposition and then let the player fill in the gaps for themselves. It makes for a refreshing change from the tedious “plot shotgun” approach taken by most games, wherein the gameplay is regularly interrupted by jarring cut scenes that attempt to gun as many plot details into you as possible before you go back to the usual running and gunning.
Anyway, Wander brings Mono to an enormous temple, and the god(?) of the temple instructs him to slay the 16 giants that inhabit the forbidden land if he wants to revive his beloved girlfriend/wife/princess/sister (in my head, I opted for princess).
And that’s pretty much it.
Apart from the colossi, there are no other enemies in this vast and empty land, and nothing to do except find them and kill them. It’s an incredibly brave departure from the usual expectations of video game, but it’s also a wonderful breath of fresh air when you realise that this time – for once – there will be no “collect 100 of X to unlock Y”, no pointless escort missions and definitely no repetitive slaying of lowly creatures in an attempt to gain “experience”: this time it’s just you versus the colossi.
And what amazing creatures they are. The first time I saw one in motion, my jaw practically hit the floor. Not only are they utterly enormous, they’re animated and designed with wonderfully creative attention to detail – I really did believe they were living, breathing creatures, which made it all the more difficult to kill them. In fact, slaying your first colossus feels like nothing short of murder.
The same scenario plays out for most of the confrontations in the game: the colossus is peacefully minding its own business, then you turn up with your glowy sword and start climbing all over it, stabbing it in its weak spots and watching as black blood sprays from the wound like a fountain. Every time I slew a colossus it was the same: there would be an initial feeling of elation after working out the secret to killing it, followed by a rush of adrenalin as the fight escalated, and ending with a feeling of euphoria as I finally triumphed over the beast.
Then immediately after would come the guilt.
Why have I killed this beautiful and unique creature? Is all of this killing really worth it to resurrect just one human life? Am I doing the right thing? It’s powerful stuff, and I can’t think of another game that dredges up so much emotion in the player (except perhaps the original Ico).
I can’t really say any more about the game without spoiling it, but before I finish, I have to mention Wander’s horse, Agro. Agro is your only companion in the vast and forbidding landscape, and I found myself quickly becoming attached to him – like the colossi, he feels like a living, breathing part of the world, a being with a personality of its own, despite his inability to speak. I think the EDGE review sums it up best:
He isn’t just a convincing portrayal of a horse, he’s a convincing portrayal of a specific horse: handsome, weighty and a little intimidating at close quarters. But as soon as you take the reins, it’s easy to be disappointed. Control – a basic point’n’squirt system – is clumsy, crude and unpredictable, and his majestic grace is undermined by being banged into cliff walls and tight corners with an ungainly thump. But, as the game’s first few hours slip by, something subtle and seductive happens. You learn that Agro isn’t badly implemented, just a little badly behaved: headstrong and independent, he isn’t always going to go where he’s led. You notice that, actually, he’s a rather bigger horse than the wanderer seems used to riding, causing him to shift a little side-saddle when left idle, to ease the ache in his hips. You notice that Agro is intelligent enough to manage simple pathfinding himself, taking responsibility for both of you across crumbling bridges. And since, by then, the game’s overpowering sense of solitude and emptiness has started to sink into your bones, his moments of spirited disobedience are as welcome as his screams of terror when he sees you thrown flying by a lazy swipe of a colossal hand.
Shadow of the Colossus is a truly wonderful experience, and a game that everyone should play at least once: I guarantee it will take your breath away.
[As dictated by Lucius Merriweather. See The Mantelpiece.]