Shadow of the Colossus Retro Review

Year: 2006

Platform: Playstation 2 [Reviewed] | Playstation 3

There aren't many games you can attribute the title of 'best game of all time'. It's just as hard to create a list of the top five games of all time. SOTC however, is one of those games that's consistently at the top of everyone's list, and with good reason. Often referred to as one of the best games of all time, or at the very least the best game on the PS2, SOTC is considered by many not just a great game, but a work of art.

[...] even on the original PS2 over 6 years after its release, I’ve had one of the best gaming experiences of my life.

After playing SOTC for myself, this game had struck a chord with me so deeply that yes, even on the original PS2 over 6 years after its release, I've had one of the best gaming experiences of my life. Every game that I had played on the PS3 | Xbox 360 paled in comparison, with the only possibly notable exceptions being: Deus Ex HR; Bioshock; Uncharted 2; and Portal 2. It communicates with you on such a level, and builds up an emotional investment over its course that many games aren't even aware is possible.

It's really hard to place into words the experience you gain from this game, because part of the story and its effect is created through actually playing the game. You play as a young man who has brought a young woman [presumably the girl he loves] to an altar in a far distant land away from your home. Upon placing her on the altar, a voice from beyond speaks, and gives the protagonist hope on how he can bring her back to life. If he wanders the land and defeats 16 Colossi [the plural of Colossus], he can save her. The rest of the game is you going off and killing these 16 gigantic beasts of rock and moss. It sounds simple, but the ending is something that has to be felt to truly appreciate how much impact it has; words can do it no justice. As for the narrative itself, very little happens between bringing her to the altar, and when you defeat the final colossus. Somehow, your journey travelling the land and searching for these Colossi is part of the story that becomes built throughout. Your own personal journey if you will.

The gameplay repeats the pattern of: starting at the altar; raising your sword into the sunlight to focus a beam of light pointing to where the next Colossus is located; travelling by Horse to the location of the Colossus; defeating and absorbing the life force of Colossus; after which you pass out and wake up back at the altar.

What SOTC does so well is how the simple mechanic of "climbing" your enemies [yes climbing, think of Dragon's Dogma in recent years to get a good idea of how that works] and how that action brings so much depth to what you're actually trying to achieve. The battles feel titanic in nature, you do feel as if you are quite simply struggling to survive and hold on. That you're taking on something that is far more dangerous and larger than what you insignificantly amount to alone. It almost feels helpless, if it weren't for the fact that you find out that there are light blue markers of energy emitting from parts of the Colossi that when stabbed, leak their energy out of their bodies; their weakness.

The battles feel titanic in nature, you do feel as if you are quite simply struggling to survive and hold on.

The formula doesn't get old for one second, as it all flows so beautifully that even the long, stretched horseback travelling to the location feels amazing in itself; the calm before the storm in effect. A few of the controls seem a bit strange, with Triangle being to jump for instance, but most of the controls make sense and feel familiar to the tropes set by other games before it. Only the jump button feels weird but it becomes second nature after you associate the highest symbol button [triangle being the highest of all 4 buttons] with wanting to go higher | up [jump]. The controls are simple, being only: run; jump; grab onto; and stab. You can switch weapons as well to a bow, and that is operated with the same button as the sword.

The music and design is simply outstanding. The design is flawless, and it's not hard to understand why many regard this one of the best games of all time. The design of the characters, environments and creatures is incredible and imaginative. The music is as equally imaginative as the visuals. The game turns quiet for the travelling sections [tranquillity], then it picks up with some light strings when the Colossus is spotted [builds tension] and then it kicks into full swing with a fully booming orchestra playing when you are atop the beast trying to slay it [action | drama]. My only fault with any part of the game's design is the framerate. On the PS2, the framerate does suffer somewhat when certain moments take place, as the PS2 does its best to keep up with what's happening on screen. This doesn't affect gameplay at all, and there's no delay in pressing buttons and the action occurring on screen, but I have noticed that there are areas where the game feels smoother than the other 90% of the time when roaming the lands and fighting the Colossi.

[...] moments of low 20fps gameplay, matches it up to film’s frame rate, which gives the game a film-like quality.

The slightly dipping framerate does add some positive texture to the experience though. When fighting a Colossus, between the motion blur, the depth of field and the slightly slower framerate, a grand feeling of epic scale is given. It's as if somehow the intenseness of what's happening on screen is bringing the world and the game to a stuttering slowdown [it basically makes it feel more epic than it already was], especially when a Colossus slamming the floor causes dozens of particles to swarm the air and slow the game down every so slightly. Also it dips down somewhere as low 24fps, which just happens to match film's framerates perfectly, probably why the game is given an 'epic' atmosphere during these moments. In that sense, the game being locked to 30fps, and having moments of low 20fps gameplay, matches it up to film's frame rate, which gives the game a film-like quality.

An outstanding game, if not an outstanding piece of art. This game has stood the test of time and gives an incredible amount of depth and grand scale fights, epic in nature. I haven't played a game that's made me feel so helpless, yet heroic at the same time. You go through many emotions through the game, one of pride for slaying the beasts to save someone dear to you, then sadness | remorse as you realise these are beautiful creatures that you are culling from the world, and then as you finally come to realise what it is you have truly done. Then comes the consequences of your actions, and how you must atone for them at the end; the game has a truly powerful ending.

An outstanding game, if not an outstanding piece of art.

I cannot recommend this game highly enough, especially if you have a PS3. If not, do what I did and pick up an old PS2, and find a copy of this game online as cheap as you can [quite expensive, and is considered a collectors item almost]. I have no major criticisms for this game, it has been a pleasure from start to finish, and I've realised after completing the game that you can go back and try to defeat them in time attack mode, unlocking secret items for your next playthrough. The effort, time, and love that went into making this game is impressive to say the least. I think this is easily better than any of the Zelda games. It's a beautiful experience that will ease you into the adventure genre perfectly.