Itchy Thumbs

Completing games then reviewing them

Shadow of the Colossus

Posted by D on June 7, 2006

I ride. The grass below his hooves gives way to sand. I ride. Towering monoliths foreshadow the landscape. I ride. He weaves between collosal buttresses, whose soaring forms underpin gargantuan structures. I ride. A desolate wasteland stretches to the horizon.

I ride.

I comtemplate the fact that this really is the best horse riding simulation I’ve ever encountered. Given my extensive experience of playing no other horse riding simulators (are there any?) I can confidently assure you that this one is the best. It’s good. It’s almost too good. The horse has it’s own A.I. It is more than capable of doing it’s own path finding. In fact, in more fiddly, narrow passages trying to steer yourself often gets you stuck. Best leave him to it. Unfortunately this means that traversing the landscape requires little more than pointing the horse in the right direction and holding down the gallop button until you get there. In a game where at least half your time is spent traversing the landscape that doesn’t really provide much of a gameplay experience. I’m not very sure that just holding down X and watching the scenery go past is a gameplay experience. Even motorway driving with cruise control is a more attractive interactive proposition.

I ride.

I admire the landscape afterall when you’re on the horse there is nothing else to do. The landsacpe is stunning. The sheer breadth and scope of the design is in itself stunning. The landscape feels utterly vast, so vast it can include a large repetoire of environment types: desert, forest, scrub, rolling pastures, craggy mountains and on and on. It is every part a desolate wilderness, the sensation that it’s only you, the horse and a handful of lizards lends the game it’s required eerie, melancholy tone.

I ride.

I admire the clarity of the camera work. Your view into this world is uncluttered. There are but two metres, one governing health and one governing endurance – the super-enduro-metre as I like to call it. Health is rather self explanatory and conversely rather pointless in this game. Once you’ve got the hang of colossus killing and you’ve worked out the trick for each one you rarely lose any health. Climbing is governed by the super-enduro-metre and a proscriptive master it is too. Climb or hang on anything; rocks, cliffs, a colossus and the metre depletes with relentless inevitability. Once exhausted you fall. And that brings us onto the other half of the game

I ride.

As well as part horse riding simulator the game is also part climbing simulator. Climbing simulator is a little generous, gripping-on-for-dear-life-while-the-super-enduro-metre-wanes-simulator is a little more accurate. Should you ever actually finally arrive at a colossus each one represents a boss battle. In fact the game is little more than 16 consecutive boss battles divided up by some horse riding. At each colossus you must solve the puzzle that allows you defeat him and mark my words there will be some climbing and hanging involved. Once you’ve found your way on to the colossus you must climb around locate his special magical sweet spot and stab him to death. Upon such a success you are returned to the temple in the centre of the map.

I ride.

Everything begins at the temple. As the game starts you arrive at a temple, dead girl in hand and horse in tow. Obviously the first thing you do is talk to a disembodied voice who persuades you of the wise plan to kill the 16 colossi (colossii, collossuses) for the possibility of resurrecting the girl. Obviously the secret of eternal life is contained within the bodies of 16 stone beings, I was a fool not to look there first? Let me assure you that down the back of the sofa will not be revealing the secrets of the philosophers stone any time soon. And who else would you believe about the secrets of ever lasting life than a scary disembodied voice. It has afterall been shown, in tests, that 9 times out of 10, a scary disembodied voice out performs all other sources of mystical wisdom including, but not limited to, the saying of sooths, scrying, burning bushes, oracles, runes, bones, entrails and prognostication in all it’s forms.

I ride.

There are a few things I would like to have known prior to setting off on my quest. It would have been nice to know earlier that there were objects in the landscape that could increase your health or endurance. Rather than figuring it out toward the end and having to traverse the landscape just picking these things up. I’m not very sure that having a magical sword, that always points to exactly where the next colossus is, was a great addition to the game. I’d happily have been given a more detailed description of the route and location and then been left to go and find the colossus. Certainly the world you inhabit is more than detailed enough that you could give realistic descriptions of locations and realistic directions. My final criticism concerns the length of the game. It is short, and while that is a niggle, the real problem is that the game feels like the first chapter of a larger more satisfying game. It really feels like once you’ve dealt with the collosi you should be on your way to some new and different chapter, that there should be maybe 4 chapters of plot.

I ride.

Many things about this game are great. The atmosphere, plot, graphics, soundtrack, the fact that the entire game world is beautifully realised, all sorts. This is a beautiful, beautifully crafted piece of software. There is something about it that suggest that all people who play computer games should bear witness to it. There is a glimpse of the future of (some) emerging games production here. Yet the game feels like little more than a proof of concept demonstration. When the story draws to it’s end I’ve neither spent enough time playing, been party to enough plot or done a great enough variety of things for it to feel complete. By the end it just doesn’t feel like you’ve been playing much of a game, taking part in an interactive story – maybe, playing a game – perhaps not. Given that your typical RPG these days describes a plot arc that can span over 90 hours it does feel like a bit of a let down.

This game, in the face of several incredibly strong points in it’s favour gets a mere 6 out of 10.

I ride. I ride some more. I do some more riding then scratch my arse.

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3 Responses to “Shadow of the Colossus”

  1. limejelly said

    Itchythumbs, like a 200 metre runner, is breathing steadily, prepared for the effort ahead. Head bowed, concentrating on his pace, injecting power at each step to build up the necessary momentum, and I read.

    Sometimes when you bump into Itchy you think – there’s something on his mind. The set of his brow, and obvious distraction by something just out of our vision. A simple query often bounces – no I’m fine. But pressing (the L2 button I think) sometimes yields a response concerning an issue with the game he’s working his way through. Having missed collectibles would be the cannonical example.

    I read.

    Itchy showed me Shadow of the Colossus round at his place a couple of weeks ago. The horse riding does happen of its own accord a lot, but the perception of speed is good and the lighting effects for the old, old console that the PS2 now is has been tastefully chosen. Bit of a bloom here, the odd glint there. The only shame about the graphics was the bridge in the intro sequence where the resource limitations showed up in an alias-fest of architectural proportions. But it was somehow quaint and comforting.

    I read.

    Itchy is into his stride, looking up and straight ahead. His fingers pounding on the keyboard, sweat flying from his brow, we feel the rush of air over our helmet and the grass beneath our feet. The atmosphere is beautifully crafted, and for me the joy was in the moment, rather than the process. Hanging on for dear life while the utterly massive beast beneath/above you roils in a well-turned colossal physicality that convinces you that it’s not quite aware of the detail of your presence – simply that there is something odd happening and it really doesn’t like it. Like a big hairy baby with mystical symbols inscribed on its vulnerable spots. In fact, the fontanelles were a target on the monster I tried.

    I read.

  2. Dan said

    You know, Itchy Thumbs is the name of the site, not a pseudonym.

  3. limejelly said

    Yeah, but Itchy is somehow apt. Fidgetty.

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