[GAME MASTER]Shadow of the colossusEvery few years, a wildly innovative video game completely reinvents a stale genre or even creates a brand new one. More rarely, a game goes beyond introducing a new structure or playing mechanics and actually challenges the limits of the medium. “Shadow of the Colossus” is one of those games.
“Colossus” draws the player into the actions with unprecedented subtlety. But it’s not just an exceptionally enjoyable piece of entertainment. It's also a work of art.
The game opens with an extended cutscene. A young man on horseback brings a dead young woman to a giant temple. Once he arrives at the temple, he speaks somewhat cryptically to a disembodied voice ― an oracle, if you will ― who reveals that if he manages to slay 16 mystical, colossal beings, he may be able to return his companion to life. This is the last linear plot event until the very end of the game. Until then, you are left to apply your own interpretation to characters and events.
Hoping to return this young woman to life, the young warrior mounts his trusty steed Argo and sets out to slay the various colossi of the land. A large portion of the game is spent atop your horse, travelling in search of the next colossus. The game gives a general indication of which direction to go, but leaves most of the pathfinding to the player. Generally speaking, this is straightforward and enjoyable. The colossi usually are not too hard to find and in the course of searching you will be treated to a variety of gorgeous landscapes, ranging from lush forests to harsh deserts.
You may be forced to backtrack a couple times, but the frustration of the search will quickly be forgotten when the colossus rears its head. These colossi come in a wide variety of forms, all of them impressive and imaginative. The main character has only a sword, a bow and a supply of arrows, so taking down these towering creatures is not easy. Constant awareness of enemy movements and the immediate surroundings is vital.
Solving these combat puzzles is great fun. The solutions often involve scaling these giants, surviving as they try to shake you off and eventually plunging your sword into a vulnerable point. Seeing these mighty creatures that once seemed invincible fall to the ground is very satisfying.
Finding and slaying the sixteen colossi is all there is to the gameplay of “Shadow of the Colossus” in the strictest sense. The fights are some of the best action sequences ever in a video game, but these alone aren’t enough material to constitute a full experience.
“Colossus” fleshes out these fights with an unparalleled sense of artistry, breathing life and a sense of importance into the game's events and characters. For example, at points I could take a break from the journey to admire a landscape or listen to a waterfall. My character could even pat his horse to satisfying effect, even if such an action served no practical purpose. Although these quieter moments are just as gratifying as other games’ grand action sequences, and that speaks volumes for the ability of “Colossus” to involve the player in the game world. The mundane becomes important because of a genuine emotional investment in the characters and events of the game.
Fans of action games, lovers of visual beauty and anyone curious about what the video game medium can achieve owes it to themselves to play this game.
by Sean Molinaro