Shadow of the Colossus, brought to you by the same team that produced PS2 sleeper hit Ico, is probably one of the most haunting, thrilling and morally ambiguous games we've come across here at CNET.com.au.
The game's pacing - long stretches of quiet interrupted by epic confrontations -- means it may not suit all tastes. Its structure is unlike anything else on the market - Shadow of the Colossus is essentially a series of massive boss fights strung together. There are no hoards of lesser enemies to vanquish and no brain busting puzzles to crack, but don't let that dissuade you - the game is an often tense, cerebral and rewarding challenge that shouldn't be missed.
The game's story, like its gameplay, is fairly minimalist in nature. You play the role of an unnamed youth, who has travelled far with a sick loved one to visit a temple where a cure might be found. You're given no explanation as to who your ill partner is (wife, sister, friend?), nor is the cause of her illness outlined. Once at the temple, a booming disembodied voice tells you a cure may be possible, but only after you vanquish a number of giants inhabiting the land.
You have to take on these colossi with your only weapons being a sword and bow, and your trusty horse as your only companion. There's no special power-ups, no magic potions or super weapons to find - your sword, your horse, your bow and your wits are all you're given to defeat the 16 colossi strewn across the massive game world.
Finding them is fairly easy - when held up to the sun, your sword acts as a compass of sorts, sending out a beam of light which directs you to the next giant you must conquer. Reaching them may involve some light environmental scrambling, but for the most parts it's a challenge-free process. Traversing the game world is an eerie experience - it's large (some areas, even on horseback, will take between 5 and 10 minutes to reach) and mainly free of any signs of life.
The colossi themselves are a motley lot, with the smallest being the size of a car and the largest being several dozen storeys high. Each is a marvel of design - while they all look vastly different, they share enough similarities in fur, bone and stone armour that you can easily tell they're of the same breed.
Each battle will have you scrambling for breath as you try to figure out how to take down these behemoths with the tools you've been given. Each colossus has at least one weak point - stab at that point with your sword enough times and the colossus will expire. The challenge lies in discovering how to reach those weak points. The game gives you little to no clues as to how to vanquish your foes, and even when it does give you a hint, doing what is required takes skill, timing and nerve.
Trust us when we say that each battle will have your heart rate pumping. Each one starts with a few minutes of frantic scrambling as you try to avoid the colossus while trying to figure out exactly how to take them down. For example, you may need to dance around its legs and leap on its fur covered calf, before slowly climbing your way to its head where its weak point is. Sometimes, you'll need to use the environment to your advantage. One colossus had us stumped as to how to reach it. When we took shelter under an overhanging ledge to think about our options for a minute, the giant bent down and peered into our hiding place. Eureka! We quickly ran out, jumped onto its beard and started clambering our way to the top of his head. It's these types of moments that make Shadow of the Colossus extremely fun to play.
Not that the colossi will be happy with you using their bodies as ladders - they'll trash, twist and turn in an effort to dislodge you. To make things more tense, your in-game character has a grip meter, which depletes the longer you're holding onto a ledge or a fur-covered appendage. When the meter is fully drained, the character lets go and falls to the ground.
And while the sense of achievement after conquering a colossus is rewarding, one can't help but feel sorry for poor little (well, not that little) buggers. For the most part, the colossi look like they belong in their environment, and then for admittedly selfish reasons, you come along and get all stabby. It's an interesting moral ambiguity made even more interesting by the concrete lack of motivation for the main character.
Anyone who's played Ico will know what to expect from Shadow of the Colossus in terms of looks. The game is all washed out colours and crumbling architecture, and it looks impressive in its own peculiar way. There are practically no load times in the game - you can traverse from one end of the massive world to another without seeing a load screen. There are, however, some noticeable graphical glitches and camera issues, particularly during your battles with the various colossi. When it comes to sound, Shadow of the Colossus features one of the most impressive orchestral scores we've heard. The opening scenes are particularly poignant.
Perhaps the game's biggest downside is its length. Defeating all 16 colossi will probably take most gamers no more than 10 hours, and since most of the joy from the title comes in discovering how to beat the giants, its replay value is limited.
You'll need patience to figure out individual attack strategies for each colossus, and you'll have to get used to the game's stop-start pacing, but for those 10 hours or so of gameplay, Shadow of the Colossus will no doubt thrill and entertain.
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