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The Generation Gap
I remember cutting my "next-gen" teeth on some of the system launch titles for the PS2 and being excited at the prospect of more complex and realistic worlds, intricately detailed characters, and a level of environmental interaction previously unseen in a gaming console. Once I actually played some of the early titles, I found that my hightened expectations of the console were rather premature (think one-month-old hairless puppy).
Shadow of the Colossus can truly be called a "next-gen" title, not only in terms of graphical quality, but also within the context of a more evolved gameplay experience. Through artful use of light, perspective, and a haunting audio presentation, Sony manages to create a lonely and engaging land filled with danger and many opportunities for exploration. The scope of the landscape alone shows that the PS2 is still a very viable platform, with the potential for even more showstopping titles.
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There is very little dialogue in this game, and what there is of it is presented in a strange language (with subtitles), so you are often forced to throw in your own interpretations of what exactly is going on. You arrive on horseback at an ancient temple with an unconscious (dead?) young woman in your arms. You lay her down on a pedestal, and suddenly an etherial voice charges you with killing some of the ancient colossi that roam the world. Your sword, when held aloft, will shoot a beam of light that narrows when you shine it in the general area where a colossus resides, and that's about all you get. Fun times.
Finding a gargantuan colossus is not always easy, but once you manage to track one down, you begin to realize the enormity of your task. Colossi are only weak on a certain area of their body covered with a glowing rune, and they don't necessarily want to present that rune to you. To reach these runes (often on the very top of their heads), you have to physically scale the beast, grabbing on to fur and horn outcroppings to give you a small handhold while the colossus roars and attempts to shake you off and attack you. In addition to your climbing troubles, there's not really a straight path to the rune, and oftentimes you are required to puzzle your way from ledge to fur to ledge, searching for the rune. Once you find it, you grab on with one hand and attack with your other, and if your grip doesn't fail (you have a limited reserve of strength), and the rune doesn't move, you'll eventually bring the creature down.
This part of the game is where, at least to me, it gets morally ambiguous. Some of these colossi attack you on sight, and all you can do to defend yourself is to kill them and take them out of the picture. However, some are completely docile, and remind you of simple beasts, just roaming their land in peace. Aggressive or not, you still have to attack and kill all colossi you find, and this casts an interesting light on the nature of your quest.
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The game looks great, has an original premise, and manages to create a full and believable world for you to explore -- there have to be drawbacks, right?
Sure enough, performing all the actions you need to scale a colossus and ride a horse while simultaneously shooting bows and arrows takes its toll in the form of rather complicated controls. You're often pressing more than two buttons in tandem while you climb the colossus, and sometimes even getting onto your horse can be a bit of a challenge. If complicated control schemes and a bit of a learning curve are not your cup of tea, then you may want to give this game a rent before you buy it.
There are some minor clipping issues with the world, and the PS2 chugs a bit when you're in full-on combat with some of these enormous creatures, but it's nothing gamebreaking.
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Shadow of the Colossus earns an 89 out of 100 for its novel gameplay, gorgeous art design, and selfish protagonist.
I kick it in the face for its terrifying control scheme.
You can pick this game up for under $20 at your local game store, and used copies tend to be very cheap indeed.
Shadow of the Colossus (PS2, PS3)
Rating: 89/Buy it!