Sunday, 28 December 2014

Shadow of the Colossus

You start out with nothing but your horse, your sword and a massive landscape in front of you, tasked with tracking down these 16 Colossi. As you approach the first Colossus, the ground begins to shake. You see a giant pillar slamming down in front of you, and the camera pans up to reveal it's only a small part of this massive creature. It walks past you, and you take out your bow and fire an arrow, hoping it might harm it in some way. The creature is unharmed, yet now its attention is focused on you. It turns around slowly, and begins walking towards you. As the beast reaches you, you make a desperate leap at it's ankle, and start climbing. Reaching the weak spot on its head, you stab  with all your might, and the ancient being starts tumbling down, with you slowly realising the world will never again see anything like it.

This is Shadow of the Collosus at its best. A heart pounding action game full of quick improvistion, mixed with a wonderful sense of discovery. And all of it is drenched in a brilliant atmosphere that manages to shift seamlessly from quiet contemplation, to frantic action, to genuine sadness.

Unfortunately, after a few Collosi, the sense of wonder disappears. You've seen how a typical Collosus battle will go, and the game needs to change up the gameplay to avoid repetition. This comes mainly in the forms of gimmicks and other Collosus-specific gameplay. Some of those gimmicks work better than others, but overall it means that the battles becomes less intuitive. In some cases it's finicky even when you know what you're supposed to do. Two Collosi were incredibly disappointing, in both gameplay and design. They had stun-lock attacks for crying out loud! Even the final boss is rather unintuïtive, and by the end of it I was frustrated enough that I wasn't really able to appreciate the ending, good though it was.

Yet despite all the criticism I've thrown at the game just now, I consider it one of the most important gaming experiences I've had. When I compare it to other games I've played recently, it strikes me how much better the game works as a unified piece. The gameplay doesn't just exist for the player to have something to do between story segments; the gameplay is the story. Everything - the music, the gameplay, the art direction, and even the control scheme itself - comes together to create something beautiful.

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