I just bought a PS2. That’s right, just another newbie bitten by the virulent bug of gaming, and a little behind the times. Only I’m not. My first video games were Nintendo handhelds and two pong machines. And through a distinguished Atari 2600 career, a Mattel IntelliVision, countless hours of Sierra Online’s ‘Quest’ series, down to losing much of my life to Half Life, Baldur’s Gate 2 and their ilk, I’ve been gaming pretty much forever. So the question becomes, why am I getting a PS2 so incredibly late in life? Well, partly because until a few years ago, I was a card carrying member of the ‘consoles are for immature kids, only PC gamers are true sophisticates’ brigade. And when that changed, the evil empire got me, and I got an Xbox. And was recently considering a 360, so a PS2 wasn’t even on the radar.
It took half an hour to change all that. One holiday, I spent a few hours at my brother’s place and suddenly, I had to have a PS2. I can sum this transformation up in four words: Shadow of the Colossus. I happened to play for an hour or so, and soon any set of circumstances that could prevent me from playing, owning, experiencing, living this game was inconceivable. And so, I bought a PS2. The thought that there may be other games this good, and not owning this console meant I might be missing out was honestly just an afterthought.
Shadow of the Colossus is an incredible experience, serving up a cannot-ignore mix of action, art, emotion and philosophy that transcends mere gaming and crosses over into something more. Several reviewers, while sharing my sense of awe at this game, have begun their take on it by saying that at its core, Colossus is a platform jumper. To me, that’s like saying that Pro Evolution Soccer is basically a game of Pong. At its core, of course.
You play a young warrior/traveler who is seeking to restore to life a young girl who was killed to save her from a cursed fate. His quest (over the course of a long, almost painfully slow cut scene intro) takes him to a distant land where he finds a mysterious presence known as the Dormin, who tells him that in this land, he might indeed achieve his objective. All he has to do is find and hunt down the 16 colossi who roam the land. Dormin also casually mentions that the young man might have to pay a very heavy price indeed for this, but he doesn’t really seem to be listening. And so, with your trusty steed Agro for constant company, you set off.
So as you can imagine, you set off, heroically astride your horse, holding your sword up into the light to guide you, roam this vast, desolate land that is all the more beautiful for it’s complete lack of inhabitants. And eventually, you will find your first colossus. And colossal it is. You quickly find that you are roughly half the size of it’s little toe, so any thoughts of using your warrior like skills to hack it down are quickly banished. After shooting a couple of arrows at it which will not even get it’s attention, you then figure that you need to run at this thing, cling on to it’s fur for dear life and climb all over it’s body as you look for it’s ‘weak spot’. Which you then need to stab at repeatedly, while it uses every bit of its colossal strength to shake you off.
I won’t even begin to describe these battles, you have to experience one to believe it. The heat and grime and dust and mud are as real as anything you’ve felt. And the consistently brilliant mood enhancing score completes the picture, perfectly complementing whatever you’re feeling every moment of the game. But it’s only when you bring your first colossus down that you realize why this game stops being a game and becomes a work of art. As you watch the cut scene of the creature’s death, the first voice of doubt nags away at you…. And therein lies the beauty of it. It is impossible not to feel sorry for these colossi, yet you cannot help yourself as you are compelled to find the next one and bring it down. And I’m not talking about the character in the game, I’m talking about YOU. You end every battle with a bit of a bad taste in the mouth and yet you are driven to find and kill each one of the colossi. Corny as it sounds, the moral compromise inherent in destroying these lonely, isolated creatures in order to restore the life of a loved one is inescapable to anyone with even a molecule of sensitivity.
Many of them have no intention of harming you at all until provoked and even then, they’re merely defending themselves. What compounds your feelings of guilt is the consistently excellent character design, and the fact that you have no option but to watch as each of the deaths is played out in front of your eyes. As the adrenaline wears off, the guilt kicks in. Every time. But one cut scene later, you’re off in search of the next one.
I’m only half way through the game as of this writing, but four battles were enough to have my entire family glued to the tube in the way that the best movies can achieve. And, albeit temporarily, to make me my four year old nephew’s hero. I’m told that Roger Ebert said that games could never be art or something like that, but he’d better have four thumbs for this one, so he can point them all skyward.