Ico & Shadow of the Colossus review
|REVIEWS - VIDEOGAME REVIEWS|
Can the best of the last generation of games stand up to a Blu-ray re-release?
Charging through the brown corridor and hurling himself against a waist-high grey crate, Sergeant Hercules Musclefist slams an ammo clip the size of a phonebook into his trusty TurboBastard 9000 hyper-shotgun. The shiny grey hordes rushing to meet him will fall like so much meaty confetti once the trigger has been squeezed and a hailstorm of twisted metal has been unleashed. While he reloads, a thin red bar in the corner of his vision begins to extend and his wounds suck themselves closed. Here is a man untroubled by mortal concerns: he's killing these freaks because that's what he does, that's what's expected of him. As his enormous fingers close around a grenade the size of a watermelon, running away is the last thing on his mind.
If you've only a passing awareness of videogames, you could be forgiven for thinking that the above chunk of sloppy sci-fi is representative of most of the sort of games available. In a way, it's not an entirely unfair summary: for every cerebral daydreaming simulator like fl0wer, there's at least thirty endlessly grey and brown steroid-fests where the chief objective appears to require the player to place a cross-hair over a variety of gurning mutants before pressing a button to turn them into a fine steak mist. A vast percentage of games portray the protagonist as the baddest of the bad. Sure, they may take a few scrapes, but they're never fragile. As players we are assured that most situations can be resolved by having a bigger axe, a better gun, or simply a bigger gun with a better axe nailed to the barrel.
Within minutes of starting Ico or Shadow of the Colossus, however, these assurances are shown to be flimsier than a tissue paper horse on a surfboard (see me about these similes - Ed.)
Each game is a subtle exploration of justice, agency and quiet melancholy, previously only available to those who trawled eBay for used copies, or suffered the myriad indignities of browsing a high-street game store's 'Pre-owned' section. Now souped-up with a lick of high-definition texturing and a splash of widescreen, both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are available on one gloriously bleak Blu-ray.
For those of you who haven't kept up your subscription to Games As Art Magazine, they play as follows:
Ico stars a little boy who is sent out from his village thanks to the horns growing out of his head. Dragged to an eerily empty castle, he is sealed in a sarcophagus and left to his fate. Escaping the stone tomb he meets a young girl, Yorda, and the two of them attempt to make their escape. It's heavy on the platforming, with many of the puzzles focused on making paths as Ico to allow the less-agile Yorda to follow. Horrendous beasts of shadow rise from the ground to try to tear the girl away, as Ico attempts to scare them off with a sad length of 2x4.
Shadow of the Colossus, meanwhile, sees a young man called Wander attempting to restore life to the body of a woman by entering into a terrible Faustian pact. He learns that several great monsters have to die in order that the girl might live, so he sets off on his horse determined to bring her back. The oppressive castle walls of Ico become vast, sprawling plains, the only other signs of life being the occasional eagle wheeling overhead, or a lizard scuttling across a rock. Once you locate the hulking, sad-eyed beasts, their bodies become the level as you jump, climb and drag yourself towards their weak-spots and their inevitable doom.
To say any more would spoil things best experienced first hand, but it doesn't give too much away to say that each game forces you to question your actions as the player, as well as those of the character; trying to fight the shadow creatures as the fragile Ico will often end in tears, while plunging a sword into the back of of a mournful Colossus will cause doubt to flare in even the hardest of hearts.
On a brutally technical level, the games look fantastic. When wandering through the lonely castle, it's genuinely hard to believe that you're playing a ten year old game - they were both beautiful games to begin with and the HD revamp only builds upon that beauty. Unfortunately, some aspects of the gameplay (particularly with Ico) can feel a little frustrating. The camera in Ico, for example, is a complete psychopath, often dragging itself away from you while you're fending off monsters in order to focus on Yorda as she's pulled into a shadowy pit. Queue much running round in circles, bumping into walls and cursing like a sailor.
These are, however, only very minor gripes. The richness of the worlds and the minimalist beauty of the stories more than make up for the occasional teeth-grinding difficulty spike or renegade camera.
Ico and Shadow of the Colossus represent two of the very best games of the last generation; they've put on their Sunday best and are more than capable of standing alongside any current-gen release.
So, next time you're talking to someone convinced that games are all gravel-voiced men beating aliens into piles of screaming meat, show them this. Sit them down for an hour or two and have them take control of of the frightened Ico or the lonely, misguided Wander. They may not rush out to buy a PS3, but they'll certainly be left with the knowledge that there are at least some games out there which prefer pathos to pistols.
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