Towering mythical giants walk the earth, and it's your job to kill them in Shadow of the Colossus, the long-awaited PlayStation 2 adventure from the team that created 2001's sublimely rendered ICO. Shadow shares a prevailing aesthetic and subtle attention to detail with ICO, but where the latter focused on the intimately protective relationship between an outcast boy and his fragile feminine charge, this new game pits you in epic combat against some of the largest foes ever to grace a television screen. The game's fighting and pacing are in stark contrast to those of typical action games, but with a little patience and a taste for high-concept adventure, you'll find an experience here that's unlike any other.
You'll do battle against some of the largest foes in video game history in your quest to save your fallen love.
There's only a bare pretense of story at the outset. From the introduction, you know that you'll play the role of a young warrior who has brought his fallen love to a faraway temple in the hopes of restoring her to health. According to a mysterious presence that dwells within the sanctuary walls, the only way to save this girl is to hunt down and destroy the 16 colossal beasts that roam the varied lands surrounding the temple. This is all you know as you set out on your quest, and it's all you need to know. Is the girl your wife, or perhaps your sister? Is she dead or merely injured? What is it about the colossi, exactly, that will confer upon you the power to bring her back?
The answers don't really matter. Your focus and sole occupation is the defeat of the colossi themselves, and these striking, larger-than-life beings are the real stars of this show. Shadow's gameplay consists of two parts. You leave the temple in search of the next colossus (under instruction from that disembodied voice), and when you find the beast, you engage it and kill it. Once you've slain and absorbed the essence of that colossus, you return to the temple in a dreamlike haze so you can repeat the process all over again. There's no quantifiable leveling up, and no menial combat to get in the way of each encounter. You'll fight each colossus in quick succession, and you'll finish the game in essentially the same state as you began it.
If all this sounds like a series of massive boss fights that make up an entire game, it's more or less what it is. The designers could have doubled or even tripled the length of the adventure by placing hundreds of lesser foes between you and your ultimate objectives. But that would have only diluted the experience of fighting these beasts that tower hundreds of feet above you and shake the very earth with their footsteps. In other words, don't mistake Shadow of the Colossus' purity of focus for a thin or potentially unsatisfying adventure. Indeed, it's one of the game's most commendable traits.
In the spirit of that singular design, your tools of battle are basic and unchanging. You embark on your trusty steed armed only with a simple sword and a bow and arrow, which you'll keep with you till you've seen your quest through to the end. The sword acts as a compass of sorts. When you hold it aloft in the sunlight, the sword produces a beam of light that becomes more focused as you point it closer to the location of the next battle. Once you've pinpointed your destination, it's a relatively simple matter to navigate the environment until you reach the area in which the colossus makes its home. On occasion, you'll have to circumvent such obstacles as canyons or mountains to get where you're going, and you'll sometimes be faced with light, Prince of Persia-style platforming elements that require you to climb moss-covered walls or hoist yourself over a few ledges. Just as often, though, reaching a colossus is as simple as pointing your horse in the right direction and just running there.
The real challenge of the game is figuring out how to defeat the colossi, each of which is unique in its own way. Your sword and bow are indispensable tools in the appropriate situations, but your most important weapon against the great beasts is your wits, which you'll need to use in full to puzzle out the right way to defeat each colossus without being ground under one massive heel after another. In fact, Shadow of the Colossus feels almost as much like a puzzle game as it does an action game, or an adventure, since you'll frequently have to make creative use of both the environment and your weapons just to reach a monster's weak points, much less strike at these points effectively to bring it down.
The battles with each great beast are exceptionally hectic and thrilling. Climbing up the back of a thrashing enemy the size of a skyscraper is quite the experience.
Simply put, the battles with the colossi are among the most frantic and exciting action sequences in gaming. Your smaller foes are only comparable to, say, a house, but the largest ones are the size of skyscrapers, reaching heights hundreds of feet high and sundering the ground with every footstep. Some of them take flight, soaring high into the air, while others dive deep below the surface of a lake. Some are fast, and some are slow. Each of your foes exhibits unique and thoughtful design on the part of the game's creators. No two battles proceed in nearly the same manner.
The only commonality between all of the colossi is their weak points, which are always located up high and require you to literally climb right up the great beasts themselves. Understandably, none of the colossi are happy when you plunge your sword into their most tender regions. They'll thrash and buck around wildly in an attempt to remove you, and you'll spend more time clinging desperately to a given monster than you will actually attacking it. There's a grip mechanic at work here, whereby holding R1 will cause you to grab onto any surface that provides purchase, whether it's coarse fur or hard armor plating. Oddly, if you're thrown to the ground even from a hundred feet up, you'll usually only take a small amount of damage and then be required to climb all the way back up again.