Shadow of the Colossus
This isn’t a new game, by any stretch of the imagination. First released in 2005, for the PlayStation 2, the visuals and concept really piqued my interest… I just never played it. When it found its way onto the PS3, in the form of an HD re-release, I was excited for the opportunity to play this highly-lauded game that I’d missed out on before, but I just kept putting off the purchase. With the recent PlayStation Network summer sale, I finally picked up a digital copy of Shadow of the Colossus last week, for only a few bucks, and I just finished it last night.
And I’ve never been more disappointed in a game in all my life.
The idea of a beautiful game, consisting of nothing but boss-battles, sounds like good fun. The idea of those boss-battles occurring between a little human and massive, Godzilla-sized beasts sounds absolutely amazing, and the idea that the battles actually occur ON the bodies of these giant beasts, themselves, was just the icing atop the cake of OMG-how-would-I-NOT-like-this?? Alas, though, I did not like it.
My biggest complaint, the one thing that sucked the fun out of so many potentially fun moments, is the frustrating controls. From what I’ve read, the horse-mechanics were designed to be “realistic,” in that a real horse doesn’t always just follow commands and ride like a car, but I don’t think real horses are retarded, either. My noble steed steered like a drunkard and regularly ran us into walls. Of course, trying to get ONTO the horse was tricky enough, requiring the main character to be angled just right or he’d just jump in place, instead of mounting the horse. The controls weren’t too much better when I took my character off on foot, either. Actually, I shouldn’t say that. He was okay on foot (I actually regularly ditched my mentally handicapped horse and just ran), but climbing on the colossi was another story. The game requires you to climb around the bodies of these giant beasts, striking special weak-spots as you cling on for dear life, and in theory that sounds like a really fun and exciting gameplay dynamic. In practice, however, this easily caused the most frustration for me. I wouldn’t expect getting around on a large, moving beast to be like takin’ a stroll through the neighborhood, but it was generally more annoying than fun. Because of the shoddy camera, I often had an issue timing jumps correctly or knowing where I was going to land. While clinging onto the giants’ bodies, moving from one section to another could be hit and miss, and once I DID reach my destination, the colossi thrash about so much that I could barely get a sword strike in. Again, I understand that these monsters don’t WANT me on their bodies plummeting my sword into their flesh, but from a gameplay point-of-view, it made the fights a boring chore. That was the worst part about the whole game – it’s short, and there isn’t really much else to do but travel around and kill these giant beasts, but because of the repetitive nature of the fights, the need to replay sections because of technical issues, and the fact that actually finding the colossi on the map was more annoying than fun and interesting, Shadow of the Colossus felt like something I just had to barrel through and finish (since I’d already started). That’s not quite the way I’d think about a game that was really enjoying. If anything, I try to extend my time with games as long as I can, but this game was so the antithesis of stimulating, that I just wanted it to be done with. Heck, even the interesting score, which folks have often talked about, had a technical quirk that found it making awkward jump-cuts, from one theme to another, when I’d fall from a colossi and the game had to quickly transition to the fighting-but-not-yet-on-monster music. It did the same thing when the real fight began, too, so the audible failure went both directions.
Because of the technical annoyances, I cared even less about the story of the game… but even without them, I don’t think I would have been that invested. The intro sets up the idea: this main character has brought some unconscious/dead babe to a temple and asked the spirit to revive her. That’s when he gets the assignment to go and kill all of these beasts, but until the end.. that’ all the story we have. I didn’t know why I was supposed to care so much about this girl, what the relationship was, and there was absolutely nothing from the protagonist that made him an interesting character, either. As I said in the beginning, it was just all so disappointing. Like seeing a movie that I was looking forward to, that had a great idea and squandered it, this game just had so much potential… but gave me absolutely nothing. It’s critically acclaimed, and I’ve been reading about how great it is for years, I just can’t agree with any of those positive sentiments. Even if the technical issues hadn’t been a factor, the story itself was just so empty (the idea of the viewer infusing their own meaning can only go so far), that I just couldn’t care about the outcome of anyone in it. So, since the technical issues WERE a factor, already adding to my disappointed annoyance, I wanted to slay my horse, kill the crap out of all of these frustrating monsters, leave my woman dead on the stone slab, and then jump my guy off the cliff.
Shadow of the Colossus is, quite easily, the most disappointing game experience I’ve had in the many years it’s been since I first held an NES controller in my hands. Never have I come across a game that had SO much potential, both in its story and its revolutionary gameplay concepts, only to fail in every way. I don’t enjoy giving poor reviews, because that means I’ve missed out on enjoying something, but this game has really earned its grade. If you want to ride a horse and enjoy a compelling story, play Red Dead Redemption. If you want to enjoy a thrilling experience fighting giant monsters, play the God of War series. If you want to take a chance and play Shadow of the Colossus, at least I’ve warned you.