The big uneasy.
Some games are better than the sum of their parts, a description befitting the PS2 adventure classic ICO. Weird, moving, artsy, creepy and way too short, the game captured the hearts of jaded critics everywhere but failed to connect with the mass PS2 audience.
Undaunted, Ico's creative team has been hard at work on the successor, and it's a big one. Literally.
Sony's Shadow of the Colossus puts you in the role of a man lost in a mysterious land whose sole purpose, it seems, is to revive his cursed girlfriend from a coma. Doing so requires tracking down and slaying 16 gigantic beasts known as Colossi, who are located behind terrain puzzles dotting the wide-open, dreary landscape. Your only tools are a bow and arrow, a sleek black horse and a sword that shines a light to vaguely set you on the right path.
You won't need more detailed directions, because the world is vast, barren and oddly unpopulated, giving the game an eerie sense of isolation. No one does ominous better than the ICO team, and it looks like they've recaptured the emotional doom and gloom that so hypnotically pervaded their original work. Giant mountains loom in the distance, and thanks to the game's awesome streaming tech, you can hop on your stallion and ride to any point without wading through load screens.
Riding a horse might make Shadow of the Colossus sound action-oriented, but it's much, much more of an adventure game. The real point is to figure out how to find and defeat the Colossi, and despite their imposing size, locating the beasts requires puzzle-solving, not hacking and slashing. You'll have to mindfully negotiate a precarious cliff face, for instance, rather than incessantly swing your sword at goblins. For that matter, you won't find any goblins, ghouls, ghosts or, well, any enemies running about other than the mighty Colossi. Remember, this game comes from the ICO folks, and they're not afraid to let their bizarre vision take shape.
But don't think your sword will remain sheathed. Once you reach a behemoth, you'll have to figure out how to kill it, and this is where the game looks to shine brightest. The 16 Colossi range in size but always tower over your avatar, reaching in upwards of 500 feet and encompassing all manner of beast, from a hairy mountain giant to a massive bird of prey. The result can be breathtaking, each conquest a puzzle in its own right as you attempt to show the bosses who's boss.
In the demo I played, I took down what Sony considers a "mid-size" Colossus, a freaky, hairy stone wolfman beast nightmare that stood a good hundred feet tall. This was no easy task, requiring me to leap onto its hulking calf, scramble up its leg, shimmy up its back and eventually drive my sword through its skull a few times. Doing all this while the giant is stomping around trying to shake me off only made the task tougher. Other Colossi will require deft use of the bow and arrow or perhaps some sort of puzzle-solving hi-jinks.
Few games scheduled for release this year have us as intrigued as Shadow of the Colossus. It would be short-sighted to think, though, that 16 boss fights could sustain gamers hoping for a lengthy, fulfilling quest. Will the game be able to deliver enough competitive content to keep it from feeling like a one-trick pony? That's the million dollar question, but unfortunately we won't know the answer until this morose monstrosity smashes into your PS2 this Fall.
For more screens, check out our Shadow of the Colossus screens and facts page.