Shadow of the Colossus
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I wish to apologize in advance to everyone who so much as recognizes this game's title (especially ), because today, in an absolutely shameful move, I returned Shadow of the Colossus to Gamefly without so much as getting halfway through it. I feel particularly guilty about this because it's so lauded as one of the modern games with truly original ideas that go against the endless sequelitis that has plagued the industry since... it became an industry, and something that everyone should play, but I hope to detail in this just why we couldn't get into it.

First of all, the praise the game gets for its atmosphere is entirely justified. The beginning shows your character, simply called "Wander", riding on horseback across an architecturally unlikely bridge to a tower in the middle of a massive open landscape. Inside, he lays the girl he's been carrying on an altar, and is told by a collection of floaty voices that talk like Thy Dungeonman that the only way to save her is to slay the sixteen colossi that roam the land. At the end of this lengthy and almost wordless introduction, you're suddenly left to roam for yourself, with only a couple of hints from the voices directing you to hold your sword up in a very Power of Grayskull kind of way to light the way that you need to go.

To be honest I don't fancy his chances much
And this wandering around comprises much of the game. The landscaping of it is pretty amazing - it's exactly the kind of thing that Nifflas would make if he were an entire game studio instead of an independent developer, and I can now see that his atmosphere-laden games take inspiration from this - the grasslands smoothly transition into cliffs, shallow lakes, and gloomy castle areas. But I did wonder when reading the description of the game how alternating between exploring and fighting would make for a complete game, and to be honest, it did feel to me like some of it was missing. The feel of a game is usually directly influenced by the ones that you've played directly before it, and I'm afraid that with Sands of Time fresh in our memories, the slightly dodgy frame rate (no doubt a result of the huge environment) was very noticeable. Also, like the transition from MGS3 before that, where the controls for Climb Up and Plummet To Your Death were switched around, in this one I kept trying to hit Jump Away From Giant Axe and got Whistle Really Loud instead.

It was for those reasons and more that it took me a good few tries to get past the first collossus (and presumably the easiest enemy in the game) once I'd climbed up a cliff face to find it. This takes the form of an enormous yeti-like thing with a big hammer that he's not afraid to hit you with once he notices you, and for a while I was forced to run around firing arrows at its head and wondering how I was meant to do anything against it. However, the voices from the start eventually sidle in to assist you, telling you to find a patch of fur where you can climb up. And after a few attempts, you eventually manage to grab on and can start wondering how to climb up the thing to get to its weak point without being shaken off.

Eventually, you get the idea of when you can move, when to cling on and when you can walk safely to preserve your all-important gripometer, and you can make it up to the marked weak point. Hanging on to the fur around it, you then have to stab the thing repeatedly with a series of timed hits of the Square button, each one of them producing a pained cry from below and a huge geyser of dark blood, until its health bar is reduced to nothing. With a mournful orchestral swell, you then get a view of the colossus slowly collapsing, and the player character then waking up back in the temple from the start with a sad ghostly figure fading in and out of existence over him. And it was at that point that I suddenly realized something very important - I didn't want to kill it.

No game's ever done that to me before. Say that I've had an overdose of empathy all you like, but in every other game I've just been able to accept that... you kill relatively anonymous things. Of course, you would think that the way that this giant was trying to smash you with a hammer just moments before you stabbed him in the skull would give you some justification, but if that doesn't get to you, the second one is worse - it doesn't seem to attack you, it just plods around until you shoot it in the feet and then stab it in the head in the same way as you did the first. The third one I had far less moral trouble with, because it was a clockworkish monstrosity with a sword, and was extremely ugly. It really makes you think. Even your method of transport around this game feels rather abusive as you have to kick your horse quite violently to get it to get up to any reasonable speed - I'd easily be prepared to believe that was intentional.

In fact, it was mostly this, the atmosphere that's its greatest strength, that really put me off it - the sense of guilt worked too well on me, and I realized eventually that having to continue like this was too much to see the storyline unfold. In fact - this is just speculation because we only got up to the sixth of them out of sixteen, I'm not basing this on any information we've been directly given in the game - I felt, as Whitney did, that the main character was being misled by the voices and killing them was going to have serious consequences. And I really didn't want to assist him any further in finding out what they were.