10.16.2008

Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of the Colossus has completely swallowed what little time I've devoted to playing games lately. Since numerous others have mentioned many of its merits extensively, I'll try to highlight what I have found to be most significant.

SotC feels like few other games to me, not necessarily because of the massive colossi per se, but more because the designers focused on a handful of mechanics (and colossi) and polished them to a glossy sheen. Nothing is superfluous, and both the world and your means of interaction with that world are ever-present from start to...well, probably finish, but I still have two more colossi to go. What this means, and what I think so few developers fail to understand, is that a smaller number of mechanics in a game which can be more carefully nurtured allow me, the player, to feel more immersed and get that world.

From the beginning of the game, with little in the way of fanfare or introduction, I know exactly what I'm capable of, as well as my limitations. I can run, jump, ride a horse, swing a sword, shoot a bow, and perhaps most importantly, climb. What the designers have done so well is take these handful of ideas, and create 16 variations with which I can use them to fell a mighty creature. Even the 1 or 2 colossus I found cheap and frustrating proved somewhat more unique and interesting in hindsight.

On an initial play through, there are no distracting side quests a la Zelda. The world is stark, barren, only containing your character, the colossi, your dead girlfriend laid out on a marble slab, and a mysterious voice from above. Barring a short cut scene at the start of the game, and minimal plot progression after every 4 or 5 colossi, you are truly on your own in this game. And you feel totally isolated. There's not even much in the way of a tutorial, with the first couple of colossi serving as learning stages on their own.

The stark landscapes and isolation are vitally important to the overall mood of the game, and (I hope) it's ultimate theme. It feels much more purposeful and meaningful as a desolate space than, say, No More Heroes. While Santa Destroy is empty, and can be read in certain ways as a commentary on the meaninglessness of many tasks in open-world games, the world in SotC are, I think, much more interesting emotionally. Killing a colossus means there's one less creature in an already empty world. How much more destruction am I expected to do?

I'm almost finished, and am extremely interested to see what happens after my final battle. I have a few more comments saved up, but I'll add those to my final thoughts on the game. I've read of at least one other writer that was unable to finish the game due to the emotional impact it had on him. I do question why I'm killing these colossi, these guardians, and what point it all serves. But I'm willing to press on regardless. I'll see if any of the mysteries are resolved soon enough.

2 comments:

David Carlton said...

I was just going through blogs of new VGC members, and was amused to come across this: I've been obsessed with the thought of SotC recently, and I've just started No More Heroes, so it was a nice bit of synchronicity to see blog post about the one mentioning the other. Welcome to the club!

Korey said...

Thanks for the comment. I've been thinking about buying and playing SotC for probably 2 or 3 years now. I finally got it as a birthday present, and am down to the final battle. I haven't had time to participate in the VGC yet, but hopefully, I'll be able to play through the next game. Thanks!