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Cian Hassett
10 Oct, 2011

ICO & Shadow of the Colossus HD Review

PS3 Review | Beauty personified.
How does one go about reviewing two of the most inspirational, unique, and downright breathtaking games ever made? How does one do justice to Fumito Ueda's work by using only words and still pictures? It's a colossal task. Get it? Hmm? Yeah, well it is because words, even in the most skilled hands, can't possibly describe what unfolds throughout ICO and Shadow of the Colossus. They're both regarded as being among the best, if not the absolute best games of the previous generation. Some say that Ueda blurred the line between video games and art, when in fact, there was no line to begin with. And these two games, in all of their new high definition glory, prove that our industry is perfectly capable of portraying beauty and emotion through visual stimulation. What you're about to discover (again) is an experience like no other, and we truly mean that.

These are two very mysterious games. They're not driven by a large cast of characters or fabulous dialogue. Instead, they're driven by a sense of intrigue and wonder. ICO is the more basic of the pairing, where you take control of a curious young boy and have to escape a giant, complex castle. But you're not alone, and that's a similarity that can also be drawn alongside SotC. Very early in the game, you'll discover a girl who goes by the name of Yorda, and because you're such a gentleman, you take it upon yourself to escort her into freedom. That's the plan anyway. It's difficult to explain how emotionally involved you become as a player, especially when neither character is speaking your language; but from the moment you hold her hand, you'll be afraid of letting go.

It begins.

It begins.
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And that's what really sets it apart from everything else. It's one of the only games in existence to maintain such a beautiful relationship on-screen, and also, somehow, transfer it outside of their realm and into your head. This is done unbeknownst to you, because you're otherwise distracted with all of the drama and emotion. As you begin to explore the castle, shadowy figures will appear and try to flee with Yorda. With your bat in hand, you'll have to swing and swipe to banish these 'creatures' before saving her. It can become tense and frantic, and you'll feel angry with yourself when she slips away. She's not completely useless though, her artificial intelligence is actually quite impressive and puts many of 2011's releases to shame, but it's your task to protect her. Whether it's during combat or platforming (the other major aspect of ICO's gameplay), she's your responsibility up until the memorable conclusion.

As for the rest... honestly, you're better off discovering it for yourself. ICO isn't terribly long, it's only about five hours in length but that doesn't in any way detract from its quality. SotC is much longer than its predecessor, so in all you've probably got around twenty hours of glorious gaming ahead of you. Visually, the improvements are immediately obvious. Everything is crisp and clear, and frankly, the games hold up amazingly well. Uglier games have been released on current consoles, which highlights the importance of good art direction. Complaining about the occasionally erratic camera angle or rudimentary controls would be missing the point, and if you can find the time to bicker and moan about these two experiences, then you're in the wrong medium. But can ICO and SotC be classified as 'art'? You'll be ready to answer that question when you start playing. Branding a game as a 'timeless classic' is dangerous because you don't know how it's going to age. Well, now we know exactly how these two beauties have aged. The score at the bottom says it all.

Don't ever let go.

Don't ever let go.
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Shadow of the Colossus is equally gripping and engaging, if not more so. This time, the emotional connection is tied between four different individuals: Wander (the main character), Agro (the horse), Mono (the girl), and the player (you). The girl is dead, and you've stumbled upon a place where you can resurrect her soul, but only if you follow the commands of a godly figure beaming down from the heavens. Just as you'll discover with ICO, it's another mysterious journey, but in a very different world. While ICO is technically multi-layered, it's still linear. Shadow is also linear in a way, but you've a huge world to travel around. This isn't a sandbox; it's a big, beautiful and barren landscape that always reminds you of one thing - isolation. Apart from your trusty steed, Wander will be on his own until he meets one of the sixteen colossi. These are pretty much your only encounters with another life-form, but each one is memorable and increasingly spectacular. By the time you're approaching the end, you'd better have some tissues ready.

The colossi can only be reached by following the gleaming light of your blade, and then you'll be challenged with the real task of finding him/her/it. That's your first puzzle. The second puzzle is trying to figure out how to win the fight. So, you're going to be looking for weak spots like any traditional boss battle. But as you should be able to tell, SotC is far from traditional. A colossus is a puzzle in itself, and you'll have to scale it when you finally get your head around its components. The controls are simple: jump, grab and stab are the essentials. You can also whip out your bow and arrow to spark your foe's attention. Every time you kill one of these incredible giants, a wave of sadness will sweep across you. After all, who's the real enemy in question? Could it be Wander? The colossi are semi-organic in how they're built, and you'll rarely feel a sense of happiness when they're defeated. A sense of accomplishment, certainly, but you won't be bragging about it. It's a rather strange feeling, a feeling that's helped along by one of the most stunning, ambient and evocative soundtracks in recent gaming history. And that's putting it mildly.

Yes, this is how good it looks. Mmm...

Yes, this is how good it looks. Mmm...
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There is a connection between ICO and Shadow of the Colossus that goes beyond the fact that Ueda is the mastermind behind their genius. It's not often spoken of, and the validity is questioned by some, but it appears that both games are set within the same universe. You really don't need to be aware of this because in regards to the story, there's nothing tangible to link them, but it could be important whenever The Last Guardian decides to say hello again. There are several clear, distinct patterns visible in the architecture of both worlds; but as we've been saying, it's all a mystery. And this connection adds an extra piece to the puzzle. You might have already been familiar with this trivia, kudos to you if that's the case, but it still doesn't stop you from thinking about what's really happening and what you're experiencing...

Being an upgrade, what concerns us the most is the technical prowess of this new collection. If you had any doubts or worries about seeing these golden oldies in their bright new outfits, then we can happily put you at rest by saying this is comfortably the best HD collection available on the PlayStation 3. Unfortunately, we didn't get to try out the new stereoscopic 3D mode because not all of us have mountains of cash lying around, but if it mirrors the quality of everything else, then you're in for quite a ride. The crown jewel here is Shadow of the Colossus, running smoother than ever before, looking better than ever before and playing better than ever before. Really, it was a miracle that Ueda managed to get it running on the PlayStation 2, a system that was crippled by age. But now, every technical niggle had been ironed out and you're almost staring perfection directly in face.

Soaring into a place where many have tried, but most have failed.

Soaring into a place where many have tried, but most have failed.
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On a single, shiny disc, you're being given a chance to play two of the most iconic games in the history of the video game industry. There's not a whole lot else to say. The majority of us missed ICO in 2001, and then missed Shadow of the Colossus in early 2006. We all make mistakes, but we can't afford to make too many of them if we want people like Fumito Ueda to keep revolutionising the standards and what we expect from the industry. These are the best versions of games that will never be forgotten. They will never, ever fade away and for the lucky gamers who were alive during their era, they could potentially make for beautiful bed time stories at some point in the future. It's unlikely that anything will capture you in the same way that ICO and Shadow of the Colossus will. If a game can make a grown man cry, leave him as an emotional wreck for an entire weekend; then somebody, somewhere is doing something right (Ed: you sure that's the game's doing?).

There you have it, two brilliant games have been made even better, a seemingly impossible task but one that has been pulled off with grace. We couldn't have asked for anything more. But what really stands out is just how well ICO and Shadow of the Colossus hold up in 2011. They still evoke the same emotions and the same feelings that flowed through us almost ten years ago, and that's a remarkable achievement. Nothing has been lost here, and what you gain is certainly worthwhile, absolutely warranting a second purchase and the subsequent journeys that you'll never want to end. Games of this quality are so rare and unbelievably precious that you would be a fool not to play them. We'd go even further by saying that it should be made compulsory for anyone who wants to play video games, because if you don't appreciate what ICO and Shadow of the Colossus bring to the table, then you may as well find another hobby. Amazing stuff.
The Score
ICO and Shadow of the Colossus are two of the greatest games ever made, and they're still as emotionally gripping and visually astounding as before. This is the closest you'll get to perfection in 2011.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Content

Love to Hate #7
03 Aug, 2009 From out of the shadows...
59 Comments
2 years ago
My copy should come in the mail today hopefully. Can't wait to play it. Be curious to see if it is worth playing in 3D. Generally the 3d sony games look really good in 3d and every else looks kinda bad. Pretty much the games that don't half the resolution hold up in 3D.

Edit: Can't say I enjoy it in 3d that much. Those colussus battles get so intense at times it does my head in, in 3D.
2 years ago
Quote
Complaining about the occasionally erratic camera angle or rudimentary controls would be missing the point, and if you can find the time to bicker and moan about these two experiences, then you're in the wrong medium.
Huh? Games is the wrong medium to be playing if I'm going to complain about game mechanics?

I really don't understand this mind set. If an art film had crappy chromatography and bad acting people wouldn't excuse it cause 'it's art' So why do games get a pass?
2 years ago
Yeah, I'm being facetious.

But I do agree with the point. If the camera controls are horrible to a full time gamer, how in the hell does anyone expect not-gamers to understand all your claims of art? It's just proof that the medium still has quite a ways to go on that front.
2 years ago
We don't see eye to eye when it comes to gaming tastes but this is the glowing exception, Cian icon_smile.gif

Word for word, I would have said the same thing. I've played through the PS2 releases numerous times (ICO 7 times, SoTC 11 times). If I had a PS3, I'd pick it up and play them over and over again.

SoTC on PS2 was an amazing game, and they really did the best they could with the hardware. And even back then, I always felt that the game would have made such a great PS3 launch title! ha

Amazing games, absolutely timeless. It needs to be experienced by those of who have never played them before, and judging by the review, experienced again by thos who already have.

I might just buy a copy, in case I ever pick up a PS3 at some point in my life.
2 years ago
The camera isn't terrible, but it's far from perfect. I don't thinks it's bad enough to detract from the experience.
I should hopefully be receiving my copy today, can't wait to play through these again.
2 years ago
Benza wrote
Huh? Games is the wrong medium to be playing if I'm going to complain about game mechanics?

I really don't understand this mind set. If an art film had crappy chromatography and bad acting people wouldn't excuse it cause 'it's art' So why do games get a pass?
I thought I made that sentence quite clear but I'll rephrase it, just for you Benza. You babe.

My point is that you need to look at the bigger picture and see what these two games have achieved instead of complaining about something that's very minor and doesn't affect the experience. I never said that the controls were horrible, if I did, there was no way in hell that 9.5 would be at the end.

So yeah, look at the big picture bro. The games are amazing and I absolutely believe that it's an art form... when done properly. Most games aren't, but ICO and Shadow are rare exceptions.

<3
2 years ago
it was a fair comment, probably didn't need to be greeted with the condescension.

At least it wasn't a your review sux post
2 years ago
It's not so much saying that they're crappy (Bad comparison, my fault) It just seems like that sentence comes off saying "Well these games are art so normal critiques don't apply to them"

Which is just a really weird stance to take.

This isn't meant to be a personal attack on you Cian so sorry if it comes off that way, it's just a general feeling I've gotten from a lot of 'art game' reviews. That some how if it effects you emotionally then the mechanics side of it don't matter (Limbo and El Shaddai spring to mind). Which I don't know... seems to be missing a pretty vital part of the entire picture.

Maybe it's just cause I found ICO to be a fucking tedious pain in the arse of a game that made me want to slap the shit out of Yorda to stop being such a simpering useless cunt.
2 years ago
Benza wrote
This isn't meant to be a personal attack on you Cian
Oh I know, don't worry about it you don't need to apologise. And I 100% agree that all the art stuff shouldn't overshadow the gameplay. I'm trying to think of a good example, oh yeah, Brink!

Amazing character design, probably the best I've ever seen. But the game itself was a steaming pile of shit. So you're right.

And I also agree with you fetid, I am a cunt.
2 years ago
I've gone the whole snes-n64-xbox-xbox360 and this is the first time I've seen a game review thats made me want to get a sony PS3 ....
thanks a lot Cian! why did you have to write this review so beautifully ???
2 years ago
Still waiting for my copy to arrive in the mail... ordered from Ozgameshop. Damn you Ozgameshop, it's been two weeks!

Awesome review Cian, you've really hyped it up for me now. I can't believe it missed out on these two games on the PS2.

Jahanzeb wrote
I might just buy a copy, in case I ever pick up a PS3 at some point in my life.
Totally gonna start a 'PALGN help Jahanzeb purchase a PS3 donation charity' fund. icon_razz.gif
2 years ago
Benza wrote
That some how if it effects you emotionally then the mechanics side of it don't matter
This is actually what annoys me more than anything about the whole "games are art" mentality. Honestly, if being affected emotionally is the entire point of art then the butter chicken I made last week is the only item I ever need to experience for the rest of my natural life.

Even the most basically competent Hollywood movie can tug someone's emotion strings, and no one would dare try to call them art.

I think it's about time the distinction is made between an artform and a work of art. It's something that really gets overlooked in the entire debate. Interactive media is the artform, and it's a completely valid one that is being used increasingly by artists of more traditional artforms.

Games are a usage of the artform, but games will never be art. For one simple reason - can you win art? Games actively seek to engage the player in a test of skill. Anything else is always a secondary concern.

I own both the games in question in their original format, but I've spent far more time on SotC (technical issues with my TV rendered Ico mostly unplayable for me, and my PS2 needs replacing for me to load them up again - unless I buy this new pack). So let's see what it does. It throws you in to a land where you're instructed to kill the Colossi with no other context than a girl is in trouble. There's always been a lot of discussion about how the game makes you question whether blindly following this goal is the right thing to do, but if you stop playing the game you don't win it. In this sense, it has far more in common with literature than any visual art - there's a very specific story that it wants to tell, and you're in for the ride whether you like it or not. If it were a novel, putting the book down and turning the game off would not have any significant difference.

In that sense, it has done good for the interactive media artform. It's shown that interactive media can ape other artforms with perhaps more elegance than the original form. But games have been doing that for a long time. What makes these two more important than all those other games that have done the same? Again, the elegance of them. Excepting the camera issues (which is a failure of a basic mechanic of the artform), a far more careful hand has been used in its construction than many other games.

The elegance of it all though is an important point, but does it make it a work of art? My own theories on the subject lead me to say "no" but I do place it in the same category of importance as current-gen games such as The Darkness and Far Cry 2 (and, to a degree, Alan Wake which went and aped literary tropes more blatantly than SotC did - and to be quite honest, the DLC worked far better in an artistic sense than the rest of the game did). There's still a long ways to go before interactive storytelling finds its own voice, but as long as game creators are worried about matching other artforms rather than exploiting the inherent strengths of the new emerging artform then we're still going to have a small but vocal crowd jumping up and down saying "art" while the rest of the world shakes its head and laughs.
2 years ago
Once upon a time I would have loved to get deep into the 'games are art' debate, but I've long since given up on it. The term 'art' is too vague and subjective to personal opinion, and the debate itself always turns into a debate about semantics.

All I'll say is that I consider ICO and Shadow of the Colossus art. They're excellent games, mostly well designed, and encourage a particular emotional investment. They're great. But I'd also categorise a lot of other games as 'art', and firmly disagree with any notion that the qualities that make up ICO/SOTC are necessary for a game to be defined as art. There are more 'traditional' games that I would still call art.

That being said, it's an excellent game, and this is an excellent review. I'll purchase the package sometime in the near future once my moneys are sorted. I'm mostly looking forward to the improved technical performance.

GooberMan wrote
This is actually what annoys me more than anything about the whole "games are art" mentality. Honestly, if being affected emotionally is the entire point of art then the butter chicken I made last week is the only item I ever need to experience for the rest of my natural life.
To add to this, being affected emotionally also results in the annoy habit of romanticising past generations/games relative to a modern era, especially the N64/PS1 era, where many people here (and elsewhere) were children playing 3D games for the first time, which of course made it seem magical.
2 years ago
Just got this in the mail this morning =D
2 years ago
Whether or not the game is art, it's one beautiful experience. The soundtrack alone makes this game worth playing.
2 years ago
OropherX wrote
Just got this in the mail this morning =D
Me too icon_biggrin.gif
2 years ago
grim-one wrote
OropherX wrote
Just got this in the mail this morning =D
Me too icon_biggrin.gif
Me three icon_razz.gif.
2 years ago
These games will always be on the top for me, as I've finished them a ridiculous amount and know pretty much everything there is to know about them (especially SotC, can clock it in 3 hours flat if I want to), and yeah, they're incredibly beautiful, elegant games that deserve recognition as they are important to the industry and came about at a time where they were most important.

However, the mechanics have aged badly, and it does affect the quality of the experience. I can see the bigger picture and I'd be the last person to be told that there is one; but while it's nice to have these games back so more people can experience it, their faults will no doubt cause criticisms among many people and will hinder the enjoyment.

They're both still absolutely outstanding games, but if they were to properly remaster these games and add more polish to what are already near perfect in what they intend to do, it'd be a much much better piece of gaming than what it is now.

/cynicalfanboy
2 years ago
Excellent review Cian.

Pagan's Mind wrote
grim-one wrote
OropherX wrote
Just got this in the mail this morning =D
Me too icon_biggrin.gif
Me three icon_razz.gif.
My preorder still hasn't arrived from OzGameShop icon_sad.gif
2 years ago
Both games are what they are. Control may be arcane but any player can adjust. As far as 'games as art', make of them what you will. Nobody is wrong or right. I personally love both games icon_smile.gif
2 years ago
GooberMan wrote
Games are a usage of the artform, but games will never be art. For one simple reason - can you win art? Games actively seek to engage the player in a test of skill. Anything else is always a secondary concern.
You make some good points but that's a pretty superficial way to look at it and video games in general. I think Jarrod sums it up well in that the word "art" is a subjective thing. I look at paintings people call "art" and only see a splash of paint here and there. The same thing can be said with any movie or video game.

Anyway, I'm about 2 hours into Ico so far. The controls do take some getting used to. It's hard to view the surroundings when the camera just wants to fly back into it's default position.
2 years ago
Pagan's Mind wrote
You make some good points but that's a pretty superficial way to look at it and video games in general.
O RLY? Any attempt from gamers to legitimise these skill testers is going to be long, painful, and utterly pointless.

The problem is that games themselves are a superficial way of using an interactive medium. Thoroughly enjoyable superficial uses, but even the most pretentious indie game hasn't been more than a carnival side show thus far. If you can't see that for a paint splash, then that's not my problem. I'll just keep working on my own uses of an interactive medium that will illustrate exactly what I mean.
2 years ago
benspyda wrote
Whether or not the game is art, it's one beautiful experience. The soundtrack alone makes this game worth playing.
"You Were There" brings a tear to my eye every time I hear it.
2 years ago
GooberMan wrote
but even the most pretentious indie game hasn't been more than a carnival side show thus far.
What about something like The Graveyard? Pretentious as hell and kind of crappy yeah, but I'd struggle to call an actual game.
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Australian Release Date:
  29/09/2011 (Confirmed)
Genre:
  Adventure

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