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Sweet sorrow
Sony casts a colossal Shadow

Thereís a way to bring people back from the dead. Kill the 16 colossuses roaming the cursed land and youíll release a life force powerful enough to resurrect the fallen ó or so the legend goes. Shadow of the Colossus is about one manís quest to revive his dead lover, and itís one of the best games of the year because it treats that premise with respect. The hero isnít even sure his plan will work. He receives guidance from a disembodied voice that may have ulterior motives. And heís the aggressor. The colossuses have done nothing to provoke an attack (one is sleeping when you come across it), yet the hero acts because he can profit by their deaths. Pretty heady stuff.

Armed with an enchanted sword and a bow ó the bow, sadly, is not enchanted ó you and your loyal horse set off across the land in search of colossuses that range from "pretty big" to "so ungodly enormous that you could probably found a civilization on them." They provide some of the most magnificent sights ever seen in a game. They wield stone weapons the size of skyscrapers. Their hair is matted and filthy. Some stand so tall that itís difficult to discern anything but their dimly glowing eyes through the clouds. Some fly, some swim, and all want to crush you like the bug you are. One even has a ZZ TopĖstyle beard. All have glowing magical weak points; if you stab these sufficiently, you will kill them. The challenge is in getting to those weak points, particularly as the colossus tries to shake you loose. Much of the game is spent hanging on for dear life, which is a lot more fun than it sounds.

The game is uncommonly gorgeous. Diffused sunlight casts an æthereal glow across the massive terrain. Plains become barren deserts; mountain trails lead into dim jungles; crumbling, ancient columns jut skyward from clear lakes. And all of this spools seamlessly with no load times. Rarely is a game as adept artistically as it is technologically. Still, itís clear the designersí ambitions exceed the bounds of the PlayStation 2ís capabilities. You can practically hear gears grinding as the overmatched hardware struggles to accommodate Shadowís demands. A smooth frame rate is the exception, and clipping problems plague the landscape. But the glitches are far outweighed by the operatic highs, which the game produces the way others pass out extra lives.

For all its oversized innovations, Shadow of the Colossus is distinguished as much by what it leaves out. There are no hidden treasures, no power-ups, no warp zones. No bogus mini-games or side quests intended to create the illusion of depth. No item hunts. You donít have to feed your character, or ensure he gets enough sleep, or, God forbid, dress him up in different outfits. Nothing interferes with the mission. Even though Shadow is a fairly short game ó just under 10 hours for my first go-round ó thereís hardly any wasted time. At every moment you are engaged in mortal combat with a hairy monstrosity or directly en route. You never have to start pushing around giant blocks for no reason.

The battles are revolutionary, but the best thing about Shadow of the Colossus is that thereís a reason for everything you do. Despite the minimal screen time devoted to plot-advancing cutscenes, a gripping, morally ambiguous narrative emerges. No one expects a video game to offer a bleak, sober story line ó particularly in the fantasy setting ó but Shadow of the Colossus is no ordinary game. Itís art.

Score: 9.5/10

Issue Date: November 4 - 10, 2005
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