It’s March 2007 and I have just finished unpacking the last box of what has creatively been called ‘our’ stuff as I move in with my girlfriend to our first house in Peterborough. Having left friends, family and a dead end job behind so that she could be surrounded by hers and her new career, I felt like I was in a pretty strong bargaining position to get myself a little present. This is how I came into possession of a PlayStation 2, Call of Duty Finest Hour, Gran Turismo 4 and Shadow of the Colossus. Frankly, it was not such a bad thing to leave friends and family behind as I don’t think I have ever returned from a shop with three games as life-consuming as these.
First out of the cellophane is Shadow of the Colossus; probably the greatest game I have ever played and yet purchased purely on the basis that I looked at the box and thought ‘ I’ve got the war and the driving games, this’ll do’.
So the game kicks in and I’m on a horse, walking through a huge castle. I got to a huge hall, only to find that I’m carrying my unconscious girlfriend with me. As my character lays her down on an altar, for reasons that I’ve never really understood I actually felt a pang of empathy for the protagonist. This was an odd feeling as, until that point, the only time I had ever really felt anything for a character in a game was the one child I doomed to an eternity of sitting in a never-ending rubber ring ride in Theme Park. Anyway, I wanted to help him, so off I rode on my horse to save the day. As I travel through the landscape, I can’t help but notice there is literally no activity around me other than myself and my horse. No other characters, little to no scenery except for in the distance and only a light ethereal soundtrack to keep me company. There’s not even any indication of which direction you should be going in. There’s a genuine feeling of loneliness in this game that you can almost touch and it’s quite disconcerting.
Suddenly it’s decided that I have run far enough in this direction and a cut scene fires up. The first time I come face to face with a colossus is one of the most memorable moments in my gaming history; up there with the first necromorph in Dead Space, the first time you see Damascus in Assassins Creed and the bad ending in Bioshock. As I stared up at this walking mountain the only thought that went through my head was self-preservation, so pathetically I decided to hide behind a tree. I don’t know what made me think this was a good idea, but when the colossus turned and stared at me with its vacant glowing eyes I actually felt panic. It’s actually reacting to what I’m doing, and it knows I’m afraid and hiding like a girl. I consider running, but then decide that if that fails all that’s left is wetting myself and crying. I decide to attack. I run towards him, watching him loom larger and larger until all I can see on the screen is me and a huge hairy leg. As the thought occurs that I have no idea what I’m doing, the game throws me a lifeline and tells me to climb. So I climb up the back of his leg and start stabbing furiously. Then I fall off. I did this several more times before finding myself standing on his head, stabbing him in the back of the neck.
Eventually the colossus falls to the ground dead. As I stand there staring, feeling pretty damn good about myself, black tentacles come shooting out at me in one of the most WTF moments in a game I can remember, and I too fall to the ground. I awaken back in the castle, ready for the next challenge.
There are 16 bosses in this game; each different but equally spectacular. Some that fly, some that swim and each one unique. But the real triumph in this game is the actual affinity you have for your character. You CARE whether he succeeds. You CARE that he doesn’t get stamped on, and each time he looks forlornly at his perpetually sleeping girlfriend you feel a pang of sorrow. I am yet to find another game where I have been so totally immersed in the world around me and the day that I completed the game I immediately went straight back to the beginning and started again.
I am now a fully-fledged ‘Xbox till I die’ 360 owner and would never even indulge the thought of buying a PS3. However, like the pain in your soul when you pass your ex and her new man in the supermarket, I know it’s there. ICO and Shadow of the Colossus are sitting there, available to download on the PlayStation network, calling to me. I could own you again. I could again be lost in a world of loneliness that emos can only dream about. But I have my principles. I didn’t choose the Xbox life, the Xbox life chose me and I just can’t bring myself to buy a PS3, but I will always have a feeling of sadness that I can’t experience it all again for the first time.
If you own a PS3, I would strongly recommend this to you as it is a milestone game; it will be your yard stick against which to compare all other games. It really is that good.