Reader Review: ICO And Shadow Of The Colossus HD Collection

HD remakes -- yay or nay? Depends on the game I say. I've made no secret of the fact that playing the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection has been one of my favourite gaming experiences of 2012 so far. Michael Hart has been playing through my second favourite HD collection, the ICO and Shadow of the Colossus HD Collection.

Take it away Michael!

ICO And Shadow Of The Colossus HD Collection

I should probably hand in my gamer’s badge for admitting this, but I never played the original PS2 versions of ICO or Shadow of the Colossus. Two of the supposedly best PS2 games slipped me by so when the HD re-releases were announced for PS3 I looked forward to getting stuck into them. So just so I’m clear, this review is looking at these games for the first time, without any kind of memories or nostalgia attached to them at all. To make this review easier, I’ll review each game separately but give a verdict for the whole collection at the end.

ICO

The Good Using your head -- It’s refreshing in this day and age of first person shooters that a game can be genuinely challenging by actually making you use that thing between your ears. Much of ICO’s gameplay revolves around solving environmental puzzles as you find a way to escape a massive old castle, and it does this in a way that no other game genuinely does.

Simplicity -- Sometimes the less complicated approach is the best one. There are not a tonne of button combinations to remember in ICO, and ICO himself is quite simplistic. He can’t jump very high, or perform death-defying mid-air somersaults, or run along walls, or rewind time. You are fully aware of his capabilities which makes the puzzles even more satisfying to solve. The game has a very simplistic approach to combat too. Some people may criticise this, but I found it good as it’s not the game’s primary focus so it doesn’t really distract you from the problem solving.

Blue Steel -- The HD remastering of ICO has been very well done. While it doesn’t look as good as a full-blown PS3 game, it’s quite obvious a lot of care has been taken to make the game look good on HD displays. I’d actually go as far to say that ICO’s HD remastering looks better than SotC’s (more on that later). I wasn’t quite sure what I expected it to look like, but I was genuinely impressed by how good the visuals were knowing the game’s roots.

The Not So Good Not quite Blue Steel -- The camera in ICO is quite frankly...bad. That’s the nicest way I can put it. The game has an auto camera to follow you around, and also gives the player a degree of control. The problem is the camera often doesn’t allow you to see what you want to see. It seems to be restricted to about a 270 degree arc from where ICO is standing, and quite often I found that the camera would stop moving right before it got to a point I wanted to examine in closer detail. On several occasions it also hindered my navigation as well, so I was unable to see where I was actually supposed to be going until I moved ICO around a bit so the camera “reset” itself. For a game that focuses much of its gameplay on environmental puzzles that require you to survey your surroundings, I found this quite jarring. There’s no invert-y option either, which made things doubly confusing for me as I always play inverted. While I realise this was a PS2 game, I honestly played PS1 games with better camera controls than ICO.

What does this button do? -- There’s quite literally no in-game tutorial of any sort at the start of ICO. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself as that’s how most games were done back when ICO was first released in 2002, but we’ve become so accustomed to just popping the disc in and learning how to play a game in the first few minutes that it seemed a bit odd to need to actually read the manual to know what button does what, and find out you can do stuff like swing on chains and throw bombs. I’ll admit I got stuck once or twice simply because I wasn’t aware I could do these things before looking at the manual more closely.

Shadow of the Colossus

The Good The Thinker -- Like ICO, Shadow of the Colossus has a large emphasis on problem solving. In SotC though it’s in a completely different context. There are virtually no environmental puzzles to solve, the puzzles and core gameplay come from the combat, which is the complete opposite idea from ICO. The goal of SotC is to take down sixteen massive colossi, and each one requires different tactics and approaches to be killed. Figuring out just how to reach their weak areas so you can stab them with your special sword is the whole challenge of the game, and like ICO, it’s always satisfying when you solve the problem. Despite the fact they are all defeated by stabbing them somewhere, your methods of reaching their weak spots are all unique. Sometimes you’ll need to hurt them first to expose a way to climb up, sometimes you’ll need to use the environment to your advantage, sometimes you’ll need to utilise the services of your trusty steed, sometimes you’ll need to find a way to crack open some armour covering them first.

My what big... "everything" you have -- The sense of scale in Shadow of the Colossus is very impressive. The colossi are suitably all massive, with your character often barely reaching the creature’s ankles. The first thing you always think when you encounter them is “Okay, where’s its weak point? Hmm, all the way up there huh?”. It’s rare to have complete interaction with enemies of this size in games, but that’s what you get in SotC. There isn’t really any repetition with the colossi either...each one is different, from bi-peds wielding giant swords to electric aquatic serpents to air-born pterosaur lookalikes to wall-crawling lizard things, and they all move realistically and fluidly too. The colossi look particularly impressive in HD.

The Not So Good Not quite Blue Steel revisited -- Unfortunately, like ICO, the camera in SotC isn’t the best. It is much better than ICO’s though, providing full 360 degree movement (most of the time) and providing both invert x and y options. It does however still have some strange quirks that make moving the camera and some navigation needlessly difficult. The horseback controls in particular are also somewhat awkward at times. Despite running on more powerful hardware and having the HD makeover to look much nicer (and running at 60fps - something the PS2’s hardware apparently couldn’t achieve), there’s unfortunately some noticeable technical issues with SotC. ICO managed to mostly avoid them by only needing to load generally smaller areas at a time, but with SotC’s open world the problems are obvious, including high LOD and high-res texture pop-ins, as well as occasional oddness with the draw distance. It seems strange that they opted not to spend a little time trying to do some optimisations in this area during the “HD-ifying” process.

Coo-eee! -- SotC’s world is much larger than ICO’s, and a fair bit of time will be spent traversing it as you search for each colossus. However, aside from looking for fruit trees and white-tailed lizards (to increase health and stamina respectively), many of which you’ll find en route to each colossus anyway, there’s not much reason to explore it. The world is mostly empty apart from the game’s huge namesakes and there’s nothing else really interesting to discover. I should also point out here that I only discovered I could increase my health and stamina with fruit and white lizard tails because of the internet, as neither the in-game tutorial nor the game’s manual mentions them at all. If it wasn’t for someone pointing it out to me, I probably would have rode past them without a second thought.

The Verdict

ICO and Shadow of the Colossus are two games that are kind of strange to review. If you played them when they were first released, they would have been awesome. Looking at them now, they are still fantastic, just slightly less awesome. Both games look great in HD, it’s just a shame that aspects like the camera, controls and technical issues (especially in the case of SotC) weren’t also looked at in an effort to improve the overall experience. Each of them are kind of lacking in story and aren’t the longest games you’ll ever play, but make up for it with atmosphere, creative gameplay and emotion that few other games can match. If you missed out on them the first time around like I did, I’d highly recommend you pick this collection up to experience them now. If you did play them on the PS2, there’s plenty of elements such as the HD visuals and trophies that make them worth your while to experience again. You absolutely can’t go wrong with the bargain of getting two fantastic games on one disc, just be prepared to overlook some cracks that have appeared in their walls over the course of time.


Comments

    hehehehe... I'm the opposite when it comes to the camera for both games, I though ICO had a better camera, you could move it enough to see edges and the added zoom button allowed some focus.

    On the flipside, SOTC even with the options of inverting, etc... it's problem was the camera snapping back to the direction Wander was looking, so riding on horse back with a Colossus parallel to the side, focusing on the Colossus with the manual camera and then pulling out the bow and arrow would force you to look forward and then re-aim again, I get the theory behind it, but that was more jarring to me.

    My own review:

    They both had far more traditional narrative than I was expecting. I thought the narrative was OK - I never had that "I'm the monster feeling" in SotC people talk about.

    The gameplay in ICO was rubbish, great in SotC. Controls in both were pretty poor.

    I hadn't played until the HD re-release either.
    SotC I still haven't played, ICO I got a fair few hours into but didn't go back to after the first afternoon.
    ICO frustrated me immensely.
    The number of times I thought I knew what I had to do, tried it, run out of other options, looked on the internet, and found I was doing it right, just had to do it from a slightly different angles was mind boggling (and a massive waste of my time).

    Even the first room, I spent half an hour trying to figure out how to do anything, there was a big switch that I tried pressing every button in front of to no avail, turns out the answer was to HOLD the button not just press it.
    No way to know, terrible way to start the game.

    I do want to go back and finish it off and try out SotC, but it did leave quite a sour taste in my mouth.

    Good review, but should have mentioned the audio of the games. From the battlements in ICO, with the harsh costal wind howling in your ears and the cry of the occasional bird of prey, to the quiet forests in SotC, where the sound of your horse cantering pierces the natural solitude. When Ico calls out to Yorda, his voice can be muffled by the wind, or reverberated by stone walls. The sound design in these games is on a different level to most anything else I've played. The graphics obviously look better in these HD remakes, but the sound is what gives these environments the feeling of reality.

      I'll go against the grain here and say that I didn't find the soundtrack particularly memorable in either game, which is probably why I didn't mention it. It wasn't bad, but I don't think it particularly stood out as being brilliant, either. Might be another one of those things where it was great when the games were first released, but there have been plenty of other games since to feature similar sound design to these two games that it's not really noteworthy anymore.

      I don't know, that's just my opinion of it.

        Absolutely dead to me!
        Haha, fair enough man. If that is the case then can you name some of the more recent titles that do what these games do, for sound.

        I'm surprised you weren't impressed by SotC's music!

        I never played it on PS2, but when I heard The Open Way for the first time, when you climb onto the first colossus... well, I'm not ashamed to say I shed a tear. I've never heard music fit a game so well. Since Name of the Game during Splinter Cell's opening video, anyway.

    I just bought this collection today, so seeing this pop up on my rss when I got home was interesting... and useful.

    That's the second time something like that has happened today.

    The sense of wonder you get from SOTC is unmatched, at least.. it is unmatched in anything I have played since (except for *maybe* demon's souls). The game was beautiful when it was released and the HD graphics do it no harm - in fact, even the 3D isn't too bad and really helps notice those handholds etc. that jut out from the colossi. That said, I play with it off.

    I also think there is an incredibly huge (COLOSSAL EVEN?) oversight here because when reviewing shadow of the colossus there is not one mention of the incredible soundtrack - not even mentioning the word sound or music... that is punishable. Whenever you step into battle against one of the colossi and the music kicks in. There is a rush of blood to the fingers, a rush of blood that I suspect is mimicked by the protagonist. The music really, really makes each battle even more incredible.
    I'd run around and avoid the colossi for as long as possible just to listen to it.

    *PLUG*Currently writing about my experiences with Shadow of the Colossus here, trying to update it weekly but really taking my time with the game again. It is just so damn good: http://wp.me/p1NBQj-bu

    I agree with this review completely. I also agree it is the 2nd best hd collection after MGS Mark. I played through Ico and shadow all in one single weekend when these came out and that is something I never do which should help others get am idea of the unique feeling and emotions this game can give.

    I personally loved ICO back in the day and still very much love ICO...so much so that I Platinumed it (that "Finish the game under 2 hours" trophy was a pain)

    As for Shadow, even better on the PS3...gotta love that new improved stable frame rate over the PS2's chug fest frame rate

    I love both of these games...the experience alone that they offer is so vastly different to anything else out there...Sure ICO's combat is a little wonky, but I think it actually serves a purpose to the game. After all the kid isn't some "Bad Ass Warrior"...he's just a kid, and the wonky combat actually kinda works to fit that.

    And I love Shadow, really nothing else left to say then I love the crap out of it

    Even with all the recent troubles coming out of Team ICO in the past year, I'm still excited for The Last Guardian

    On a semi-related note:

    I played Journey last night. I won't try to describe how much I loved it because I'm not sure I would be remotely successful. I will say that I think the last time playing a game grabbed my attention, and even my emotions, so completely was when I first played Shadow of the Colossus.

    I'm still kind of on a high about it, so my opinion is prolly a little too gilded at this point, but I'm feeling like Journey is one of my favorite videogames.

    Also, it was the first time I truly felt a sense of kinship and connection with another player while playing Co-Op.

    Hard to describe. Hopefully everyone else has as great a time with it.

    tl;dr : If you like Ico/SotC, then you'll definitely want to play Journey. No question.

      Same......Journey one of my favourites right now.

    My HD collection arrived yesterday and I gave SoTC a quick spin, loved it even more than I did back in the PS2 days. The silky smooth framerate and overall remastering is phenomenal. Just with the solid 30fps the enjoyment is increased 10 fold. It was the main problem with the original, the PS2 just couldn't handle it. Gonna give ICO a whirl tonight as well.

    Can't wait for The Last Guardian, it looks fantastic!

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