Sunday, June 24, 2007

Thy next foe is...

I've climbed the mangy fur of a stone giant with my bare hands, hanging on for dear life as it shook and bucked with such force that my vision blurred. I've stood atop a mountain-sized creature and suddenly realized that I was far up in the clouds, circled by birds and only one step away from falling back to an earth obscured by distance, ultimately meeting my maker. I've performed death-defying leaps from one wing to the other on a flying behemoth, and nearly been swept away by the oncoming torrent of wind as it raced through the skies. I've been plunged into the depths of a murky lake while stubbornly holding on to the glistening tail of a gigantic electrified sea monster trying to drag me down into a watery grave.

Every time I am faced with another colossus, defeating it seems an impossible task. What could I possibly do that would even faze these enormous creatures? I am an ant in comparison to these insurmountable obstacles, each one a new adventure, another unique challenge. The dizzying heights, neck-breaking speeds and mortal dangers leave me sweating and shaking with exhaustion, even though I am sitting safely on this side of the screen, controlling the protagonist via a gamepad and watching the action play out before me. Because I am of course talking about a video game, namely Shadow of the Colossus for Playstation 2.

I am a severe latecomer to the world of PS2 gaming -- in fact, I only just bought the console some week ago after being mesmerized by Guitar Hero, and then recently decided to get a few cheap games. Shadow of the Colossus is more than a year old now, but it still looks good (and sometimes amazing) if you can coax some 480p action out of the PS2. Just getting my hands on the required component cables to take advantage of the higher resolution was somewhat of an adventure in itself, as most game stores nowadays only carry accessories for Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii. I found PS2 component cables online, but didn't want to order accessories from some unknown web shop. I finally found an actual real-life shop that has component cables right here in Stockholm; the appropriately named psXcare. Thanks guys, now I can defeat colossi in twice the resolution!

As a side note, I was a bit ticked off at first by the sound lagging behind very noticeably in cut scenes when playing in progressive mode, but then I switched from PAL to NTSC, and now it's in sync again. Apparently, it was that age-old "timing based on hertz" problem that I thought died with the 80s.

When I first got the game, I was a bit anxious that it would be too hard for me, since I'm not much of a gamer. As it turns out, it's very forgiving, despite pitting you against otherwordly giants that would just as soon crush you underfoot as look at you. Firstly, the game only consists of two elements; finding a colossus and defeating it. That's it. Finding the next colossus involves riding across the land on your trusty steed and holding your sword up to the sun to see in which direction it focuses the sunrays; that's where you need to go. Most jumping puzzles take place during the actual felling of the colossi, and there are no other irritating enemies running about. Secondly, falling off a colossus or getting stomped on usually doesn't kill you instantly. One of the worst things that can happen is that you lose half your health and your consciousness for a while, which leaves you very vulnerable to any further attacks. However, if you can just get out of harm's way for a while, your health is automatically replenished. Of course, if your health meter is depleted, it's game over, but you don't have to load a game and ride all the way to the colossus again; you get to start over from the moment you found it.

Once again, this is what I would call soft obstacles. There is no instant failure, and every time I fall off a colossus I feel like I've discovered something new about it that might help me defeat it. Still, I'm only half way through the game and I've almost given up twice. The problem is that it's too linear. There is only one colossus to fight at any given time, hence the title of this blog post, the phrase with which every mission starts. You can easily get stuck on one colossus with no clue as to how to defeat it, or just get frustrated by how hard it is. If there had been two or three colossi to choose from, you could leave one for later and defeat a few of the others instead, thereby maintaining the flow of the game. Granted, multiple colossi might make finding them a whole lot harder. It would be slightly akin to having a compass needle that not only points north, but also towards Havana and Sofia depending on which way you're facing. Any potential solution might break the design of the game, which is elegant in its simplicity.

So while Shadow of the Colossus is not perfect, it's an extremely satisfying experience. The music is great, the colossi are awe-inspiring, and the story seems to build up to what I hope to be a heart-wrenching and memorable finish. Now if you'll excuse me, I believe I have a sand worm to slay.

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