May 13, 2008

Commentary: Shadow of the Colossus

I picked up SotC after hearing about how it was yet another underappreciated masterpiece. Not quite as underappreciated as Beyond Good & Evil, Ico, or Psychonaughts, but a fantastic game that everyone ought to play. So I played it.

In truth, I was pretty ambivalent at first. I was interested enough to play through the first few colossi, but I didn't have the interest to continue. The battles were well-designed and all, but... maybe action-adventure just isn't my thing.

Then I played it once with my roommate and his friends standing behind me calling out advice, and it was ridiculously fun. They helped with the puzzles, while I did my best to pull off the requisite acrobatics and attacks. The game proceeded more quickly and we burned through another two colossi.

I find that I tend to enjoy more the action side of the game. Swinging around a colossus, jumping from a giant head to a giant shoulder, is thrilling. And the puzzles were well designed. I think that there was a bit of clash when they come together, though.

In Portal, the player generally has infinite time to figure out how to proceed. Experimentation is encouraged, and the player can try out whatever and still feel creative when the puzzle is solved. SotC introduces a major danger factor. You can't sit and try to analyze the colossus for weaknesses because if you stop running, you'll die. This might be solved by adding more "safe spots" (or making dodging easier) and making the camera more friendly (keeping greater distance from the player and controlling the angle to include the player when focusing on the colossus). I doubt that you'd lose the thrill of danger, either; there's still a gigantic furry thing trying to kill you.

The best aspect of the game design was centered on the controller. Clinging to the controller corresponded to clinging to a colossus, pushing and stabbing the attack button corresponded to pulling back your sword and stabbing enemies, etc. Haptic feedback was used for heartbeats, charging your sword, and other subtle but inspiring effects.

I had some trouble with the narrative. Others have commented that the colossi are sympathetic characters much of the time, but nothing was really done with this; it never factored into the story. Jonathan Blow talks about finding elements like this and incorporating it into the story, resulting in masterpieces like the Weighted Companion Cube. SotC left this out. And while the game nailed the feeling and flow of a grand tragedy, it might have overdone the ambiguity. It's a tale that would do well to have morally charged content, but our only clues to what is right or wrong is what looks good or looks evil (and as Ico taught us, horns aren't necessarily a bad thing).

Except Agro. That was done well, and deserves credit for subtlety of execution.

1 comment:

Xelaie said...

The problem I had with the game was: if every monster is epic, then it feels like none of them are.
That is, I grew tired of fighting these huge battles. The battles mean anything only if there is some serious story behind them. Otherwise it feels like grinding.
The game was really fun at first, but by the 8th colossus or so, I had to put my controller down for good.