When it comes to pushing the notion of video games as art, several names always enter the minds of most seasoned gamers; Okami, Flower and Limbo to name a few. Team ICO’s efforts have arguably caused more headaches in conversations than any other as judgements are made on their aesthetics, musical scores, Sundance Film Festival grade storytelling and emotional content. For a lot of people, art can incorporate all these things, and with the re-release of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, they have either been maintained or enhanced.
Game: ICO & Shadow of the Colossus Collection
Developer: Team ICO and Bluepoint Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
It’s been ten years since the original release of ICO and six for Shadow of the Colossus. Time, like with many things has begun to take its toll on these seminal titles, but it doesn’t detract from their classic nature. Just like the renaissance portraits in the Louvre, with their age-induced cracking, will never stop people flocking to see the works of da Vinci and Monet, these last generation games are still just as relevant today as Uncharted and Gears of War but will, obviously, never hope to sell anywhere near as many copies.
The HD release spruces up the visuals by using the original art assets and buffing them up to within an inch of their lives, giving both titles a much cleaner and smoother look and feel. Both games benefit positively from Bluepoint Games approach, and with the inclusion of stereoscopic 3D and 7.1 surround sound, everything that could be done to improve the games has been considered and implemented.
The game that started it all, and inspired many others including Twilight Princess, has seen a serious scrubbing. It felt as though we had just come back from expensive eye surgery to remove the cataracts that were blurring the original game’s visuals. Everything is solid and polished with more clarity in the environments and character models. Yorda, for instance, goes from being a slightly hazy figure to a more detailed model.
This unfortunately brings up a couple of issues of consistency with the surface textures. A little way into the game, you notice that some of the walls are extremely shiny and immaculately rendered whereas in other rooms, the surfaces may appear bland and rushed. This takes nothing away from what is still an awesome game but it does make it easier to spot. Also, the geometry of the castle’s many areas give away ICO’s earlier PS1 development roots. With its perfect lines and angles, this can explain why in a few puzzle sections, the camera can throw up awkward scenarios which can often result in death-by-falling-off-a-cliff-that-you-didn’t-see. Being able to centre the camera behind the protagonist is taken for granted in third person adventures today so it would really have been nice to add that as a modern (optional) feature for the game.
SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS
Probably the game that benefits from being on PS3 the most is Shadow of the Colossus. It was originally released at the tail end of the PS2’s lifespan and pushed beyond the limits of the aged Emotion Engine. This was typified by the shocking framerate drops and frequent screen-tearing. As with Ico, SotC is locked at 30 fps which makes a world of difference to the immersive feel of the action and movement of Wander, Agro (his horse) and the eponymous colossi. The game allows you to traverse the Hyrule-like plains on a majestic horse, and in HD, this is just amazing to behold. Performance all round has been improved, but pop up in the distance is still an unwanted occurrence.
The colossi are even more fierce-looking now, with the blurred edges removed, every strand of hair can be seen clearly. This adds more wonder as to how the original team managed to put this through the PS2’s system – remember, all the art assets in this remaster were in the first release – nothing has been added but it feels as though some kind of black magic is in use at Sony Japan.
There are no issues to contend with in terms of the simple control scheme. Having and maintaining a button for gripping onto edges and fur will always be a fantastic dynamic and it has instilled a fantastic element of panic, grit and determination to a game that is all about climbing and navigating your way to your destination.
Both games will always be revered by critics as well as cultured fans, and it’s fantastic that they’ve been given a 3D/HD update. They are true to their original visions and there is nothing that has been tampered with or changed in a negative way. However, it would have been a nice bonus for those of us returning to these worlds to play through sections that were cut from the games. Ueda once thought about adding the colossi that were cut from the PS2 version, but changed his mind due to fearing that he’d be criticised for putting in some “half-baked” creations. It would have been great to have had them as playable extras in the time attack modes, as this would have given an extra challenge and added value to this release. But c’est la vie.
If you are looking for something that will make you feel compassion, remorse, joy and despair; something to escape from the norm of being a super soldier on the rampage, then pick up this collection and prepare to have your world shaken. The arguments of what constitutes art will undoubtedly continue, and these games may remain as the de facto points of reference. There’s no way to fully describe the grandeur feelings that these exhibitions evoke, but they are now part of video gaming history and can always be cited as examples of when our favourite pasttime became a serious art form.