ICO and Shadow of the Colossus HD Collection
There are probably few games that whipped up quite as much fan fervour when Sony began remastering their PlayStation 2 classic titles in HD on the PlayStation 3. ICO and Shadow of the Colossus are two of the greatest landmarks on the gaming landscape from the PS2 era and they are probably most deserving of the facelift.
Having said that both titles stand out, even in today's 720p HD gaming world, as some of the most visually stunning games ever made so, in remastering Team ICO's iconic works Sony had to make sure that they treated them with respect.
Of course, while Team ICO has built a reputation for visual excellence, the real beauty of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus has always been in the design of the games and their blissfully simple concept.
ICO for those who have never encountered it before is a platform game along the same lines as Prince of Persia. Your character, a little boy with horns is taken to a remote and derelict castle to be sacrificed for the good of his village. A storm strikes the castle and he is released from his cage and the whole game is spent trying to escape.
Very early on he encounters a mysterious girl and he has to rescue her and guide her to safety too. Plenty of games have used this kind of dynamic before from the Lost Vikings to Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom but ICO has a delicate beauty to it that really sets it apart.
Aside from the spectacular visuals Team ICO has a knack for storytelling without ever needing to actually spell things out. The cutscenes are very understated, rendered in the in-game engine, a large part of the actual backstory being told in the design of the levels hinting at what the castle had been used for previously.
There is an immense subtlety to ICO that really brings the game world to life. Many games can be criticised for not putting the player's imagination to work. ICO turns that idea on its head and really capture's the imagination stimulating it to flesh out the setting and story in a way that no amount of Metal Gear Solid-style cutscenes could ever hope to achieve.
Shadow of the Colossus is equally sublime. It begins with the game's hero, a young warrior riding up to a massive temple in the middle of a plain. Once inside he places the body of his beloved on an altar and asks the temple's deity to resurrect her. A voice directs him to destroy the ten massive indestructible idols by defeating their respective colossi. Then his love may be resurrected.
The main aim of the game is to ride out into the wilderness, hunt down each of the colossi in turn and kill them one by one.
The most striking thing about Shadow of the Colossus is the solitude. Aside from the hero, his horse and the colossi, there is no other sign of life in the game's world. The emptiness of the world is a deliberate choice. The solitude of the hero and each colossus seems to reflect the sorrow and loneliness in the the hero's heart for the loss of his beloved. It's a depth of representation that games rarely display, even now.
Each colossus presents a new challenge to the player. He must climb up the sides of these gargantuan beasts, searching for each for the right weak spot to plunge his sword into in order to bring it down. As well as his sword the hero has a bow and arrow to help him hit the points that are just out of reach.
Shadow of the Colossus has a pace quite unlike any other game. When in battle with a colossus the pace is frantic. The feeling of panic as you cling on for dear life as a colossus tries to shake you off is intensely captivating and the hero is just fragile enough that you're always on edge in the heat of the fight.
This is in complete contrast with the gameplay in between the colossus battles. Here the pace slows right down as man and horse explore the wild lands together searching patiently for the next beast to defeat.
Both games have been carefully and painstakingly updated for HD and stereoscopic 3D TVs. Shadow of the Colossus and ICO both look as spectacular as they every have before with the major difference being the absence of the motion blur caused by the anti-aliasing technique used to make the games look as good as possible on the PS2. The new sharper visuals combine well with the clear crisp remastered audio to retain the atmospheric nuances of each title perfectly.
The ICO and Shadow of the Colossus HD Collection is spectacular whatever way you approach it. No matter whether you are experiencing the games for the first time or reliving their beauty in HD they retain the same impact that they both made when the arrived on the PS2 the first time around. This is a landmark collection of titles that should take pride of place in every PS3 gamer's library.