McMillan’s Codex #46 by Charles McMillan
Shadow of the Colossus
Films like Valhalla Rising, Only God Forgives, and The Revenant seem like the pretentious exercises of auteurs. Studying them reveals these films to be rather simple stories. One was about how war is inherent in religion, another was about rebelling against God, and the last dealt with balance in nature. The difference between them and Star Wars is that art house movies like to be considered complicated. Videogames with artistic leanings do the same things in an interactive sense. There has been a spike in such games from the independent scene, and I am of the opinion that Shadow of the Colossus was their progenitor.
If one were to describe the game in a word, one would choose “minimalist.” All you do as the protagonist is explore an open world to fight the Colossi. There are 16, each different and more difficult than the last, and killing one will unlock another. After a Colossus is dead, your grip and health meters increase so you have the power to take on the next.
The Colossi are creatures of varying heights and anatomy, but taking them down is the same. You play as an ordinary human who must stagger and mount them to stab their weak point. Each Colossus has a unique design. The stone armor they wear serves as a means to climb the Colossi with platforms and edges.
A smaller part of the game is exploring the open world. I say small because much of the world is easy to ignore. Shadow of the Colossus takes place in a closed off region abandoned by civilization. Only ruins remain after the Colossi took up residence, leaving buildings to fall apart, and the environment to take over. The architecture is Asian- and-Middle Eastern-inspired that looks beautiful with the element of decay and the natural world. Imagine Angkor Wat, but in a desert.
The minimalist approach to gameplay is a part of what makes Shadow artistic. The simplicity is best seen in the monochromatic-lite scheme of washed out colors and large contrasting details. The standout is black, coded to the Colossi, your horse Agro, and lizards that populate key areas of the environment. Your character is coded white, but as you defeat the creatures you grow darker.
The audio deserves a special mention. What you hear most of the time is three tracks for three scenarios: The world, battle, and finishing. When riding across the open world there is ambient noise of wind and Agro’s hooves hitting the ground. This track does a great job of conveying isolation because you are so alone. The battle music is generic, but the finishing track is better for how the song is utilized.
The track plays during a cut scene of the Colossi dying, invoking a feeling of despair. Even though they are your enemy, the Colossi are beautiful creatures that are unique. They are animals just going about their business before you come along a plant a sword in their face. Seeing them fall is depressing and the finishing music does a good job of making you feel bad.
Shadow of the Colossus more or less created a whole other genre. Before then, games of similar aesthetic and minimalist gameplay were not in high demand. Now independent videogames thrive in the art house realm. Shadow of the Colossus is an experience that does not come around often, especially from a major publisher. With the release of an HD re-master, the game is a must play for anyone interested in a break from the norm.