Remember the "Double Life" ad for the Playstation? A marvellous ad, full of the kind of lyrical braggadocio Sony brought to the word of videogames. In that one ad, I believe Sony did more for raising mainstream understanding of the appeal of videogames than all of Nintendo's efforts throughout the previous ten years.
But the ad never really rang true for me. The creepy-cute kid with the lisp telling us how he'd "conequered worlds" seemed like a bit of a lie. The worlds I had conquered had been superficial, cartoon worlds. Even the largest maps in Command & Conquer never really struck me as anything more than an extended game of Cannon Fodder. A loose bit of fun that, ultimately, never made me feel even the least bit heroic. Certainly not as heroic as the games that creepy-cute kid seemed to be playing.
Shadow of the Colossus is the first game that has made me feel like I could be a part of that ad. I feel like I'm finally able to say, with no small amount of pride, that I have defeated giants. Armed with nothing more than a sword, a bow, and an unlimited supply of arrows (ahem), I have beaten... no, I have slain impossible goliaths. Did you hear that? I've actually slain something.
The sense of scale in this game is unbelievable. One level in God of War had you climbing a giant temple carried on the back of Kronos, the last titan. The scale of that one level sealed it for me - God of War was presenting familiar things in a way I had never experienced them and, as such, was one of the best games I'd ever played. Shadow of the Colossus does the same thing, over and over again. Each level (16 in all) has a different colossus, with a different way of defeating them. Some are more obvious than others. Some require more skill and/or dexterity and/or luck than others. But each one has a scope beyond any other videogame I've ever played. Quite simply, it's staggering.
The Colossi themselves are strewn across a huge, empty game world. This in itself is a courageous move by the developers. Given the games relative brevity (in 3 hours, I had defeated 7 Colossi, almost half the total amount), it would have been easy to put incidental challenges in your way - the occasional enemy that will pop up out of nowhere and take 10 minutes to defeat (Hello Zelda: Wind Waker!) - thus artificially lengthening the game. Instead, they kept it barren, which only adds to the epic nature of the game.
(Incidentally, I've also noticed that the developers have thrown in cool little spot-details, like an ancient campfire near where you battle a colossus. Not entirely necessary, but adds the overall atmosphere of the game.)
After Shadow of the Colossus, I still don't feel like I've conquered worlds. But I've conquered giants. And that's close enough.