|Submitted by Zanzibar |
(Apr 16, 2005)
Have you ever wanted to play a game that offers a truly gorgeous cinematic experience? One that would leave you staring vacantly at the screen, a nice strand of drool hanging pendulously from the corner of your mouth, for a good ten minutes after popping the CD into your console? Well, there's been one sitting in front of your faces for four years now! In 2001 Sony Computer Entertainment released the absolutely stunning Ico, a third-person action/strategy title that is the epitome of great visuals on the Playstation 2. This game has such a wonderful artistic style that you can't help but love it, haunting music and realistic sound effects that put you in the game, and enough challenging puzzles and frantic battles with mysterious enemies to keep you firmly locked in front of your television for an unhealthy amount of time.
You play as Ico, a cursed boy outcast from his village because he was born with a pair of horns on his head. On his twelfth birthday, strange men arrive and carry him off to an abandoned castle where they sacrifice him to the spirits by entombing him within a stone sarcophagus. While in his prison, Ico dreams of a vision of beauty held captive somewhere inside the castle. A twist of fate frees him and he must rescue the girl and escape with her before the castle's mistress, an aging and decrepit sorceress, absorbs the girl's youth and vitality to prolong her own life.
Sounds easy, right? Well, it is less so once the queen starts sending her shadowy minions after you, especially since, at first anyway, you have nothing much to defend yourself with but a stick. Basically what this game boils down to is you leading Yorda (that's the girl's name) through a series of complicated puzzles, all the while running from the shadow minions, in order to escape to freedom. You can stand and fight (and indeed must sometimes) but Ico's combat ability leaves something to be desired. That being said, the monsters only consider you an afterthought. Their real mission is to snatch Yorda away from you and carry her down into one of the shadow pits from which they emerge. Since you have no health or life, you can take any number of their backhands and keep on fighting, though if they escape with Yorda in their clutches you're sunk.
This game is one of the most beautiful this reviewer has ever seen, bar none! Considering it was released four years ago, that's really saying something. It's not that the graphics are flawless (though they are freaking spectacular), but that the game has such incredible style and atmosphere that it just sucks you right in. I don't see how anyone cannot be impressed by it. The backgrounds and environments are very detailed, highly rendered works of art, whilst the characters are cell-shaded 3-D models that are in keeping with the game's very Asian style. Some of the effects, like the monsters' shadow pits, are a bit clunky (for 2001), but they aren't offensive or ugly and do not detract from the visuals at all. One of the best features though, which is surprising considering how minor a thing it really is, is the ability to zoom in at any time, on any part of the screen, by depressing the R2 button. This function really lets you drink in all of the visual splendor, especially when you're outside on a balcony or ledge and can see the surrounding terrain for miles, as well as much of the castle (which is one big structure). It's also very useful for spotting things that are at a distance. As if all this wasn't enough, this game sports one of the best looking opening sequences ever!
The perfect compliment to this game's fantastic visuals is its audio. You would be hard-pressed to think of more appropriate music then what is already featured. Haunting instrumentals set the pace perfectly and realistic sound effects accompany every action. The voices are what really demand attention though. Although they don't speak english (Yorda and the Queen don't even speak a real language) the speech is very well done. Most impressive is how it echoes whenever you are in a large room, which is also kind of creepy (and that's a good thing). The weird noises made by the monsters aren't as great as the voices but neither are they bad. My only problem with Ico's audio is that I don't know what the hell Yorda and the Queen are saying! Even the subtitles are in their crazy language.
The gameplay is a mix of monster-bashing and puzzle-solving, with a little frantic chasing thrown in for effect. When you enter certain parts of the castle, black and white puddles will appear on the floor, and it is from these holes that the monsters emerge. They run (or fly) straight for Yorda, sending Ico flying away with a stiff punch if he interferes. Your job is to beat them off the girl and prevent them from pulling her into one of their holes. If you are lacking a weapon you can bullrush them with your horns but for most of the game you'll be packing an extinguished torch as a sort of impromptu club. While effective, some of the bigger baddies require quite a few hits to destroy. Later on you'll acquire a magic sword that deals with them much more efficiently. Interestingly enough, Yorda, who is magical, can fry the enemies with magic lightning, which she normally uses to open certain doors. The puzzle-solving aspect also provides a good challenge. Yorda has a hard time climbing and jumping so much of your time will be spent negotiating her past obstacles that Ico can bypass with relative ease. Since you don't have any health in this game, the only thing you have to worry about is death from falling (or having Yorda snatched). This provides a nice change from most action games and enhances Ico's visuals even more since there is no hint of a HUD (heads-up display, which, in other games, shows you health, weapons, etc.).
Everyone should experience Ico, regardless of genre preference. Even if you don't normally play this type of game you will most definitely enjoy it. This is truly one of the best Playstation games of all time, without a doubt. And, since it's a few years old, you'll save money picking it up!