Review of ICO
ICO is a game that I have been following with great interest. There has been a considerable amount of Internet buzz regarding this title yet Sony has chosen, for whatever reason, to minimally market this game. After playing through the game I have come to the conclusion that they have a triple ‘A’ sleeper hit on their hands here. Hopefully this title gets good word of mouth, because it is a title that no real gamer will want to miss. Now, onto the game…
Right from the start, ICO begins to cast a spell on the poor (or perhaps I should say “fortunate”) unsuspecting gamer. The story begins with the introduction of a little boy named appropriately enough, Ico, who gets entombed and placed in a huge castle along with other sarcophagi in huge rows lining the castle walls. For whatever reason, his sarcophagus topples over and spills to the ground, opening up and letting Ico out. Right away we notice that he is not more than a mere child dressed in modest garb. His most distinguishing characteristic is the horns protruding from his head. Right away I began to ask myself…”why did they entomb him? What’s with the horns? Why did his casket fall over and not the others? What will happen next?” Already, within 5 minutes of starting this game I am hooked…hopelessly sucked in…and to be honest, I really can’t rationalize why. Perhaps it is because I want my questions answered or maybe it is the overall presentation and atmosphere of what I am seeing unfold in front of me. Maybe it’s just because I feel a tinge of sorrow for this lost little boy and feel somehow obligated to help him.
Before I even began to move about and start to explore my surroundings and progress the story along, I first took in the environment. The room that you will begin your journey in is expansive and majestically laid out in front of you. Using the right thumbstick to control the camera, I took in the incredibly textured walls, the light beams streaming in from windows countless feet above my characters head and the gothic architecture of this mammoth room. A sense of aloneness and eeriness immediately crept into my mind. I decided to start moving and thus begin my adventure in earnest.
I found the character control and animation to be nearly flawless. For a good amount of time I just ran around and tried my hand at jumping, climbing, and shimmying across ledges. Everything I tried was transferred and executed perfectly from the controller. Ico runs around as you move the left thumbstick but you can also get him to walk slowly by easing back on the stick a bit or pressing the “O” button for a dead walk. All of the movements looked incredibly realistic and there appears to be a lot of specific animations depending on the circumstances. As Ico moves about, convincing little particle puffs of dust billow out from under his shoes…looks like someone hasn’t tidied up the castle in many, many years. As a little side note, the particle effects as a whole are extremely impressive. Just lash out with Ico’s wooden stick and hit something…little splinters of wood fragment and fall to the ground. Break an object and it cracks and crumbles just like the real thing. Oh, and the water…my god the water…It is the most realistic and interactive use of water effects that I have yet to see.
After becoming comfortable with the controls and confident that I left no stone unturned I decided it was time to leave the first room and venture onward. As I passed through the doorway the screen “dissolves” to black for a split second and the next room is immediately displayed. Fast! After climbing around here and there and admiring the incredible lighting and particles effects for the flaming torches that adorned the walls I high-tailed it up a chain and headed out one of the three open windows. It was here in the next room that I finally discovered Ico’s prime motivator for continuing onward…there was a girl trapped in a metal cage high up in the top of the citadel and I instinctively new she needed to be helped. Immediately after figuring out how to release her, the ground near the girl began to bubble like hot tar and wispy black smoky creatures began immerging from the oozing black pool from the room we were in. The most notable feature of these murky monsters was their eyes, which elicited an eerie bluish white glow. Luckily one of the wall torches fell to the floor when the cage dropped and I picked it up to use as a weapon. As I swung at the creatures, fine pieces of their bodies ripped apart and vanished into thin air and their eyes displayed a very cool blurring effect as they flailed about from my beating. As I focused on one of the creatures, another grabbed the girl and tried to drag her into the black bubbling hole. I suppose the best way to describe these “things” is to say that they look like animated figures stripped right from a Rorschach test paper.
Once I dispensed of the “smokies” I took the girls hand and discovered that she possessed some magical powers that were able to open up the Idol like barriers that barred the exit ways in many of the areas in the castle. I soon realized that while she could follow me when I called out to her, she would need my help climbing many of the walls and jumping many of the chasms in our mysterious prison. We were attached…
Architecturally, the layout of the castle is a real thing of beauty. High quality texturing abounds and everything is crisply displayed on the screen. There are many places where you can look up and see ledges and balconies that later in the game you will find yourself on. Every corridor, pathway, and room flows incredibly smoothly into each other. Attention to detail and layout were apparently foremost in creating the castle and it really shows throughout the game. There are many places in the game where I was able to step outside on one of the towers or a balcony and take in the view. The castle is ENORMOUS and the draw distance is simply incredible. Off in the distance you can hear the sound of water gently lapping the sides of the building, with birds chipping and the wind making its way through the catacomb like structure. Come to think of it, throughout the entire game, virtually everywhere Ico roams you will be treated to totally subtle yet quite immersive ambient sound effects.
For the duration of the game I felt somehow compelled to continue…to find out more pieces of the story and to discover the beauty of the castle that seemed to get more spectacular around every bend. The overall pacing of the game is absolutely perfect and the fact that in many situations you can either rapidly progress if you choose to do so or merely hang back and investigate your surroundings to you hearts content made me feel in total control. The puzzle pieces also fall into place very logically. If you think about it, the game plays out almost perfectly. Especially considering the fact that we are not given any advance info as to who the boy is, who the girl is, why he is there or what we are expected to do. The amount of text displayed can fill a thimble and the language spoken is totally indiscernible and yet for some mysterious reason everything still flows smoothly and has a wonderful “feel” to it.
ICO is a real work of art and a game that reminded me of why I got into this business in the first place…it’s just plain enjoyable and feels completely fresh. It expertly blends elements of fantasy, mystery, action and adventure into a puzzle/platform environment like very few games before it have been able to do. If you really need to be reminded of why you started playing videogames in the first place, get ICO…it’s a real wake up call.
OUR PLEDGE: We promise that we have fully played 'ICO' before writing this review. The scores given above are our honest opinion and were not influenced in any way by the manufacturer or distributor of the game.
This review was written by Tom Rooney © Absolute PlayStation
Click here to view our 9 ICO in-game screenshot slideshow
Have You Played ICO ?
If you have owned 'ICO' long enough to have formed a solid opinion on it, then click here to write your own mini review of ICO.
Alternatively, if you would like to read what other gamers who already own ICO think of it, click here to view all of our reader comments and mini reviews of ICO.
Want To Know More About ICO ?