Game title: ICO
Genre: Action Adventure
Platform: Playstation 2 & Playstation 3
ESRB Rating: Teen
Developer: Team ICO
Release date: September 24, 2001 (PS2) & September 27, 2011 (PS3)
Overall rating: 8.5/10
Before I start this review. I should say that I am reviewing the HD port on the Playstation 3 in specific. How do I review a game like this? It is not a modern game. It is more than 10 years old at this point. Do I judge it by modern game standards, or do I judge it by the standards of games in it's time? The remastering on this game ensures that it is stuck somewhere inbetween the two, especially in the department of graphics and sound. Both of those are huge parts of what make this game what it is, so this is a tough one to do. With this in mind, I will give it my best shot.
Gameplay - 7.5
This is the hardest part of the game to grade because it has aged a lot less gracefully than every other aspect of the game. ICO is an action adventure game in which you control a young boy with horns named Ico as he attempts to escape a massive castle. You lead a young girl named Yorda through the castle and solve a series of puzzles while fighting off shadow demons that try to take Yorda away. It is a simple game with equally simple mechanics, but this works in the games favor.
Throughout most of ICO, you will be climbing all over walls, ropes and other things to try to solve puzzles. A lot of the time, you will be finding a way for the less nimble Yorda to travrse the massive environments that the game presents you with. The puzzles are never incredibly complex, but they will make you think. They are well designed and a joy to solve. They are not frustrating to figure out, but they are not obvious either. The rest of your time will be spent battling shadow demons that try to get to Yorda. They can be a little bit of a pain, but they are never hard to fend off. They do not present too much of a problem
This game does have a major problem, though. It has one hinderance that will anger you when you play it, and this is the reason that this is the hardest part of the game to grade. Yorda's AI is terrible in today's world. She is not bright, at all, and it is frustrating. You will spend too much of this game calling for her at the top of a ledge while you watch her shuffle around at the bottom of the ledge. It is not fun. It is not fun at all. What passed off as ok back in 2001 is extremely dated 10 years later. It is not a reason to not play this game, but it is a pretty big knock against a great game.
Graphics - 9.0
This is a 10 year old game, and it looks like it. It does not look like a modern game. The only way that it would look like a modern game is if they remade it from the ground up. Keep this in mind when you are playing it, and you will not be disappointed by the look of this game. If you have played the original game or know what it looked like, this will be a real treat for you, and you should make no mistake. This is a very pretty game, and it well worth your time to play through it a second time or a first time if you have not played it before. The visuals, alone, make this a very worthwhile experience for any serious gamer.
This is another game where the art of the game is everything. The ICO team have constructed a truly unique castle here. The architecture of this castle is unlike anything you have ever seen, with the exception of the psuedo prequel Shadow of the Colossus, which is the other half of this collection. This game was highly praised for its visuals back in 2001, and it deserves the same praise today. The art design for this game has aged like fine wine. This game always was a real treat for the eyes. As I said, this game is worth playing through just to see all of the sites and landscapes that this game has to offer.
As I stated at the beginning, I am reviewing the Playstation 3 version of this game. It was ported to the PS3 and completely remastered from the ground up, and I have never seen an HD facelift of a last generation game that helped the game this much. The graphics are so much more clean and clear now. The colors are much better than the original. All of the blury textures are now clear. The blury foggy look of the original version of the game is gone. The view is now wide screen, so there is more on screen. The shadow demons are much more clearly defined, as well. You can tell that a lot of time, effort and love went into porting this game to the Playstation 3. It is absolutely gorgeous, and the art shines through in this verion like never before.
Sound - 9.0
Sound is another way in which this game was improved greatly. Along with the HD graphical upgrade, the sound for this game was cleaned up. It was remixed and remastered into a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mix, and the result is that this game sound much clearer and more beautiful than it ever was before. Every single sound effect and every note of music in this game is enhanced greatly by the 5.1 treatment that it was given. It sounds much clearer and cleaner than the original stereo mix ever did, even when playing it through a digital optical cable on the Playstation 2. You will, now, also hear the shadow demons and environmental noises behind you and all around you, as well. It helps to give the sound a fullness that it has never had before. It is very impressive.
The music in this game is kept to a minumum. There is not much of it, and it has a tendancy to pop up most when Yorda is in trouble. If you hear the music start playing, you should hunt her down before they drag her away and your game ends. Most of the music, with the exception of a vocal track that plays at the end, is ambient. Do not go into this expecting the grand score of Shadow of the Colossus. You will not get it. It is not epic or sweeping. That does not mean that it is not beautiful. It is just subtle in its beauty. It serves to enhance the atmosphere of the game, and it does its job wonderfully. It all has a very similar atmosphere to the more quiet parts of Shadow of the Colossus that should be highly enjoyable for any player.
The sound effects in this game consist mostly of environmental sound effects that serve to enhance the vast emptines and loneliness of the game. I hate to sound like a broken record here, but it helps to aid the games atmosphere, and it does a wonderful job. You will hear water flowing, wind blowing, the flapping wings of the shadow demons, Yorda crying out when she is grabbed and the swing of the sword when Ico attacks the demons. It all sounds crystal clear and more beautiful than it ever has before. Fire crackles realistically. Stones settle and water laps against the shore. The eerie quiet of the castle makes it all the more noticable. It all serves the game very well, and it sounds far better than the original did.
Story - 8.5/10
In ICO, you play as a young boy named ICO as he tries to escape a massive castle while leading a young girl named Yorda through it. Ico has horns growing out of his head. He was imprisoned in the castle by a group of what appear to be holy men and sealed inside. When the foundation settles, the pod he was imprisoned in falls to the ground and cracks, allowing the young boy to escape. As he begins to explore the castle around him, he comes across a cage suspended in a stair well. Inside the cage is a young girl. He gets the cage to drop to the floor below, and it breaks, freeing the girl. The two must find a way out of the castle while she is hunted by shadow demons. Who are the shadow demons? Why do they want her? What secrets does the castle hold?
ICO goes with the John Carpenter theory of story telling. It intentionally leaves you in the dark about a lot of aspects of its story. The castle, its purpose and its architecture will always remain a mystery to you, but that is part of what makes the story so intriguing. The story gives you a long intro that tells a simple set up in an interesting way. It uses strong visuals to make it interesting. The ending is long and epic, as is fitting with the game. There are cut scenes inbetween that flesh out little bits of the story, but it never gets too in depth. That being said, it is never boring either. Every cut scene has a purpose, small or large. The story here will hold your interest. It is a good one.
Having said this, it must, also, be pointed out that the story to this game is a very simple one. You will not find a massive and complex story like you would get with a Metal Gear Solid title. What you get here is a basic set up that happens to be long, a basic premise that never gets too deep and a basic ending that is both epic and lengthy. It is deceptively simple, though. When it is all said and done, you will be wondering if there is a deeper meaning to it all, and you will be wondering about all of the little details that the game did not give you. It is simple in that it gives you just enough to peek your interest and be satisfied with the ending. This, ultimately, makes the game that much more amazing. This is a story worth playing through.
Replay Value - 7.5
Once you finish Ico, there is some incentive to go back and play through it a second time. There are trophies to collect and a secret weapon to find. For those that want a little bit more of the story, you can play through it a second time to get Yorda's dialog translated into English instead of having the subtitles displaying in the development teams made up language. You could, also, play through it a second time just for the wonderful experience that the game offers. There are reasons to play through Ico more than once, but I imagine that, for most people, this will be a one and done game. Most gamers probably won't care too much about getting the girls dialog in English enough to actually do it, and that is the main reason to play through it a second time. Nothing else will change on the second time through.
Final thoughts -
Ico is a wonderful game, and it is proof that video games can be a form of art to be taken seriously. It is a game that I would recommend that most gamers experience at least once. If you have beaten it before, it is worth getting this game again just to see how much more beautiful the game looks and sounds with the HD facelift. This game offers something for experienced players and new players, alike. That being said, this is a 10 year old game, and there are aspects of it that have aged that much since its initial release. It should not stop people from enjoying the overall experience, but it will be a minor source of frustration for most gamers who are used to newer games with more modern mechanics. That being said, this is a wonderful game that just begs to be experienced by all adventure fans.
Gameplay - 7.5
Yorda is dumb. There is no way around it, and it drags the gameplay down.
Graphics - 9.0
Never in your wildest dreams did you think Ico would look this good. The HD facelift does wonders for this game.
Sound - 9.0
The new 5.1 audio mix ensure that this game sounds infinitely better than it's PS2 counterpart.
Story - 8.5
This game is light on story. It intentionally leaves you in the dark on a lot of things, but that is why it is so intriguing.
Replay value - 7.5
There are multiple reasons to play through this once for serious fans. I doubt most people will make more than one trip through it, though