Like a rare gem being taken from an immense assortment of possibilities, so has ICO emerged from the onslaught of fellow PS2 titles that have been released in the early weeks of fall. A title that possesses sheer excellence in every field, ICO has proven itself worthy in comparison to every game as of now, and the potential of many titles preparing to be released. What's so special about ICO is that somehow it appeals to almost everyone regardless of preferable genre. I know of those people who absolutely hate anything related to an RPG or adventure game. They stick to sports games and action/fighting games, as they have been accustomed for years. But ICO has something about it, something that draws you in and erases any previous bias that you may have held, and turns it into an experience that is an absolutely amazing journey. Sony has worked every piece of magic possible into this adventure title, and is presenting it to you for what is a priceless venture. The only real catch is that you may be literally shocked at the reality and overall presence of awe the game brings. This is a title to gawk at, no doubt, but is entangled with so many more aspects that you may wonder how you could have even thought to overlook it.
Visually, ICO stands supreme every way you can look at it. From the well-developed backgrounds to the environmental weather, it covers detail that is almost unnecessary for gameplay, but adds dimension to a title that is already abundant in features. The atmosphere that is developed is astounding, and a simple overlook of the landscape is breath taking. Not too many games can you just stop and survey your entire scene. However, in ICO, this is not only a possibility, it is encouraged. Also duly noted are the backgrounds and exploration devices that encompass the game. Who knew a set of ancient building structures with ledges and walkways to explore by, could ever give someone a sense of amazement that ICO has been able to accomplish? However, not only is this easily obtained, but small features such as fog and water detail is delightful. ICO has managed to put so much detail into something as easy as water, and make the one playing stare in wonder, as if mesmerized by this new structure that has come about. Fog from below is added as sense of outlying distance, that is fatal if to be engulfed by. To fall from the endless edges in the game is a treat visually, as your character plummets to their mist filled fate. Consequently, though, this graphical feast will not help you in your journey, as death is the result. The setting of the game is a medieval type dungeon with its magnificent surroundings for you to explore. Possibly the most important feature of ICO, visually, is the vast constructed city. Amounted with tremendous facets and elements, this aspect will be the one that keeps you playing, as it is the majority of your playing conquest. The structural design is down right remarkable, and the best I have ever seen. You will not find a better-constructed title as of now.
A category that is the definitive component in every game, ICO shines as brilliantly in gameplay as it does visually. Possibly what makes ICO irresistible in this category is the endless amount of puzzles and rewards that are fluently encountered. The story is about a young boy, Ico, and his escape from the persecution of his village. The townspeople order Ico to be executed as a result of the horns that bore his head when he was born. Now at the age of 12, it is his calling by the village to be sent off and killed. Well, if you hadn't guessed, Ico escapes, and his adventures are what make up the story with his meeting of Yorda, the sacred girl who is pursued by demons. Your journey will begin after a magnificent CG that shows the departure of Ico to be killed. His escape triggers the adventure, and you are then thrust into the role of this small boy, looking for hope in a world that has shunned your existence. As soon as you even press a button to move your character, you are presented with a hint of the puzzle atmosphere, as you will need to find a way out of the first room you encounter. After some time, you will be shown the presence of Yorda, and once again, her survival is an intuitive puzzle that makes for your enjoyment. Keep in mind, this is the structure that surrounds ICO, and is an unlimited joy as you move from stage to stage, accomplishing great tasks as you vie to understand the meaning of your journey. In a sense, it is about the rescue of Yorda, but what awaits for you is only describable by playing the game. The game is a truly marvel to look at and experience, with many dimensions wrapped up inside.
It's tough to put together a stellar sound scheme for a title like ICO, but Sony has excelled in every part of ICO so far, why not keep going. Every obstacle you face, every natural occurrence is bursting with harmonious splendor, from the soft chirping of birds, to the loud clamor as you fight for your freedom. Each level has it's own sense and feeling as the sound format fits perfectly as you travel. A mood is set in every level and you will be transformed to suit this mold each time your adventure changes form. Trust me in this category. Sony has not forgotten to include a part of the game, which in some cases can make or break a title. The beautiful arrangement is well noted, and will not be forgotten in my book, as it will not be forgotten in yours either.
The control scheme and setup of ICO is also very well put together. Ico's movements are well taken care of, with only small confusion as the camera angle changes. The fluent motion and sensitivity of the game is practically flawless, as it aids tremendously in the quality and value of the game. The controller setup is extremely simple and will be picked up in a matter of minutes. For those of you wondering, the button layout goes like this: Square is to strike with your weapon, Circle is to either walk or is the action button for levers and picking up and pushing objects, Triangle is to jump, and X is the release button. As you can tell, the easiness of this category is almost without saying. Ico's actions are perfectly taken care of with an excellent control setup that will put your fingers at ease.
Possibly one of the categories that seems to lag in a lot of adventure games is the replay value. Most titles are a long fought out battle to complete, and is almost exhausting in its finality. You may not want to venture through the long process again, and would favor moving on to another game. I, however, believe ICO is as far from this stereotype as possible. From beating the demo numerous times to the point I am at now, I guarantee another mission through the world of ICO. Like I said, there is just something about it, and it continually calls me to play. As you become familiar with the puzzle tendency, it is a truly enjoyable venture throughout the entire game, and a process that will surely entice you to return to this year's best adventure title.
With ICO still a very recent title, I know there are many of you who have yet to try this wonderful piece of gaming masterpiece. It is a disservice to you and gaming as a whole to not at least rent this game. My recommendation, of course, is to purchase the game, as will be the same for many of you who decide to rent it. This is truly a rare title for everyone. Set genres aside, and try what may be one of the best titles of 2001. Disappointment is not an option here, and enjoyment is inescapable. With so many quality games out right now, let me make an easy decision for you; ICO is by far the unsurpassed hero and is a must experience for everyone.†
10/1/2001 Matthew Stensrud