previews\ Sep 9, 2001 at 8:00 pm

ICO - PS2 - Preview

From the moment the title screen appeared, I was intrigued by ICO.  The cinematic flare outlining the castle had a unique, movie-inspired look that had never been used in a video game before, not even in Metal Gear Solid.   Somehow, someway, this game actually looked better.  Then the words, "Press Start" appeared on the screen.  Needless to say, I did what I was told and hit the arrow-shaped button.  A haunting sound followed, one that reminded me of the many creepy sounds of Silent Hill, further piquing my attention.

The demo starts with a brief cut scene.  Aside from Metal Gear Solid and its mesmerizing sequel, I don't usually like real-time movies in video games.   Built around the game's engine, they are often choppy and tend to take away from the experience.  However, if all games had real-time footage that looked as good as ICO, we wouldn't need to litter games with CGs anymore.

ICO, a young boy called to save the princess, is trapped in a burial box.  He wiggles around and finally breaks free.  Now ICO finds himself in an enormous castle, though it feels more like a dungeon.  This is where the excitement really begins.  Remember the first time you played Super Mario 64?  Remember the astonished look in your eyes the first time you played Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty?  I was spellbound by the mechanics as it made you feel like you were really a spy.  My first experience with ICO wasn't quite THAT amazing...but it was pretty darn close.

Wowed by the cinematic backgrounds that actually matched the quality of the pre-rendered backgrounds used in many old PlayStation games, I chose not to rush through this demo.  Instead, I just wandered around the castle for a few minutes, enjoying the game's breathtaking scenery.

When I began to fully explore the first room of the castle, I found that ICO shares something in common with Munch's Oddysee; a self-adjusting camera.   Unlike Mario 64 or Tomb Raider where the camera is always placed behind the character and can be spun around to get through sticky situations, ICO's camera changes on its own.  From the starting point, if you run forward, the camera will hover behind ICO, slowly moving backwards as you approach the staircase near the wall.  If you walk over to the middle staircase, the camera will move in closer to ICO, eventually hanging overhead once you make your way to the other side of the room.

One of Munch's Oddysee's huge selling points was its self-sufficient camera, one that would revolutionize everything and change the way we play (Lorne Lanning's words, not mine).  I have not played Munch and cannot confirm or deny that his claims are true.  But with ICO coming out in September and Munch's Oddysee not due until the Xbox's November 8th launch, Sony could very well steal the show (it's not like they haven't already, but this is yet another nail in Bill Gates' coffin).  Perhaps this is Sony's way of saying, "Thanks for abandoning us."

Continuing the demo, you'll find a lever at the top of the stairs.  Pull it and a door will open.  The princess is being held captive in the next room.   Climb above her cage and jump on top of it.  ICO's weight is too much for the cage to take, breaking the chain and releasing the princess.  If you thought you were home free now that you've saved princess Jorda, think again.  Evil shadow creatures (who remind me of the evil spirits in the movie Ghost) infiltrate the area, hoping to take the defenseless princess.  ICO mustn't let that happen.  Beat them with your wooden stick until they deplete and eventually disappear.  Once they're gone, tap R1 to call Jorda.  She'll walk over and take your hand.  Now she'll be there by your side wherever you go, like Ash Katchum's Pokemon.  No matter how crazy or childish this may sound, it is actually a lot of fun to play.  The princess has some unique powers that allow her to open doors that previously blocked ICO's path.  Together, they'll make their way outside, leading up to the end of the demo.

Above I mentioned that ICO has breathtaking visuals.  Now that I think about it, I was wrong.  A lot of games have "breathtaking" visuals.  ICO goes far beyond that.  In fact, I need a new word to properly describe this game's beauty.  Looking back on the PlayStation 2's last masterpiece, the recently released Gran Turismo 3, I'd say that word is Sony.  When you find yourself staring at the magnificent sunlight streaking through the windows of the castle, or when you grab a cup to hold under your mouth while you swim around the lake, you'll know exactly what I mean.  The water is simply mind-blowing.  Depending on where you swim, its ripples coincide your movement, reflecting everything around it -- including a giant windmill -- perfectly.  If this doesn't make the Oxford Dictionary give "Sony" a new definition as being graphical perfection, nothing will.

Want to experience the joy of ICO right now?  Then pick up the latest issue of Sony's Jampack PS2 DVD Magazine.  You'll have to wait until September for the full version though.  It's only two months away, and with plenty of PS2 games out right now that I have yet to get my hands on, I'm content with waiting.  Oh forget it.  Who am I kidding?  I can't wait!

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