Three years, and all we got was one measly picture. Yet when, in late January this year, Sony Japan released a production screenshot for what has since been dubbed ICO 3, web forums went berserk. What could it mean? When would the game be released?
The picture, which shows nothing more than a rusty chain disappearing into a circle of mossy stones, has been the subject of obsessive dissection and endless conjecture in the months since its appearance in a Sony recruitment advert.
“After looking at the shot for hours, it’s now starting to make sense,” wrote a chap called Redmond on Team ICO’s blog. “That chain is actually lying on the ground, and whatever is tied to it is casting that huge shadow at the top of the picture. Hence the hole on the ground, and that’s why so many people were confused by the ‘depth’ of the image. Something or someone is imprisoned down there.”
That a game can generate such a vast amount of fuss without any marketing hype is a testament to just how treasured Fumito Ueda’s previous games (ICO and Shadow of the Colossus) really are.
And for once, the hype and hysteria is truly justified – I probably haven’t given ICO a spin for about five years, but I can still remember so much about it that I could have played it yesterday. Its youthful protagonist (with his memorably incongruous horns) and his relationship with the ethereal Yorda were truly unforgettable, and its setting – a castle of awe-inspiring scale and imaginativeness – had an atmosphere and personality that was absolutely unique. Indeed, ICO‘s surreal and faintly disturbing ambience carried the game through its weaker moments – particularly its admittedly repetitive, button-mashing combat. And thanks to Ueda’s extraordinary artistry, which recalls the work of the Greek surrealist Giorgio DeChirico (whose surname may well have inspired the game’s title), ICO became much more than the straightforward platform/puzzler it might otherwise have been – and in the process became one of the first games that could justifiably be described as art.
Ueda’s follow-up, Shadow of the Colossus, was no less breathtaking. The linear, confined spaces of ICO were replaced this time by a vast, desolate landscape, which the game’s protagonist, the appropriately named Wander, had to traverse on his trusty steed, Agro. The aim of the game this time was to seek and destroy the titular Colossi – mountainous, eerie figures that appeared to be hewn from the landscape itself. Finding a way to scale these giants formed the core of the game’s challenge, and while the process could be described as repetitive (find giant, locate weak spot, kill, rinse and repeat), it was again Ueda’s unique atmosphere that carried Colossus through – there was something indescribably majestic about Wander’s towering quarry, and the slaughter of each one was strangely poignant; it felt as though you were actually killing an ancient, living thing.
Perhaps Ueda’s greatest enemy in the production of Colossus was the aging architecture of the PS2 itself; while the game is still genuinely stunning to look at, even three years on, there are moments when it becomes obvious that Sony Japan’s team really overreached themselves; an often wayward, jittery camera and a chugging frame rate during colossus battles conspired – but failed – to ruin the experience. You can only wonder what the team could have done if they’d simply waited a year and released the game for the PS3 instead.
Given the critical praise and the adoration heaped on ICO and Colossus by fans, you’d think that Sony would be desperate for Ueda to rush his next game onto the shelves, yet so far we’ve seen nothing more than the production shot mentioned earlier. Ueda said back in August that “my game hasn’t reached critical development yet”, and has said little else since. Meanwhile, fansites such as teamicogamers.blogspot.com have formed whole communities around excitement and conjecture, and they’ve even announced that they’re going to publish a magazine on the subject. Proof, perhaps, that the clamour for ICO 3 (or whatever it turns out to be) has never been higher.
And while the PS3 isn’t without its fair share of genuinely excellent titles, Sony could really do with another ‘killer app’ right about now; despite my wavering over LittleBigPlanet, I’ve yet to come across a game that would make me genuinely desperate to own a PS3, despite my patronage of the Playstation’s earlier iterations. But if a release date for ICO 3 were announced, I’d happily exchange a kidney for one.
Ryan writes his gaming column every week at Den Of Geek. Last week’s is here.
18 December 2008