I've never cried at a video game before and I have a deep-set mistrust of anybody who claims they have, but I'll challenge anybody to play Shadow Of The Colossus and not walk away feeling both enriched and also bearing some form of emotional scarring.
It pains me to know that Shadow Of The Colossus is one of the least-played games on this list. A rare example of a title that can boast finely-tuned, exciting mechanics and an all-too-rare ability to form an emotional bond with the player, I'd implore everybody to play Team Ico's second masterpiece (a word I don't use lightly). It's a coming-of-age tale unlike anything else. A real one-off in an ocean of remakes and copycats. It's inspired dozens of titles since its original release, and it remains one of the greatest titles in the vast suite of PlayStation exclusives. That's why it has a place in our new top 100 list of the best games ever (opens in new tab).
Given its relatively small pool of players, I feel duty-bound to cover the basics of PS2 (and later 3)'s action-adventure. It begins with a young adventurer visiting a forbidden kingdom and begging the gods to bring a dead girl (sister? lover? you never do find out) back to life. It can be done, but life must be sacrificed for life and the scales need to be weighted heavily towards Satan's side for an exchange this major. The task is set: journey into the surrounding lands and slay sixteen beasts to revive the girl.
These beasts are the colossi: walking, swimming and flying behemoths that tower above all other beings. Their fearsome qualities are purely physical, behind their statures are innocent lives. Yet you've got to pluck up the courage and the strength to track them down across expansive landscapes and slay them in cold blood. The rolling world is largely barren and your horseback journeys across them are generally free from distractions, giving you plenty of time to focus on the task ahead and reflect (as well as marvel) on past events.
Each colossus is a giant conundrum to solve. Slaying them is a matter of watching their movement and watching their behaviour, of targeting their weak spots points and devising schemes to reach them. These aren't your typical game bosses, but organic platform challenges: to take them down, you must clamber up legs, across shoulders and tails, and around midriffs, clinging on to fur and growths that double as handholds along the way until you're in a position to deal some damage.
And your presence won't go unnoticed. The colossi will try to scratch and shake you off like a dog ridding itself of ticks, and the only way to hold on is through careful rationing of your grip meter's strength. So begins a strategic game of vertigo-roulette – you have to relax your grip on the moving beasts at times, but the key is doing so at points where your balance isn't jeopardised.
Divorce this action from any of the context and Shadow Of The Colossus would still rank highly in this list. Regardless of plot, the thrill of tracking down and scaling titans is so far removed from the experiences games usually feed us that the Sony exclusive is impossible to forget. Every player is almost certain to encounter at least one moment where they have to release their hold to recharge the grip meter and are thrown from a colossus thanks to an unexpected lurch, but through some divine miracle will be tossed onto another part of the leviathan where there's a stray hair to clutch to avoid certain doom. If that moment of unbridled elation happens to occur on one of the few flying colossi, you'll instantly file the sequence among your finest gaming moments of all time.
And then there's Shadow Of The Colossus' emotional punch – it stirs up feelings few others games dare even approach by making you the villain of the piece. Every felled colossus adds a slice of life to the girl, at the cost of more and more of your own soul. The beasts you're murdering aren't evil. Their only crime is to exist.
You're the interloper invading their homelands and cutting them down in the prime of their life, and the game makes sure you know it. Each time you plunge your sword deep into soft flesh, your quarry howls in pain and confusion. You'll need to battle through the guilt and slam the sword home again and again.
Is one girl's life really worth that of sixteen beautiful titans? That's the question Shadow Of The Colossus poses, and it's a question that profoundly moves me whenever I play it. I won't share my response – only by playing it first-hand will you be in a position to give an honest answer to what's a deeply personal experience.