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1995-2000
GamesFirst! Magazine

Preview:
ICO

ico_stand-01.jpg (3734 bytes)
Due Fall 2001 for PS2.

 

stairs-01.jpg (6932 bytes)Wondrous. It’s not an adjective that I use for many video games, but I can’t think of a better word to start this review off with. I don’t know anything about the story. I have no idea what the objective of the game is. I don’t even know what the title means. But I am hooked. I just finished playing through the Ico demo on the PS2 Jampack and I’m already counting down the days till when I can explore more of this world. It is the single most breathtaking experience I have had with the PS2. Forget Metal Gear Solid 2; forget GT3; I predict that Ico will be the must have game of the year for the PS2.

The game starts with your character being hatched out of a sarcophagus type thing. The detail and design is simply breathtaking. I haven’t seen anything that I’ve enjoyed this much visually since Myst. The character animations are quite fluid as well. The graphics are some of the finest I’ve seen. The castle halls are massive with incredible detail. What really got me was the pond by the windmill. I was first struck by the reflections in the water, but when I fell in and the water rippled out from where I landed, my jaw was gaping. Even the grass will make you want to stop and stare. When I finally got outside the castle, I couldn’t believe how lush and organic everything felt. Screen shots simply cannot convey how beautiful this game looks.

libba-01.jpg (9700 bytes)Not only does it look great, but it has atmosphere. I was completely sucked into this world and I did not want to leave. The first thing that struck me, apart from the amazing visuals, was the use of sound. Rather than blasting your senses with a booming soundtrack, the designers decided to take a minimal approach that effectively transports you to this place.

The control scheme is fairly straightforward. Run, walk, jump and climb. There is some basic combat with you swinging a 2x4 at some menacing shadow-like creatures, but the emphasis on the game is definitely exploration and puzzle solving. What sets this game apart is the call to the princess-type character. You need to get through this game with her and therein lies the challenge. By calling her she’ll come to you and hold your hand. You’ll be able to drag her around on level surfaces and where you climb you’re able to pull her up. The one moment of suspense that I absolutely savored came when I jumped to a bridge and beckoned her to follow. She jumps, and barely makes it by catching you hand. I was on the edge of my seat through the whole scene.

I really liked not having to learn a whole lot of button combinations and moves. I find that if I get too distracted by the controller, I get taken out of the game. I never left Ico once from the moment I started. Simplicity is the name of the game. There are no health meters, lives, or other icons distracting you from the settings of the game.

It looks like people are finally figuring out how to wrest the most from the PS2 hardware, and it’s about time. Ico is mysterious, atmospheric and, above all, incredibly engrossing. After playing through it last night, I couldn’t wait to go through it again this morning. Ico is the closest I’ve come to having a cinematic experience with a video game. In fact, when my son saw me playing, he asked me, "What movie are you watching?" He just naturally assumed that it was a film. Heightening the cinematic feel of the game is the camera work. I’ve never played with anything quite like it. The camera basically follows you around from a fairly distant angle, but it is also used to focus your attention on certain areas of play. Let me say it again, this is more like a movie than anything I’ve seen before. Like I mentioned, the demo doesn’t hint at the plot or the object, and I hope that they keep it that way. I’m sure there’s a lot of back story out there telling us how the boy came to be entombed and who the girl is, but I don’t want to know it; I want to discover it.

Jason Frank


Original Preview posted May, 2001
by
Sarah Wichlacz

ICO (pronounced "eye-ko") made my best of E3 list last year. It never hit the stores, but this year it’s back and better at E3. Last year I had a thing with comparing everything to Resident Evil (please forgive me), and I mistakenly said that ICO was kind of like Resident Evil. Talk about crummy journalism. ICO is much more innovative than that. It tries to include something from every game genre: RPG, strategy, puzzle, fighting, adventure, and more! You play as Ico you’re generation’s horned boy. Having horns is not as cool as it sounds, at 12 years old you’re slated to be sacrificed to cleanse your community. But before that fate befalls you, Ico slips into a dream about the princess. Ico must save the princess from the evil queen, thereby saving all the land. The problem is that the princess is a bit of an idiot and needs constant help and attention. ICO includes a controller button completely devoted to calling the princess and holding her hand, and many of the game’s strategies and puzzles stem from the problems caused by leading the very dense princess around. If she is left by herself too long the queen’s evil sprits will come and encompass her, and sometimes they’ll be bold enough to attack her while she’s with Ico. The game play rewards cleverness over strength and encourages protecting the princess over attacking the bad guys. The story itself is interesting and original: is it real, is it Ico’s dream, or is Ico already dead? It sounds a lot like Occurrence at Owl Creek. SCEA has succeeded at making a game that looks and plays like no other.

 

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