What’s In a Character? – Agent 47

With yet another bomb of a video game movie out, I’m beginning to think Hollywood is picking the wrong games to adapt to film. When I heard of the first Hitman movie, I wondered how the hell it would even work as a film.

For starters, Agent 47 isn’t really a character. He has an iconic style and is very precise, but he doesn’t show much emotion or development. He is a link from which the player gets to enact their prowess. He exists solely so you don’t have to get attached.

That is the basic premise behind his design. He is bald, white and of average build. He is a John Doe if there ever was one. What makes him work is that the game world built around him is incredibly detailed and fully interactive.

The Hitman series is more about how you, the player, approach a situation then how Agent 47 would do it. If you suck and just want to shoot everything in sight, you can. If you actually want to painstakingly follow NPCs and murder by numbers, you have the options and tools at your disposal.

Hollywood seems to think that 47 has something to develop, so I figured that we could take a look at his various incarnations to see if there ever was a chance of him becoming an interesting protagonist.

Hitman: Codename 47

The start of the Hitman series is actually rather bland. While it had some cool new technology in the way of rag-doll and cloth physics, the game was a bit of a mess. Sloppy controls, frequent crashes and unstable performance; Codename 47 felt rushed out to the market.

In more recent times, the game’s issues have mostly been worked out, but it still remains a rather unremarkable game when placed against it’s sequels. I suppose it is more faithful than Hitman: Absolution, but that game is basically a mess.

Anyway, Agent 47 doesn’t really get much development in this game. From our actions, we learn he is super intelligent and very detached. His work is what he was bred to do (literally) and he is a master of his craft.

These aren’t really personality traits more so than a skill set. I guess 47 is really angry; he does emote that much. Having a single characteristic doesn’t really make for a compelling lead. Like I said above, 47 works because he is so bland.

I really love his suit and tie, but he is an efficient killer. There are no hairs on his head because that would leave traceable DNA. He wears a black suit to hide blood stains. He is always wearing gloves to not leave fingerprints (though knowing him, his fingerprints were burnt off long ago).

Even the end of the game doesn’t really show off much. 47 kills his creator and doesn’t shed a tear or even get too frustrated. It’s just another day on the job for him. So is the way of a genetically altered super killer.

Hitman 2: Silent Assassin

Hitman 2 is where Eidos started to make this series worth a damn. I can accept that the first game was too ambitious for it’s time, but to fail to improve for the sequel would have been a crime. That thankfully didn’t happen and Hitman 2 became a genre staple.

Expanded levels with more choices then ever; better controls and smoother flow; smarter AI and greater detail to their path finding; Hitman 2 was an instant classic upon release in 2002.

Was anything done differently for the story? Yes, actually. Agent 47, apparently, had a desire to get out of the game. Faking his own death to get out of the agency, he is now a groundskeeper for a monastery in Sicily.

The plot kicks off when some thugs come and capture the father at the church. Their motive was getting 47’s DNA to make their own super assassin. They leave a ransom note for 47 to collect an obscene amount of cash or else they will kill the father. 47 gets pulled back into a life he tried so desperately to escape.

It’s a fantastic start to a game that has some great moments, but 47 remains a blank slate throughout. Even if we got a little bit of development during the introduction, nothing else of substance happens. Again, this works in the context of a videogame about killing people, but not so much in making a fascinating lead.

There are some moments where 47 gets in touch with his agency to get an update on the father and those do show a bit of concern on his part. He obviously feels guilty for getting an innocent person involved in his past. He should have been smarter then to think he could escape his rivals.

But other than fleeting moments, the game just ticks along until you kill everyone and get to a dramatic finale. It’s a well executed and paced mission in which the thugs from the beginning storm the monastery looking for you and 47 has to stealth around to find equipment.

After you load up, you get to bring the lead to your foes. In a game focused on making you silent, it’s cathartic to let lose and give it to some truly despicable people (then again, you could be a psychopath the whole game).

Killing everyone sees 47 saving the father and then giving up his peaceful life. He obviously isn’t longed for a world where he doesn’t assassinate. Whatever the agency had started, 47 is going to have to weather this burden until he can discover the real reason behind his existence.

Hitman: Contracts

Contracts is an interesting game. At the time of release, the game was seen as a bit disappointing following the stellar Hitman 2, but I believe the years have been kind to it. Hitman 2 has some wonky AI, even if it is an improvement over the original game.

Contracts is a lot more consistent with it’s enemies. It also remakes some of the first game’s missions in a much more refined engine. Getting to redo the assassination in China is beautiful.

The plot line is a bit convoluted, but it starts when 47 retreats to a secluded hotel room after being wounded. In typical Tarantino fashion, the game is starting from the end and working backwards.

47 ingests some pills and begins to hallucinate about his past. Mixed in with missions from the first game are some new levels. This game basically exists as a retelling of the first title. While I can’t say I truly understand what the plot is about, the game is fun.

The level design remains vast and diverse and the improved AI makes for a more challenging and fair game then Hitman 2. The game takes a step back, plotwise, and focuses more on gameplay.

47 doesn’t get a single hint of development in any facet. He’s never really angry and he doesn’t explain his feelings towards the past or his present predicament. You just experience a setting and are thrust into his shoes.

The final mission is mind-blowingly awesome (which seems to be a trend with the series). After that, 47 escape into the night and we are left to wait for the sequel. It’s kind of a bummer, but whatever.

Hitman: Blood Money

Blood Money is, hands down, the best game in the series. While I once argued that Hitman 2 was the pinnacle, time hasn’t been entirely kind to it. I’d rather take a game with more complex level design, better set-pieces and extremely proficient AI over what feels like random chance.

Blood Money seems to understand that 47 isn’t really a two dimensional being, either. Missions in the earlier portion of the game give you incredibly detailed descriptions of your targets with all of their evil deeds being mentioned.

By the end of the game, your agency contact kind of gives up. You are basically told the target is well guarded and has a few habitual problems. No lecture about how evil they are or whether life is too good for them. You’re a detached killer; why would any of that matter to you?

The narrative does at least try to set up some Bourne style intrigue. Apparently the plot in Contracts was more important then one would have believed. 47 was attempting to discover the location of his enemies and take them out.

Having failed at that, his contact at the agency, Diana, devises a plot to fool everyone. She poisons 47 with atropine lipstick and fakes his death. With 47 disposed of, the director of the CIA steps in to brag about his accomplishment and extract 47’s DNA in a vein attempt to recreate him.

The game works in a similar fashion to Contracts in that the story is told through the eyes of his enemies. You play out levels that were basically heard second hand by the victim’s survivors. It’s really neat and the multitude of options makes for playthroughs that are rarely the same.

This game also sets up a sort of mystique about 47. His enemies believe him to be a mystical being with super human powers. He is cold, efficient, precise, brilliant and unrelenting. His targets will die; the question is just when.

We get the most vocal proclamation of 47’s personality in Blood Money. When Diana “betrays” him, 47 lets out a, “YOU BITCH!” That is about it. Through that short exclamation, we can deduce that 47 trusted Diana. It’s something, even if it’s vague.

The finale, once again, is excellent. Diana kisses 47 with the antidote to his fake death and you rise off the cremation table to kill every last witness. I love how the series builds up to some dramatic climax and then delivers better then most action games.

With all of his enemies defeated, 47 is left with questions about why Diana had double crossed him. Unbeknownst to him, she was trying to protect him. Still, he isn’t exactly happy and is looking for revenge.

Hitman: Absolution

I could go on about how much I loathe this game. I could detail about why I think it is a crappy action game and a terrible sequel to an excellent series. That isn’t why I’m writing this blog.

I took the time to detail some of the reasons why I loved the series in the previous game descriptions, but Absolution doesn’t deserve that. It’s basically a failed attempt to make Hitman and 47 “modern.”

With that said, his game is truly where Eidos tried to create a fully defined character for 47. I believe they failed, but that isn’t to say there aren’t moments where he is given clear motives for his actions and some characteristics to bounce off the scenes.

The game starts with Diana goes rogue from the agency. After the events of Blood Money, she reveals that the agency was corrupt. 47 apparently never got the memo, as he rejoins the agency under a new handler.

This man tasks 47 with killing Diana and bringing in the little girl that was with her. Upon pulling the trigger on Diana, 47 comes to a realization that he is being played (*nudge* *nudge*). 47 then defects from the agency and goes on a quest to figure out why this young girl is important.

There are a lot of Bourne Identity style twists and turns and the game loses a lot of focus as it goes on. Instead of making the central antagonist the shadowy agency, the story introduces some redneck by the name of Blake Dexter. He’s wonderfully acted, but he’s so unnecessary and goofy in terms of what Hitman is.

The series never really put much effort in establishing villains. That may sound insane for a series so focused on eliminating targets, but the deliberately ambiguous backgrounds to your foes is what made you truly feel like a hitman.

Learning the how and why to a person’s actions kind of takes away from your severed connection to the game world. You aren’t supposed to be more interested in what makes a bad guy tick. You’re just tasked with finding them and killing them.

It’s similar to how Grand Theft Auto V included a torture scene. It was purely for dramatic click-bait headlines, but it also tremendously impacted the effect GTA has. The game has never up close and personal about it’s violence. Now this one scene came and made the game very intimate.

Anyway, 47 eventually goes through some ridiculous plot points (need to hit that shooting range!) and kills people for reasons unknown and eventually tortures some guy. You make a rudimentary choice that obviously shouldn’t even exist (47 kills people for a living!) and then you proceed through more action set-pieces.

Somehow 47 makes a connection with the young girl and won’t let anyone take her. It’s basically the same thing with Kratos in God of War III and Pandora. There isn’t much reason to have this tertiary character other than a shoddy attempt at character growth.

I’m also really baffled why some levels are basically cut-scenes. One has 47 go to a shop and get a new suit. That’s beyond pointless; it’s padding for the sake of making a “cinematic” game. I don’t want cinematic qualities; I want to kill people!

Eventually the game wraps up with a generic action scene on the roof of a building. While the final missions were typically the best of the bunch, Absolution throws a wrench into the mix and makes this one a chore.

If you love quick-time events, then I’m sure you’ll dig the closer to this story. Otherwise, we get some anger out of 47 and nothing more. After erasing the villain from existence, 47 drops the girl off at a church and the game ends.

So, what does this whole blog show? Basically, I don’t know how Agent 47 was ever supposed to make for a quality movie leading man. As I’ve hopefully demonstrated, 47 doesn’t evolve much as a character.

While that should be a death knell for any narrative driven experience, the Hitman games have functioned on their mechanics. Like how Miyamoto bases his games on ideas first, Hitman is all about the central premise and not much else.

I know Eidos has tried with their “genetically engineered agent” backstory, but all of that doesn’t matter much. It’s just an excuse to have 47 wind up in shootouts. The ability to avoid those shootouts is awesome.

Still, the series has made some kind of impact on the gaming world. It’s surprising how we’ve seen the likes of 2 movies based on this series and the game is looking to reboot soon. I never thought gamers would gravitate towards a bald, emotionless man.

It speaks to the ingenuity of game mechanics and how gripping gameplay will almost always take central stage. Even if a story is the most dramatic thing ever written, a game is about how you control the outcome of certain events.

Something like Bioshock may have a great story, but I’ve never really clicked with it due to the gameplay being simplistic. That isn’t to lobby a complaint, but I just feel like that series could do a whole lot better.

On the other hand, I think that stealth action games tend to try too hard. Splinter Cell, for how awesome those games are, has a very mind-numbing plot that takes way too much precedent from the 4th game onwards.

Metal Gear Solid is an entirely different beast, basically relying on story more than gameplay. It makes for thrilling and industry defining stuff, but I’ve never really felt that it was a true stealth game.

Hitman, though, nails it. It even allows you to forgo stealth if you want. That makes for a rather short and unfulfilling game, but the option is there. There is more than one solution to any given problem (something that Absolution forgets).

So while the games will continuously be enjoyable, I don’t think 47 is ever going to make a great protagonist in a film. Removing the connection a player makes destroys pretty much everything that makes Hitman fun.

Resident Evil 4 – Conquering My Fears

One of the definitions of “Haunt,” as according to Merriam-Webster, is; “to have a disquieting or harmful effect on.” I cannot recall much in my life that has done that to me, other than one video game. That belongs to “Resident Evil 4.”

My friend and I were eagerly anticipating this game. We watched pretty much every trailer and I even recollect a moment where I claimed the game would, “Be the Best video game ever.” While that statement isn’t too far from the truth, something funny happened along the lines.

I became afraid of what I was seeing. Villagers with demonic eyes, wielding sharp objects and bum rushing you with murderous intent; it was terrifying to me in a way I had never experienced before. Throw in the idea of instant death enemies and gigantic, over-powered boss fights and I was almost ready to give up.


Ah christ!

I put on a façade that I was hardcore, though. I really did want the game and I wanted others to believe I cared about it. I’m not quite sure why, but those were my actions. When the game finally came out, I immediately picked it up and popped it in my Gamecube. I played for a grand total of 20 minutes before I gave up out of fright.

I couldn’t take the tension of facing the unknown. The way death was lurking around the corner or bear traps were waiting for me or gigantic boulders were coming; it was insane. Couple all of that with the fierce difficulty curve and I was dead on arrival.

What didn’t help was how my friend was using Action Replay and still failing. Even he couldn’t deal with the difficulty and cheats couldn’t help him. I was so terrified at this point that I almost traded the game back, but I held onto the hope that I would be able to conquer my fear one day.

It took me 2 full years before I tried playing the game again. During that time, I heard from another friend of mine that most of the game was difficult. He had trouble slaying some of the bosses and he often had to quit for a few days to rebuild his strength to continue. How was that supposed to alleviate my fear?

Well, when I got my Wii and was out of games to fool around with, I figured that I might as well attack the cause of my anxiety once and for all. As it turns out, the game actually kept me scared for other reasons.


This is not an uncommon sight.

Before that point in time, not many games existed with the sole intent of destroying your morale. “Resident Evil 4” is unique in that death isn’t simply a game over screen. Most of the time, your character is mutilated or decapitated. If you check YouTube, you can find a near 10 minute video of character deaths.

That idea, alone, scares the ever-living soul out of me. When I’m trekking through a game, I don’t want to feel like I’ve failed and life is over. That’s what makes the game work, though. When you conquer a tough situation and know how gruesome failure can be, the accomplishment is like curing a major crisis.

The few successes I had in the beginning just made the entire experience wonderful. You come up to a tough area, get eviscerated or annihilated and then come back with a new found fear/respect for your foes. It makes you more careful, more calculated and even tenser at the thought of death.

One of my best moments from the game comes during the middle. You face off against this enemy that looks like a Predator. He is called Verdugo and he is nearly impossible to kill. The entire idea is to freeze him with canisters of CO2 and wait for an elevator.


He is your nightmares personified.

Well, aside from scaring the piss out of me, I was constantly running away and screaming while doing so. I was so afraid of failing that I didn’t even want to look the beast in the eye. Well, during an almost successful attempt, the guy jumped at me and decapitated me. I can remember my reaction clear as day.

The buildup of astriction and angst was tenfold, but the failure was just incredible. I couldn’t believe that I lost and I immediately headed back to surmount this bastard. When I finally overcame the beast, I was ready to throw a party.

Circumventing this foe wasn’t the end of my troubles, though. When I watched my friend cheating, he was on a boss I hadn’t even encountered yet. I saw the creature lash out and devour my friend, so I was so damn terrified of that happening to me.

Not too far after, I finally strolled into the very same boss battle. It was a fight with the antagonist, Salazaar, and I wasn’t ready. While I didn’t get consumed by him, I was nearly paralyzed at the thought of that giant creature eating me. I failed a few times out of adrenaline build up.


Thought you could best me? Think again!

When I eventually beat the game, I began to wonder what all the fear was for. Maybe just anticipation got the best of me? Hearing the stories of friends bombing at the game didn’t provide any sense of ease to me, so I let that thought permeate in my mind.

To this day, though, nothing was managed to give me a sense of dread like this. There are some other games that I’m sure will be scary to me, but I now know that I have the strength to tackle nearly any obstacle put in front of me.

Thank you, Capcom. You managed to scare me silly and make me feel invincible. That is definitely an amazing feat.

Afterthoughts – Catherine

Months ago, I wrote a preview blog detailing how I thought “Catherine” was doing sex in video games a service. To me personally, most current games with sexual themes tend to waiver between extreme silliness and pointless gratuity. Well, you’ll be happy to know “Catherine” does neither in my eyes.

I have to say, the awareness of anything sexual came from Atlus’ advertising (and even the box art). They billed the game as a Horror-Romance game with overt sexual themes. I was intrigued as it looked like the game was going to explore how sex and cheating can ruin a man.

While that is somewhat true, the game actually doesn’t show any kind of sex whatsoever. I doubt the American release is edited much, other than voice acting, so this is sort of a fault in my eyes. I definitely dig the narrative and how the protagonist is in pain over his negative actions, but what else is going on?

If Atlus has marketed the monster-esque plot, more, instead of leading me to believe it would be entirely realistic, maybe I’d have unflinchingly accepted the lack of sex. This is a first for me, but I really wanted to see something more.

In any scenes that contain fully naked characters, the views are tastefully obscured. While it’s nice from an artistic perspective, it seems like a copout considering what Atlus had promised. Hell, the box art is more revealing and it doesn’t even show anything.


No harm, no foul I suppose…

What I will say I enjoyed was the dialog. Even though the English voice overs sound a bit stilted, they do sell the great the story. Catherine makes a lot of moans and sounds positively engulfing. I’d probably lose myself if she came around.

The interactions between the protagonist and his friends truly represent our modern day. While I wish they spoke less swear words, I can’t deny that I curse on a consistent basis (I drop F bombs with extreme regularity). Even the use of cell phones and picture messaging are fairly intouch with modern youth.

In fact, the picture messages are where some of the most sexual things come from. Catherine sends you a few during the game and they are the sexiest thing throughout the whole narrative. The protagonist even mutters things like, “Holy shit!” when staring at them, enraptured by the pure sexuality of Catherine.

If nothing else, Atlus definitely did creature a character worth lusting over. I do feel a bit bad in saying that I can’t even contain myself, but Catherine is a wonder to look at. Her personality reminds me of a girl I once knew, though she also seems a lot more forward. She’s meant to be the embodiment of fantasy, though, so that makes absolute sense.


Pictures like this actually get more explicit as you pick different choices in game.

I can’t say that I’d prefer if this game had interactive sex scenes, but I still would have liked to see one. Catherine makes a joke about how the protagonist makes her do something one night. She claims it was her first time and then teases him for being kinky in the morning. I really wish I knew what happened.

I can’t speak much about the endings, but mine gave me absolute freedom. While I was aiming to see the Catherine related ones, I somehow messed up and lost both girls. I didn’t get the negative one, though, so the protagonist was extremely high spirited and very jovial at his loss.

I spent the rest of that night at a bar, pondering what I had just played and drinking myself to a stupor. I felt liberated at his speech and thought I should probably take his advice to heart. His quote was, “Living a life without doing what you want; that’s a recipe for disaster.” You’ve definitely got that right.

In the end, “Catherine” was a breath of fresh air for me. While I was expecting more from the sexual side of the game, I do have to say that this was a great step in the direction of depicting sex in gaming. Hopefully other developers will take notice of Atlus’ title and push the boundaries some more.


Until then, keep staring at those phones.

DEMOlition – Katamari Forever

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Katamari Forever is a game that a lot of fans have been eagerly waiting for. While already out in Japan, Forever promises to deliver all kinds of nonsensical awesome mixed with the requisite Katamari flair.

Sony has kindly released a playable demo on PSN today and though I have already beaten most of the Japanese import (That’s right, I’m awesome……), I decided to give this demo a try to see what Sony has in store.

The demo has a generic title screen that is essentially the logo and “Press Start,” (along with some strange Notice about taking breaks and not using projection televisions). Once you skip that, you are taken to the main map that looks sort of like a pop-up book. It’s pretty neat, but it definitely gets annoying to navigate. You only have one option (other than Vibration settings) to play with, so once you click there, the mission select screen appears.

Thankfully Sony decided to include levels exclusive to Forever in the demo, so everything you play is brand new content (if you didn’t know, Katamari Forever works like a “Best Of” collection with levels from the first two games mixed with new things). The main level is a generic roll everything until you reach the goal and it definitely isn’t challenging. The goal they set for you is something that the first game had you doing in the 2nd level, meaning a Veteran of the series should have no problem.

The second level is where some of the unique charm of the series comes in (and is sort of inspired by We Love Katamari). You are tasked with rolling your Katamari into some water and then rolling across a desert to water up the place. While it’s not the most difficult thing you will ever do, it’s definitely a fun diversion from just rolling over stuff like a monster.

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The grass is always greener and Katamari proves that.

This desert level, in particular, brings out the best of the 1080p graphics. There is definitely some slow down (which doesn’t hurt as much as you would think), but the textures have a nice filter over them that makes everything seem like watercolor. Now, the final version features 4 different graphical filters, but the demo only lets you tinker with one.

The game’s controls have been literally unchanged from the previous Katamari titles, except that now you can jump. You jump by either using SIXAXIS or just pressing R2 (which definitely makes more sense). It can let you get to higher places in levels so that you can roll more and it even lets you clear some obstacles in your path (allowing you to soar over a pesky zebra or human).

The musical selection for the demo is a little lacking, but you can rest assured that the final title provides enough tracks to keep you satisfied. The demo has remixes for “Katamari on the Rocks” and the main theme, but neither one is really that outstanding. It kind of hinders the experience of Katamari when the songs are a little subpar.

In the end, though, Katamari Forever is definitely a fun little title. I may not be able to call it a classic like the first two, but the demo does give you something to bite into until the game comes out.

If you’re wondering what else the final game has, I will enlighten you a bit. There are about 24 levels of rolling madness that is composed primarily of We Love Katamari. Along with that you get a neat co-op mode that only has 6 levels, though it kind of wears thin after a bit.

The other graphical filters are things like a Wood finish and a Comic Book style and they definitely are a sight to behold in HD. The musical selection takes most of the tracks from We Love Katamari and gives those 2 or 3 remixes each (making for a colossal amount of music).

You also have the different cousins to change between, though there are really not any more than in We Love Katamari (the demo also lets you change, but you get about 7 of them). Along with the cousins, the presents return and let you change your character on 3 different levels (Head, Body and Feet).

So even though the demo is extremely short and lacking in much of a first impression, the final game will provide for fans clamoring for more. Give the demo a shot just to see how Katamari HD looks and maybe to get yourself acquainted if you’ve never tried a Katamari game before.

Ico – The Essence of Art

Video games are a form of media that is peculiar within the world. The very nature of interactive entertainment betrays the idea of art. Art is something that has a concrete purpose or message. Video games do not possess such a thing.

SCEA (Sony Computer Entertainment America) released a game in 2001 called “Ico”. This game shook the foundation that a video game could not be art. Everything in the game world was painstakingly rendered in such beauty and detail that a regular Joe would have a hard time distinguishing it from a motion picture.

“Ico” is a strange tale. The story is simple and so is the gameplay, but the experience offered is majestic. You, as a gamer or even someone new to games, will enjoy this classic from start to finish.

The game opens with a cryptic cinematic. A boy is seen being carried on horseback by knights. They are moving towards some kind of castle. The scenery around them is that of a forest with bright greens and the sun beating upon them.

From this moment, “Ico” uses a constant noise of sorts to create an atmosphere that feels desolate. This works to greater effect in later parts of the game, but even the first moment you start playing “Ico”, you will feel like you are one in the world.

A title screen pops up after the first cutscene and the gamer is prompted to start their game. After this, the opening continues. Dramatic music sets in (sounds like a choir humming in a very beautiful tone) and the knights are shown taking the young boy up a tower.

Every angle of the camera is completely cinematic in nature and rivals a lot of mainstream Hollywood movies in style. The beginning scenes show a great deal of attention to detail in the environment. Birds chirp in the background, waterfalls make their heavy, pounding noises and the chains of the elevator lift sound appropriate.

At one point, two stone barriers are separate by what looks like lightning. The camera pans to show a sort of temple. There are many stone sarcophaguses lining the walls. The boy that the knights were carrying is placed into the tomb and is told that this is “For the good of the village.”

This scene immediately sets a backstory for “Ico” that will be developed later (and even further in the prequel). Something is obviously wrong with the boy. He has horns growing out of his head, which probably indicates some kind of curse or omen to the village he was banished from.

All of this is taken in from the first six minutes of gameplay. What else can be taken is the language used. The knights spoke in a tongue that sounded like a mix between Japanese and Latin. This is used to paint the picture of a fantasy world.

The young boy, who is referred to as Ico from now on, has an interesting turn of events. His tomb falls from its place in the temple and he is released. The boy has nothing to do but roam the temple, so he makes a trek to the top of a tower in the back.

While walking up a winding staircase, Ico notices a cage suspending from the ceiling. In that cage is a girl who is kneeling. Soon, though, her body is consumed by a black mist and Ico is pulled through the wall.

The game switches to a type of film grain look while this is happening, causing one to believe this is merely a dream. After this dream, the player is given control of Ico for the first time. Looking around, your only option is to ascend a winding staircase again to look for answers.

The scale on which this single area is rendered is quite large. Just as the rest of the game shows, everything in this world is grand in scale. The use of that omnipresent noise in the background and the small stature of Ico create a feeling of being alone. From that first moment you control the game, you almost feel as if the world has given up on the young boy.

This temple also produces the games first puzzle and the main focus for the adventure. Ico needs to climb a smaller staircase and pull a switch before he can get into the back and find the girl again.

When Ico finally reaches the top again, he speaks to the girl. She never responds, but Ico feels that she is being held prisoner. This sends the gamer on a small quest to release her from the cage.

Once this task is accomplished, the cage descends to the ground level and Ico finally gets to meet this young girl. He stumbles when she reaches her hand out and she speaks in an even more garbled language than the knights in the beginning.

When the girl is mere inches away from Ico’s face, some type of monster appears out of thin air. They pull her away from Ico. The monsters have a style unlike anything seen in modern media. They are creatures made of black mist (similar to what this girl was being consumed by earlier) and have a singular blue eye that glows from their heads.

Ico quickly stands up and grabs a wooden plank to fend off the creatures with. This final piece of the intro reveals the rest of the game. “Ico” is about solving puzzles and protecting this girl from the monsters.

The story is so simple that one does not need any other explanation. The game falls into place like any excellent book or film with it’s placement of cutscenes that reveal small bits of info and its colossal scale.

What does all of this description mean for the artistic side? Some of the best stories of our time are incredibly simple ones where interpretation by the reader/viewer/listener are what makes them art. “Ico” is just that.

While a story does exist, nothing more is explained than what is going on (though the prequel provides some background). Not only that, but the characters that the gamer must control are given such life from their realistic animations that you almost feel that you are the adventure.

Ico and this young girl (who is later given the name Yorda) help each other throughout the games puzzles in a relationship that feels almost like love. Maybe fascination is what compelled Ico to help Yorda, or possibly his loneliness, but that is all left up to the gamer to decide.

When the conclusion of the game does finally come, the gamer feels extremely satisfied at the turn of events. But even before that occurs, the puzzles that obstruct your path need to be tackled. Completing any one of those gives you an overwhelming sense of accomplishment that you feel compelled to sit through everything the game throws at you.

If this almost perfect feeling is not art, then I surely do not know what can be. If you want to take a more visual approach, though, this game started many trends with technology that are still used to this day in other games.

“Ico” was the first game to incorporate Bloom Lighting techniques. Bloom Lighting is when light is focused on an object so intensively that the object begins to jump off the color spectrum into a white hue. “Ico” also was the first game to use Key Frame Animations, which helped create the extremely realistic movements that the two main characters use.

On a gameplay note, “Ico” single-handedly started the renaissance of the Platforming genre. While everyone remembers “Prince of Persia: Sands of Time”, “Ico” was out two years before and did the same exact thing. “Ico” was so influential in this regard that the newest entry in the Prince of Persia series pretty much copied the entire idea of “Ico”.

The audio side of “Ico” is probably the most impressive. Video games had used synthesizers for their soundtracks, but “Ico” took a more classical approach and provided music played on cellos and mandolins. The game also took a minimalist approach the dialogue and has very few instances where characters speak. This helped produce the sense of wonder within the story.

If a masterpiece cannot exist without flaws, then I do have to point out one thing. Since “Ico” was the first of its kind, the combat mechanics are pretty bad. The game is very simple in nature, so only one button is used for swinging your weapon. While this does become an annoyance during certain parts, the rest of the game is so amazing and well-crafted that I am willing to overlook this blemish.

The only other flaw in the game is length. Most people expect a rather long adventure from a title they purchase. “Ico” can easily be completed in around five to eight hours. If you play for the story, however, you will not see this as a flaw at all.

There really is nothing else left to say about “Ico”. Not many people have experienced this title, which I have proof of from the extremely lackluster sales figures. The game has sold around 700,000 copies worldwide (and that is counting a re-release in Europe). While the development team certainly had success with their follow-up game (a prequel titled “Shadow of the Colossus”), “Ico” is a game that needs a chance to shine.

I encourage every gamer on this site to track down a copy of “Ico”. There probably will never be another game developer that will capture the atmosphere and essence of what “Ico” and its development company have done. What sweetens this deal is that a prequel does exist, so if you are compelled enough to follow the story (who couldn’t be?), then you can get more out of it.