October 17, 2011

The First 15: Ico HD

A grand adventure

What is The First 15?

Well, a couple of weeks ago I received my copy of the ICO HD collection and for some reason I though it might be fun to write down very detailed notes of everything that was happening on screen. I don’t even know what compelled me to do this, I suppose I just wanted to conduct an experiment. The introduction to any game is absolutely vital in grabbing your attention. A developer can really set the tone for your entire experience with their game so it’s of the utmost importance to deliver something interesting right off the bat.

In its simplest form, The First 15 will act almost as a “preview” to a title’s review (if we choose to review it of course) but in the larger scale, it might be really interesting to see if there are any similarities between games that succeed at hooking players with their introductions and which games do a less than stellar job at digging its claws into you. Do The First 15 minutes of a game really make or break an experience? Or can a game that stumbles out of the gate turn into a classic? What about games that have incredible introductions but later falter? In any case it’ll be interesting to see what kind of conclusions we can come up with (if any) once we’ve accumulated enough data.

Just a fair warning, since we’ll be jotting notes as we play, some of these posts might read more like a Cole’s notes version of what’s going on in the game but hopefully we can properly convey what we’re feeling and what’s going on as we play. Another warning, if you feel that what happens in The First 15 minutes of a game will constitute a spoiler… well it’ll be “spoiled” for ya.

The First 15 starts immediately after a dream sequence in which Ico is climbing a stair case, it’s thunder storming and  when he reaches the top of the stairs, he sees a cage… with a black figure in it. The figure is dripping a black, “tar” like substance. It oozes out of the cage. A black shadow appears on the wall behind Ico and grabs him, and forces him “into” the wall, then Ico wakes up from his nightmare…


The first thing I noticed was that as soon as I gained control of Ico, I was given absolutely zero direction as far as where to go or what each button does. Curious… no tutorial at all? But I did like how I was in an empty, cold room, with no perceivable threat at all. I suppose the game was basically telling me that I was on my own, no one to guide or help me. So what did I do? I just ran around hitting every button I could, duh. Eventually I learned how to JUMP, and make Ico yell out…? Hmm, I have a feeling this’ll come in handy later. After running around for a few minutes I bumble my way to a ladder, and I am pretty happy. Something to climb! YES!

I make my way up the ladder and find a SWITCH. Finally, video game-y language I can understand! Of course I have to hit this switch to open something, probably a locked door right?

I feel pretty lost as I make my way through this abandoned… well, it’s probably a castle or some kind of prison seeing as how Ico was dragged here and locked up in a tiny box in the intro movie, yeah it’s gotta be a prison of some sort. The surround sound is fantastic. The sound of crackling fire in one of my rear speakers startles me. I make note that there is no music of any kind yet. Just eerie silence with the occasional ambient sound effects.  I’m definitely getting a vibe here that this isn’t a very happy place poor Ico has been left in.

I see a window and there is absolutely no light shining through, and yet I feel compelled to go through it, maybe because I don’t have many options, or maybe because it just makes sense that the way “forward” would be  through an open window. But it’s dark, and scary and I don’t wanna go through it! Here we go…

Ok so there are those stairs from the disturbing dream sequence cut scene I just saw a couple of minutes ago, before I finally gained control Ico. Excellent use of foreshadowing. So I go through a scary window and now I get to go up these winding stairs where certain doom is going to meet me… I gotta hand it to Team Ico, they certainly know how to build a world that just oozes tension without so much as leaning on creepy music and cheap scare tactics.

It’s also pretty nice that the camera has a distinct “focus” and is angled in such a way to convey just how imposing these stairs are.

So it is pretty cool how in Ico’s terrible nightmare/dream sequence this person was pure black, and yet when you meet her, she’s a glowing angelic white. Looks like the path leading up the stairs has collapsed. I’ve no choice but to go out that window.

Wow… again I get this incredible sense of scope and wonder. This prison is absolutely huge. All I hear is the sound of seagulls and wind. No music yet again. The seagulls have a rather soothing effect on me.

I climb through the window and just bypass the crumbled stairs. Clearly, I am a genius. At the top of the stairs… A SWITCH. Woohoo, time to free this mysterious girl.

I run as quickly as I can down the stairs. I don’t bother to climb the window and bypass the collapsed section, I just make a jump for it and….. fall on my ass. Oh no! Apparently, falling from such a height doesn’t kill you outright. I make a mental note of this, dust myself off and continue on towards my damsel.

Crap, she’s just barely out of reach. I press my trusty “call out to someone” button and SHE RESPONDS. I take an unhealthy amount of pleasure in this. I am alone no longer! As I walk away to survey the area and figure out a way to get her out the cage, I notice that the camera stays fixated on her. Clearly she’s important and I can’t progress unless I save her.

Aha, figured it out.

She’s free and tries to speak to me. I don’t understand. Even the subtitles are in what look like hieroglyphics. Looks like poor Ico and I are in the same boat, we finally find a great girl and we have no idea how to talk to her.

She's purdy...

But you know, we’re going to have to find a way to communicate and fast, because shit just got real. A creepy looking shadow monster….. thing emerges from the ground. I don’t think he’s here to serve us tea and crumpets. Not unless he’s a British-y shadow monster thing. But that’s beside the point, he’s definitely French.

See? He went STRAIGHT for the girl. That bastard! Luckily a torch fell from the wall before this jerk appeared. I obviously…. need to, what button do I press to pick up sticks?

Damnit he’s GETTING AWAY. I make a mad dash towards my girlfriend and slam my entire 50lbs frame into Jean Pierre (that’s his name now) and he lets my wife go. It’s on now. He’s ticked and starts chasing me. I get scared like a little boy and make a run for the stick. Again, I have no idea how to pick it up and Jean Pierre starts heading towards my ex-wife. He grabs her and slowly starts dragging her underground.

It’s too late to run for the stick. I try to pull her up, I panic. I hit every damn button I can think of.

I can only see her hands now, and then in an instant, she’s gone. I’ve failed.

I’m turned to stone.

The screen goes red.

Continue?
Yes       or      No?

You’re god damned right I’m going to continue.

Yes.

 

 

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