I loved a lot of games in the last generation â€“ Burnout 2, Psychonauts, Halo, Resident Evil 4, Silent Hill 2, God of War, GT3 and GTA: Vice City all stand out to me as classic titles. However, itâ€™s ICO that I think will stay with me longest. Now, I can understand why some people think itâ€™s over-rated: it is fairly short, it doesnâ€™t hold much replay value, and it has perhaps become too much of a poster child for the â€˜games as artâ€™ brigade. However, it shows so much imagination and vision and â€“ when it call comes down to it â€“ soul, that I just donâ€™t think these objections hold much water.
Of course itâ€™s the artistic style that gets your attention first of all. Technically, there are better games on the PS2, but thereâ€™s something about ICOâ€™s impressionist hazy lighting and folk-myth design that resists side-by-side comparisons. The characters are beautifully realised, and the gothic citadel in which the game takes place is a masterpiece of games architecture. You donâ€™t really realise how oppressive its gloomy vaults and cathedral-like spaces are until you make it outside into the sunshine. And once there, youâ€™re confronted by a tour de force of pools, waterfalls, strange outcroppings and vertiginous walkways. Even now it looks beautiful.
Itâ€™s on this, and on the superb way in which the game builds up a relationship between young Ico and his fragile, ghostly companion, Yorda, that the gameâ€™s reputation rests â€“ and rightly so. Few moments in gaming have twisted knots in my stomach like Yordaâ€™s desperate lunge for your hand as you pull her across a gaping chasm, or those scenes where youâ€™re stuck in one section of the room pulling levers when the shadows appear to drag Yorda back into their realm.
However, we shouldnâ€™t forget the little things â€“ like the complex, interleaving puzzles, or the way in which the game does everything to avoid punishing you for a slip of the pad. Unless youâ€™re really careless, youâ€™ll always find yourself dangling from the missed ledge instead of plunging into the abyss. And I think it has possibly the best last few hours of any game ever, with a sudden, gruesome, pull-the-rug-out plot turn, followed by a wave of frantic platforming, followed by a dramatic, final showdown and a strange, ambiguous ending. Yes, Ico is short, but itâ€™s also damn near perfect. How many other games can you say that about?