Ico is awkward, unsettling, and weird – but it’s still an essential PS Plus game everyone needs to play

You know those beloved novels you always mean to read, but never quite get around to? Ico is my gaming equivalent. Released in 2001 for Sony’s bulky behemoth, this PS2 classic is heralded as one of the medium’s greatest achievements. If that wasn’t enough of an excuse for a games journalist to just fucking play it already, it’s also part of a trilogy that I utterly adore. Falling head over heels for creator Fumito Ueda’s feverishly anticipated 2016 epic The Last Guardian (remember thinking this would never release?) and most gamers’ first encounter with Ueda (seminal goliath slayer, Shadow Of The Colossus), Ico’s alluring box art has always beckoned. Now, with the PS2 classic available to stream via PS Plus Extra, it was finally time to see what the fuss is all about.

Entirely predictably then, Ico hooks me immediately. When it comes to the navel-gazing ‘games as art’ discourse, there’s a reason that Ico is always highlighted as a shining example. Light on narrative and heavy on ambience, Fumito Ueda’s breakthrough project is a majestic mood piece – a universally relatable adventure that largely avoids cutscenes and, instead, relies on its setting to tell its tale.

And what a setting. There’s a wonderfully surrealist quality to Ueda’s debut that immediately recalls the ill-fitting, ethereal nature of childhood dreams. Thanks to the PS3’s notoriously difficult-to-emulate cell processor, Ico is only available to stream via Sony’s rebranded PS Now service, giving it an unintentionally murky look. Still, it’s hard to care when the core art style is this good. At times, Ico’s odd camera angles and surrealist pacing make the whole thing feel like a playable Renaissance painting; amping up that dreamlike feel which defies Ico’s dated visuals, oozing a quietly entrancing sense of mystique and dread.

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