The premise of the game is simple, your character is a freak and so, the friendly-neighborhood morale officers presents to you the best solution: entomb you 'til you're dead. This is the story of ICO, the boy born with horns. You're being entombed in this magical capsule inside a castle. The castle has no name, no people wandering about. Looks like it's abandoned; the perfect place to leave freaks to starve to death, right?
This is where the adventure begins. All you have to do is get out of the castle, pronto! But wait! This stuff is a bit boring to be a revolutionary game, eh? So slip in a white princess-girl, some shadow-things that want the girl bad(debts, maybe?), and a cruel queen. I mean, what's a castle without its corrupt rulers?
The graphics are so beautiful, immersive and unbelievably realistic for an old game. Even the characters are detailed(zoom in to look at the details on their faces and attire). The castle itself is amazingly rendered, with the game elements naturally blending with the hues of the interiors and exteriors. It's a big game in scale, though not so lengthy. Sony just loves to please players with breathtaking graphics.
This game is extremely lonely, somber and somewhat dark. Don't expect too much soundtrack. You'd only hear a score when you push in to the save screen. I really like the track here. Don't treat this lack of music as a no-no because you'd be using in-game sounds and noises to solve puzzles. The noise that this game makes just furthers the imagination of the player. There are some realistic sounds here, like stick hitting a stone or wood, walls crumbling, magic doors opening. And let's not forget the voice overs. The characters don't speak English, so we're graced with subtitles. The voice acting is impressive, even if it's in another language; you can really feel the emotion of a scared boy, an enigmatic girl, and an evil queen.
This is essentially a puzzle game as it is an adventure game. As you go around the castle, you have to find exits so that both you and Yorda(the girl) can proceed to the next stage in the game. Some of the puzzles will have you scratching your head until you realize that the answer to the puzzle is just in front of you. Observing the environments is a key element here. There are levers to turn on, buttons to press, passages to create from the fixed things of the game. Don't worry, the puzzles are not that hard, though there's this occasional brain-burner that'll eventually have you feel ticklish all over. Solve the puzzles, help Yorda follow you, assist her in the long jumps, save her from the shadow-things that'll try to grab her and suck her in these black holes. There's no life gauge here, so you'll only heve to worry about Yorda's condition. Hey, it doesn't mean that you're invincible! Fall off a high cliff and you'll die, let Yorda be sucked in the black vortex created by the shadow-things and you'll turn into stone, and so triggering the game over screen. This is an amazing puzzle game.
ICO is a start. Many games have followed its footsteps and are thankful that ICO made the PS2 look very sweet during the first years of it's blockbusting life!