Shadow of the Colossus review
February 6, 2018
How do you start an piece about Shadow of the Colossus in 2018? Given how much the original game has been fawned over, torn apart and researched to death, is there anything to be said about this stone-wall classic that hasn’t been said? This is a majestic game and, quite honestly, easily my favourite of the three Team Ico games that we’ve had, and given that Bluepoint put together the remaster on PS3, it’ll all be fine, right?
Right, actually. At the risk of being boring, the developer has done a beautiful job of recreating this emotional, ethereal journey through the forbidden land. As Wander, we have to cut a swathe through the beautiful, sometimes peaceful colossi that roam the fields, rivers, and mountains of this place. He still says nothing, of course, arriving on horse-friend Agro, carrying his unconscious female companion, Mono, places her on a pedestal and hopes to find salvation in his deeds.
The first thing that hits you is how incredible it looks. While the washed out, high-contrast look has been dulled in favour of a more realistic visual approach, it looks no less mystical. The forbidden land has a feeling about it, and almost incomprehensible notion that you should not be here. Remnants of buildings suggest people once resided in this land, but they’re long gone. Nothing about what you’re doing feels right, and it likely never will, but with the modern visuals it feels even more wrong to be straddling these behemoths and piercing their brains with your sword.
And that’s the thing. Even though the original game is over twelve years old, it still felt wrong then. Clambering up, using every last millimeter of Wander’s stamina to get atop whichever colossi you are hunting, it always felt wrong the manner in which you took them down. This isn’t a hack and slash and the enemy you face isn’t coming at you with a flurry of attacks. Some of the colossi won’t even attack you unless you force them into a corner like a rat: no choice but to fight or die. Make no mistake, you are the aggressor here, but time and maturity has made this an even harder action to carry out. It hurts when you kill these beautiful creatures. It hurts.
On a basic level, there’s not actually much going on. The world is fairly barren, save for some small creatures scuttering about, you, the colossi, and Dormin, the disembodied voice that sets you on the murderous colossi rampage because, presumably, this male and female voice (the two are mixed to make one creepy voice) can bring back the dead, and save Mono.
After each battle you will start in the ruins again, and be given advice on where to go next. You jump on Agro’s back, raise your sword to the sun and follow the reflective line of light to the next battle. You can attack with that sword or a bow & arrow, but it’s not a game about combat, as such.
This is a puzzle game, really. After the first two battles which offer obvious solutions, it becomes about discovery. Take the bird colossus, for example. It’s always been a stand-out moment for me, working out that you can annoy it with arrows to the point it will swoop for you, whereby you leap onto its furry wings and scurry around, stabbing its three weak points before ending it. In 2018, with 4K visuals and HDR this moment looks incredible.
While I’m not about to sit here and tell you it looks as good as Horizon Zero Dawn, Bluepoint has done a tremendous job bringing Shadow of the Colossus to life on the PS4. There are visual options on PS4 Pro, offering a choice between lower frame-rate but the highest possible graphics (cinematic mode), or performance mode, which boasts a solid 60fps. The original game had problems in this area, don’t let others tell you otherwise. It was a game that had ambition beyond what the PS2 could achieve, and playing it with that smooth as butter frame-rate is a genuine joy. No longer does the game chug during busy moments. Purists will argue the toss, but in many ways this feels like the way the game was meant to be played.
The best thing about this PS4 remake, though, is that it feels like a new game. Sure, if you are massive fan you’ll blitz through it, knowing every solution before you even get there. You won’t even need to use the sword to find colossi, but there are speed-run options to give you reason to play again, and a photo mode that will surely see Twitter awash with pictures of Agro and Wander. Returning players will want to study this remake, almost trying to find where the developer has made mistakes, because this version has been imbued with personality that, perhaps, wasn’t present before, thanks to the power of the PS4 allowing more facial animations.
Rose tinted glasses will make people say things like “it always looked this good”, but it bloody didn’t. Bluepoint has brought one of the best games to ever grace a Sony console back to life on the PS4, and has done so with tenderness and care. The soundtrack remains one of the best ever, of course, and that opening string movement is just mesmerising.
Like most of the people playing it, Shadow of the Colossus isn’t perfect, and perhaps my own rose tinted goggles are blinding me to its flaws (the camera can sometimes get in the way when you’re on a colossus that is particularly lumpy), but the fact that a whole new generation will get to play this game for the first time is a wonderful thought.
Makes you feel bad about what you’re doing
Maybe not quite enough for returning players
Camera still awkward at times
Bluepoint has brought one of the best games to ever grace a Sony console back to life on the PS4, and has done so with tenderness and care.