Every PlayStation console since the PS2 has now featured an edition of Shadow of the Colossus, Team Ico’s iconic masterpiece that changed how gamers thought of boss fights. For the PS4’s go-around, the game has been remade from the ground up, finally giving the unbridled scope of the original experience room to flex its best qualities. My history with Shadow of the Colossus is perhaps more limited than most, having only taken on a handful of colossi in the PS3 re-release. It wasn’t disinterest so much as distraction that caused me to forego my first attempt, but the PS4 remake offers the perfect opportunity to finish what I started. If Shadow of the Colossus is as timeless as it previously seemed, a full-scale revitalization of the game’s visuals should be all it needs to make me regret missing out on the colossi-killing for so many years.
In an ancient and forbidden land sits a shrine that houses the idols of 16 mythical beasts. The story begins, as it has before, with a mysterious young man traveling to the shrine to persuade the disembodied being residing within it to bring his (presumed) love-interest back to life. The being agrees to restore the woman if the man destroys all the idols in the temple by killing their real-life colossal counterparts spread around the region. So begins a tale that gives us nothing but the most rudimentary motivations, but is made that much more intriguing by its lack of explanation. Even the game’s perplexing and interpretive conclusion doesn’t answer much, but there remains a lingering respect for a story that allows us to fill in some of its blanks without leaving the impression of missing out on something crucial.
Once the hunt begins, players must navigate rocky cliffs, rolling deserts, and dense forests to find a colossi in every corner of the land. This is made a little more practical by a magical sword that points light in the general direction of the next target. Should players choose to solely focus on the sequence of colossi, the sword provides them that option. The sprawling landscape leaves a lot of space to be explored, should a less linear path sound preferable, but the game world feels rather barren given its size. There are lizards to hunt and a few secrets to uncover, but the exploration is largely for a voyeuristic sake.
The world’s general emptiness, combined with its impressive but occasionally bleak design in the older game, may turn some players off after giving the new environments a second glance. This is until it becomes clear just how much the setting has evolved. Meticulous detail and a much broader and richer range of colors breathes new life into every one of its diverse biomes. As quickly as the first colossi, players will appreciate how the creatures have benefitted from the remake’s technical advancements. Their fur sways with the shifting of their weight, and dust and rubble coating their long-dormant bodies breaks away and falls in granular clouds. The lighting in particular does the game’s title justice, giving a crispness to the titular shadows of each colossus in a way that was unachievable in the first edition.
The aesthetic advancements achieved by the remake’s superior technology are more easily appreciable thanks to its new Photo Mode. Fan-made screenshots are now commonplace in gaming due to recent streamlining of the function, but the new Shadow of the Colossus ups this ante. At any point, players can freeze a scene and capture it using a handful of tools to adjust the image. With camera positioning, depth-of-field, filter changes, and other tools, players can create their ideal Shadow of the Colossus image. Some of these changes can even be left on while playing, unlocking a fresh way to experience the classic game.
The colossi-mounting gameplay has remained generally unchanged, as the player must discern how to mount each colossus using nothing but a bow, a sword, the environment, and their own wits. The beasts are damaged and ultimately killed by stabbing different weak spots on their bodies, but the grip gauge adds a tense ticking clock that limits how long the character can hold on as they thrash. The improved visuals actually have strategic function as well, as elements of the colossi and their surroundings are more distinctive and distinguishable thanks to the remake’s heightened level of detail. In the heat of a colossi climb, discerning which surface of the monster was grabable wasn’t always obvious in the older games, but this ambiguity has been lessened by the remake’s greater polish.
The gameplay that makes up the near-entirety of Shadow of the Colossus has always intrigued me, but it didn’t quite click with me the first time I took a crack at it. The more current controls and visuals gave me the motivation I needed to dive once more into the classic adventure, leading me to realize what everyone has been praising all this time. Each of the sixteen colossi are not only vastly unique in their size and design, but also the way in which players must tackle them, getting progressively more thought-provoking with each monster. Some require manipulation of the surrounding environment, while others need to be provoked in some clever way, with no two colossi being conquered the same way twice. Twelve years is more than enough time for game mechanics to become dated, particularly those found in something as niche as Shadow of the Colossus originally was, but the manner in which the game’s enemies are defeated is simply timeless.
Games will often reward a player’s progression with upgrades or tools that make future progress easier, but Shadow of the Colossus has other intentions. While the game slightly boosts the character’s health and grip gauge with each monster felled, the true reward of toppling a colossi is mainly to see what’s next. The game incentivizes you to continue, not just for the triumph of beating its challenges, but for the excitement of facing them. When you progress, it comes with the satisfaction that it was genuinely gained through your own skill and intuition. A game about spending huge amounts of time figuring out how to climb a monster, followed by balancing on top of them while carefully managing gauges, always sounded to me like a recipe for controller-crushing frustration. This remake, however, reminds us what exactly Shadow of the Colossus brings to the gaming scene. Deducing how to mount a colossi nearly always has a logical solution that comes about by simply considering all the elements in play, and failing a climb—while admittedly stress-provoking—never feels to be the result of unfair systems.
Shadow of the Colossus would have suffered from the remake attempting to reinvent its strengths, but part of a remake’s purpose is improving areas the previous game fell short. Two of these areas are still around to pester us, despite supposed attempts to overhaul them, during this otherwise stellar experience. First up is the character’s horse, Agro, who is used to get across the wide landscape. There is no denying he is a useful and loyal steed, but his tendency to wrestle with the player’s commands when navigating obstacles makes fighting with him more challenging than most colossi in the game. The game’s camera is another issue that can be just as exasperating to manage. The camera is constantly readjusting itself, shifting around while the player tries to view a fight from an important angle, occasionally resulting in complete visual loss of the character. Both of these issues seem to originate from systems that try to organically determine what is best for the player, rather than just leaving it up to the player to make their own decisions. Numerous older games suffer from a similar habit, and it is one of the few things Shadow of the Colossus should have left behind.
Assuming these nuisances don’t stunt your progress too much, the full adventure will take most gamers around six hours. Newcomers—or fans who can’t remember how they beat it the first go around—that are looking to get the most out of the experience are implored to avoid internet tutorials at all costs. Learning the game’s strategies and secrets outright will cut its already short runtime down drastically, and the true satisfaction in bringing a colossi to its knees is that it was earned by you and you alone. There is some bonus material to be enjoyed following the game’s completion, including a New Game+ mode that lets you tackle the campaign again while holding onto upgrades to the character’s health and grip gauge, as well as Time Attack challenges for each colossi that reward special gear items based on the number of records bested. These auxiliary options are mild, but they should be enough for anyone with whom the main adventure truly resonated.
My personal situation of playing enough of the old game to appreciate Shadow of the Colossus’ upgrades, while still maintaining my naivety over the unique colossi it had in store, felt like the perfect storm to enjoy this remade classic. Even those sitting at either end of the spectrum still have much to gain by mounting up, as returning fans will have even greater appreciation for what the visual enhancements add, while newcomers will get to experience one of gaming’s true darlings in the best form it’s ever been.
Remakes can seem like the low-hanging fruit of game development, but Bluepoint does Shadow of the Colossus justice with an evolution of the classic game that improves the overall experience while maintaining its familiar spirit.
Bluepoint Games, SCE Japan Studio
Sony Interactive Entertainment
T – Teen
|Shadow of the Colossus is available on PlayStation 4. Primary version played was for PlayStation 4. Code/hardware was provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|
Nick didn’t start gaming until mid-2006. Once his parents finally allowed a console into the house, it was all uphill from there. Starting out with a PS2, he grew an affinity for Sony consoles and moved on to the PS3, and now the PS4. He keeps his gaming palette wide, but, gun to his head, he’d have to say shooters are his genre of choice.