Developer: Bluepoint Games – Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment – Platform: PlayStation 4 – Release Date: February 6, 2018
What You’re Getting
A visual overhaul to the 2005 classic that reworks some mechanics to make it play better than ever.
What’s The Story?
Wander, along with his faithful steed, Agro, enter a cursed land on a quest to resurrect a mysterious woman (presumably his lover). He makes a deal with a god-like entity named Dormin to slay 16 colossi that roam the land. If Wander succeeds, the woman will be restored back to life.
The story’s strength comes from being straightforward enough to understand while posing tantalizing questions as sizable as the creatures themselves. What are the colossi and what purpose do they serve? Can I trust Dormin? What was the nature of the civilization that once inhabited the area? Such questions, along with the world’s general air of ambiguity, provide compelling hooks to see the game through to the credits. That includes the biggest question: whether or not Wander is doing the right thing by slaying these majestic beasts.
I still love this story, largely because of how its ambiguous morality adds emotional conflict to each victory. The remake also reminded me that several clear, satisfying answers cap off the story, making it even better. Using minimal voice-acting and cutscenes, the story unfolds at a slow but steady pace, revealing new developments at just the right time before going out with a memorable high note.
How Does It Look?
Needless to say, Shadow of the Colossus’ deserted world has never looked this good. The forbidden land boasts increased detail, from stained rock surfaces to the lush foliage. An improved framerate makes animations appear even smoother. The beautiful lighting brings an element of realism to the surroundings–even more so if you’re playing on an HDR display. Darker areas such as the geyser pit appear even more desolate while brighter spots such as the 12th colossi’s spring pop more than they ever have. Of course, Wander and the colossi look much, much better.
Unlike my first playthrough back in 2005, I spent far more time simply admiring my surroundings. The long draw distance combined with panned-out camera views creates wonderful landscapes prime for capture using the added camera mode (a feature I regularly toyed with). Certain textures still retain the muddiness of the original version, but Bluepoint’s makeover floored me overall. Instead the appearance matching my rose-tinted memory, it looks vastly superior to anything a happy memory could have thought up.
How Does It Sound?
Shadow’s score still ranks as one of my favorites in the medium. Nothing makes the act of climbing a colossus more epic than when the music ratchets up into its now legendary score. The orchestral tracks range from epic to serene, ramping up at just the right points. I will say that the jarring transition between pieces (like unnerving idle music instantly switching to the combat song once you engage a colossus) stood out more than it had years ago, and I wish the switch could be more natural.
How Fun Is It?
For better or worse, Shadow of the Colossus is the same, epic experience though with some minor quality of life tweaks and new secrets.
The controls default to an updated scheme that remaps actions that better suit modern sensibilities. For example, assigning the grab function to R2 feels more comfortable and natural. Rolling to dodge, originally performed by hitting two inputs, gets a single, dedicated button. Purists need not despair; the classic setup can be toggled in the menu if they want to kick it old school. It’s great to have choices, though I chose to stick with the modern controls as they flat-out felt better.
Despite the improved controls, controlling Agro frustrated me more this time than back in the day. Horseback riding has come a long way since 2005 and I’ve simply grown accustomed to having complete, fluid control of my steed. I respect that Agro behaves similarly to a living, breathing animal. However, that didn’t alleviate the frustration of her taking too long to hit the gas or inexplicably halting while traversing dense forests.
Though I generally didn’t mind using Agro in combat scenarios, I regularly lost patience with her while exploring. In fact, an in-game stat sheet confirmed I spent double the time on foot than I did on horseback. Call me a casual, but in a playthrough where I felt a greater compulsion to look around, I’d rather Agro controlled more like a video game horse and less like an actual, temperamental horse.
My newfound desire to explore stems in part from the new collectible coins. Over 70 of these treasures hide in obscure nooks, atop rock formations, and at the farthest reaches of the peninsula. I appreciated this addition as it gave me a reason to roam around between colossus battles, letting me see parts of the world that I glazed over in my original playthrough. The original set of secrets still remain for those curious enough to pursue them.
Now to the meat of the game: the colossus battles. Taking down these mighty beasts often requires critical thinking as much as it does dexterity. Each colossi possesses one or more weak points and the challenge lies in figuring out how to exploit them. Some colossi must be scaled; you feel a genuine sense of insignificance and terror as the towering creatures try to shrug off you off as you cling for dear life. Others must be manipulated into exposing their vulnerabilities, often using clever tricks. No matter how you must approach, toppling a colossus conjures feelings of both overwhelming empowerment and underlying melancholy.
The bouts I that always stuck with me, such as the swordsman and eagle, still thrilled me over a decade later. At the same time, I gained new appreciation for more overlooked confrontations; facing the gigantic turtle in the desolate geyser area stands chief among these. A few colossi can be toppled more easily than I remembered (or would have liked), others can feel tedious in their approach, and the final boss can still infuriate. Taken as a whole, though, the encounters, and the sense of wonder around them, hold up remarkably well.
Shadow of the Colossus is one of the all-time greats and this wonderfully crafted remake cements its status as such. The improved controls, gorgeous visuals, and a sprinkling of new content provide strong reasons for veterans to return–all while maintaining the elements that they remember. Those who missed out on the original and HD remaster have the perfect entry point to experience one of the PlayStation 2’s biggest classics. More than anything, I realized that even after 13 years there still hasn’t been anything quite like the magic of playing Shadow of the Colossus.