Developer: Bluepoint Games
Shadow of the Colossus, which released at the tail end of the PlayStation 2’s long and successful life span, was very much a game ahead of its time. Team ICO and Fumito Ueda pushed the limits of that old hardware just as the world was preparing for the PS3, and it instantly became a must have title for the aging platform. From the scope of the open world to the scale of the iconic creatures that protect it, Shadow of the Colossus was a masterpiece that would have certainly benefited greatly from more powerful hardware. How many games out there were released, remastered and then remade over 3 sequential generations? Not many.
For those who have yet to be exposed to previous incarnations of the game, there’s not a whole lot of in your face storytelling happening in Shadow of the Colossus. The player assumes the role of a young man by the name of Wander and his horse Agro who have presumably travelled to a mysterious land with a sick/dying girl in search of a power to heal/revive her. When the girl is placed upon the altar within the Shrine of Worship a disembodied voice from the heavens instructs Wander to rid the land of 16 giant colossi in exchange for the girl’s life — at a great cost, of course. And that’s essentially, as the player, everything you know up front. Wander then sets out with his trusty steed Agro, an enchanted sword and a bow in search of the first massive creature.
Shadow of the Colossus takes place in a fairly large open world and players can bring up the map and pretty much navigate to anywhere on it right at the start of the game without a ton of difficulty. To make progress though, Wander needs to hold up his sword, which will reflect a beam of sunlight in the general direction that you are required to go to locate the next colossus. After visiting the shrine at the start of the adventure you are told that the colossi need to be taken down in a specific sequence — so even if you are able to navigate to where some of them may be located, spending a significant amount of time exploring the far reaches of the environment up front isn’t necessary. There are
plenty of opportunities to find shrines/save points, hunt down grip/power-increasing lizard tails and gather health bar-increasing fruit found on large trees. For this PS4 iteration, there are ?other? collectibles here and there which we won’t spoil here.
The draw of Shadow of the Colossus is of course the massive living stone guardians themselves. Inspired by living and mythological creatures of the land/sea/air, these huge colossi more or less go about their normal business when Wander happens upon them which kicks off a confrontation. Puzzling out how to scale these ?monsters? is the hard part, although there are some dynamic hints that appear for those who struggle. When finally locating their vital weak points and plunging your sword into their hide, you’ll definitely feel a twinge of sadness when finally finishing them off and see them lifelessly crash to the ground.
Beyond the insane visual and performance overhaul for the PS4 and PS4 Pro, the control scheme and gameplay for Shadow of the Colossus received a number of significant improvements which appear to be built on some of the enhancements found in the PS3 remaster. While there is an option to use the classic control scheme, the modern control scheme really smooths out some of the rough edges in the original game’s gameplay. Using X as jump, and the R2 trigger to grip, and circle dedicated to rolling (which is rather important) makes a heck of a lot more sense. Since the generic “action” button is phased out using the modern option, I could not find a way to pet Agro without switching back to classic. Priorities, priorities.
There are a lot of behind the scenes tweaks also that players may chalk up to the game just running on a much more powerful platform. Climbing and clinging to a colossus isn’t quite as finicky and the camera behaves way more often. The bow is more accurate, Agro is a little less skittish and it’s easier to switch weapons on the fly. There’s still weight to Wander and Agro’s movements, which existed in the original and the remaster, so the PS4 version certainly feels like Shadow of the Colossus. When trying to navigate narrow spaces or climb a particularly wild colossus there can still be a touch of gameplay and camera wonkiness, and there was a few times where I was able to get Wander solidly stuck in a few structures that I was exploring forcing a reload.
Shadow of the Colossus is gobsmackingly gorgeous on a base PS4 and a PS4 Pro. This review is primarily based on the PS4 Pro paired with a 4K HDR Samsung KS8000 display, and I generally chose the resolution visual option over the framerate option since I usually prefer the overall aesthetics of a solid 30fps framerate with increased image quality. The high framerate option is great looking too for those who require something closer to 60fps in their games. Regardless, the world of Shadow of the Colossus and the stars of the show, the colossi, have never looked better.
Since this is a remake and not just a remaster, the level of geometry has increased exponentially all around. Apparently just the Shrine of Worship in the PS4 version has nearly two times the detail of the entire game world of the PS2 original; and it shows. The draw distance in tremendous and the many detailed and unique looking craggy cliffs, crumbling structures and lush environmental details throughout the world that can be seen way in the distance frequently inspired me to take a detour to search for hidden items or secrets — even when there was really nothing there to find at all. Modern open world titles have taught us to scour every nook and cranny for surprises but even with some new items to track down those surprises are far and few between in Shadow of the Colossus. As a result the open world, while attractive, may seem somewhat sparse as compared to newer adventure titles that feature a map literally littered with icons and collectibles. That could be a positive or a negative depending on a player’s preference, although it works in the context of this game.
The environmental lighting and color grading is just incredible all around, and each new area you explore shows off a rather distinct aesthetic. From super lush forests with light shafts overhead and fireflies, to swirling volumetric dust and imprinted footsteps across a vast desert area, there’s plenty of variation to encounter in your hunt for the colossi. The world is otherwise relatively unpopulated, except for scattered hawks soaring across the sky, lizards, a few fish here and there and a smattering of doves on occasion.
Speaking again of the massive colossi, they are just as fearsome and awesome as before and the enhanced fur rendering and texturing are some of the best out there. There’s no doubt that it’s still difficult not to wince when plunging a sword into their vitals and witnessing the spray of inky black mist from the wound. The models for Wander and Agro have been upgraded and enhanced similarly, and even though there’s been some chatter about the Wander looking too different than the original (his face especially), I had no issue with the stylistic changes the developer implemented here. For those who like to further tweak their experience, Bluepoint Games added display filter and HUD customization options which can adjusted on the fly. Oh, and there’s a full featured photo mode too. All very nice quality of life additions to the original and remastered iterations.
The audio isn’t notably different or enhanced in the remake and the sweeping, epic score and theme song is used sparingly during exploration gameplay. Until an encounter with a colossus of course, then the score picks up dramatically, depending on your actions and progress. Otherwise you’ll be treated to mostly pleasant environmental sounds, the galloping of Agro, Wander’s grunts and groans and other subtle audio cues.
To wrap things up, Shadow of the Colossus was very worthy of a remake if only just to ensure that a new generation of PlayStation gamers have the opportunity to experience it. To spite a couple of minor camera and gameplay issues, Shadow of the Colossus is a highly recommended, magical and memorable journey for PS4 owners.
Note: SIEA provided us with a Shadow of the Colossus PS4 code for review purposes.