Shadow Of The Colossus Review
Remakes are a balancing act in staying faithful to the source material while also updating the formula to meet modern expectations, this being the challenge Bluepoint Games faced when approaching Shadow Of The Colossus. There are few games as beloved as this one, and I’m certainly in the camp that believes the original deserves every bit of that admiration.
Even with Bluepoint’s track record of excellent remasters, a full-on remake from anyone other than the original development team caused a bit of concern. After spending many hours with this remake though, I’m thrilled to say this new version of Shadow Of The Colossus is every bit worthy of its namesake.
Fitting this game into a specific genre is a bit of a task, but if you’re unfamiliar with it then here’s the gist: It’s part puzzle game, part boss rush, and all ethereal melancholy. In the game, you’ll play as Wander, a young man that has traveled to a place called the Forbidden Lands in search of a being called Dormin.
You see, Dormin has the power to bring back the dead, and Wander wants to use this power to resurrect Mono, a girl that was killed during a ritual sacrifice. Dormin agrees to grant Wander’s wish, but only under the condition that 16 beings known as the Colossi are killed. From there, Wander sets out to defeat every single colossus in the Forbidden Lands.
The plot itself is light, but that isn’t detrimental to the narrative. Shadow Of The Colossus has been the source of intrigue for well over a decade now and for good reason. The story is presented in such a way that even the smallest detail inspires speculation.
An example being Dormin, who seems to be a malevolent entity but does a few small things that make you question its real alignment. Dormin specifically warns Wander that even if he’s able to defeat all the colossi, he’ll have to sacrifice a great deal if he wants Mono brought back to life. If Dormin was strictly malevolent, you’d figure the warning would be left out of the equation.
Equally as captivating are the colossi battles themselves. I called the game a “boss rush” earlier but that really is selling these encounters a bit short. It’s a boss rush in the sense that the game is all about the lead-up and ultimate confrontation with a colossus, but they aren’t structured like traditional boss fights either. Each one is like a puzzle, and most of the challenge in the game comes from figuring out exactly how to inflict damage on a colossus.
Every colossus has several weak-points on their body, and the way you approach each encounter is wildly different. One battle may be all about finding a way to board a flying colossus, while another might have you using the environment to trick the colossus into doing what you want it to do. There’s an exhilarating “Eureka!” moment in each battle once you realize what the solution.
One interesting aspect of gameplay I often feel goes unmentioned when discussing Shadow Of The Colossus is the contrast between searching for a colossus and actually fighting one. When you set out to find a colossus, you’ll just be riding through terrain on your horse, and truthfully, it’s never a long or difficult trek to find your mark. But it’s just enough time to let you relax and take everything in.
Meanwhile, the battles themselves can be very intimidating, testing both your deductive reasoning and your motor skills. The ebb and flow between these two aspects of gameplay doesn't get old, as relaxation is punctuated with a steady build-up to the confrontation. Shadow Of The Colossus understands the importance of pacing in a way that few other games do.
To say any more about the story or the battles would cheat the experience. Chances are if you’re reading this review then you have already played the original release and know this. On the other hand, if you’ve not played the game, then I will not shed light on any more details. This is one of the most captivating games I’ve ever played, and it lingers with you long after the credits roll.
The differences between a remake versus a remaster seem to vary from person to person, as does the definition of both. But here, this is a full-blown remake. Every model, bit of geometry, animation, and visual element of the game has been remade from the ground up. I was initially worried that a remake might hurt the experience, as recreating the feeling of the controls and how you interact with the world would be a difficult thing to pull off.
Thankfully though, it would seem my concern was misplaced, and it’s amazing how they preserved the sense of weight when scaling a colossus or riding your horse. Even the scene framing and the way the camera pans is 1:1 with the original. It’s obvious that Bluepoint wanted to preserve every gameplay detail and quirk in the game, and in that regard, they’ve succeeded.
The visuals are the big difference between the original and the remake. Obviously, now that we’re in the 4K era, Shadow Of The Colossus was in need of a makeover for its PlayStation 4 debut. This is where my feelings on the remake are a little mixed.
Previously, the Forbidden Lands had a distinct look. The world was always illuminated with sunlight, but you could never tell where the sun was and it made the game feel like the passage of time was at a stand-still. Similarly, there was very little in the way of vegetation and plant life in the original which made the world feel unsettlingly barren.
Wild fields would almost resemble a freshly cut lawn at a golf course in that there wasn’t much life aside from a bit of grass. It was strange little touches like this that added a dream-like quality to Shadow Of The Colossus. There was just enough strangeness to the visuals that worked in the game’s favor thematically.
The remake, on the other hand, is full visual and technical splendor. One example is during the battle with the third colossus, the sun stands out a lot in the background now. It casts beautiful light shafts and makes the battle look gorgeous, but I feel it takes a bit away from the scene. Colossus fights are often very somber in tone - you’re not always supposed to feel like a triumphant hero when killing these creatures; in fact, the opposite is often the case.
With this third colossus fight, the change in lighting makes the battle feel more like a typical boss fight for players to overcome rather than an encounter that makes you wonder if you’re doing the right thing or not. It’s like the old phrase “less is more”, and in this case, I’m inclined to agree.
It’s hard to say if the visual stylings of the first release were intentional or due to technical limitations of the PS2, but either way, they worked in the game’s favor. Conversely, however, the added horsepower of the PS4 has helped other aspects of the game’s presentation immensely. Make no mistake, the artistry and new assets in the remake look unbelievable.
There’s a case to be made that this is the best-looking game on the PS4, and the frame rate is much more reliable than it ever was on PS2. I was playing on a regular PS4 and the game did not once dip below 30 frames per second.
Furthermore, if you have a PS4 Pro, you can enjoy the game at 60 frames per second if you change to the 'performance' setting. Anyone that played the game on PS2 knows how bad the frame rate was at times, and in this regard, the remake soars past the original.
In terms of additions, this version of Shadow Of The Colossus has a few new tricks up its sleeve. For one there’s the inclusion of a photo mode, which allows you to freeze the action and adjust things to take fun screenshots.
There are also several control scheme options: a ‘modern’ one with improved button layout and a ‘classic’ control scheme for purists. Lastly, there are several filters you can add to the game to tweak the look of it. There are even filters that make the game’s color scheme more closely resemble the original release, an addition that suits my tastes quite nicely.
Returning players may be disappointed that there’s no actual new content, but in my eyes, this is a good thing. A hypothetical new colossus battle or extra content would surely affect the pacing and conflict with Fumito Ueda’s vision. Bluepoint Games know how special the game is to so many people, and their dedication to preserving that experience shines through in what’s on screen.
To say this remake is worthy of its namesake would be to sell it short - it's a tremendous achievement that goes well beyond expectations. While I am not a fan of every artistic decision Bluepoint has made, overall the essence has been preserved brilliantly. Whether you have played it before or not, you owe it to yourself to at least give it try. Shadow Of The Colossus is a magnificent game with an atmosphere that becomes all the more intoxicating the longer you breath it in.