By Marty Mulrooney
Shadow of the Colossus on PlayStation 4 is a modern remake of the classic 2005/2006 PlayStation 2 game of the same name created by the now defunct Team Ico and legendary game designer Fumito Ueda. Developed by Bluepoint Games – the studio that previously ported the original game across to PlayStation 3 along with its spiritual predecessor Ico in 2011 – and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment, Shadow of the Colossus 2018 is a familiar beast that nonetheless manages to evoke an appropriate air of mystery. Raise thy sword by the light, and head to the place where the sword’s light gathers…
Shadow of the Colossus begins with a young warrior on horseback, travelling to a forbidden land with the body of a dead girl. After crossing an impossibly long bridge, he enters the towering Shrine of Worship at the centre of the forbidden land and lays her body on a stone altar. The young warrior is called Wander, and he wants to bring the dead girl back to life.
The disembodied voice of an entity known as Dormin addresses Wander from above; it may be possible to return the girl’s soul to her body, but first Wander must destroy the sixteen idols lining the walls of the temple hall. To do so, he will need to use his ancient sword to defeat sixteen colossi located throughout the forbidden land. However, Dormin warns Wander that the price he will pay to bring the girl back to life will be heavy indeed. Wander’s response? It doesn’t matter.
So begins a classic reimagined. Nothing in terms of content has changed from the original game. This is still an experience comprised of 16 boss fights, with no filler enemies or quests in-between. Wander raises his sword, follows the light to the next colossus (some are as tall as skyscrapers, others are considerably smaller but just as deadly), kills it, and absorbs its energy before being transported back to the Shrine of Worship. Rinse and repeat.
The colossus fights themselves are breathtaking and beautifully designed, like giant, intricate puzzles; the main gameplay mechanic consists of a grip meter that appears while Wander holds onto his enemies for dear life. This meter depletes rapidly as Wander grips onto precarious ledges and exquisitely rendered patches of fur, scrambling, crawling and leaping from one handhold to the next. Meanwhile, the ancient sword allows the player to uncover weak spots, which Wander must stab to damage and eventually defeat each foe.
Each and every player that has played and fallen in love with Shadow of the Colossus has a favourite fight, whether it takes place in a remote lake or high above a barren desert. Wander’s horse Agro is indispensable, both in combat and as the only company to be found. She is a sight for sore eyes every time you are reunited after becoming separated. Each colossus is meticulously crafted video game magic, creating vivid memories that you’ll never forget. Yet it’s the stretches of downtime between each fight that will linger the longest in players’ minds.
It’s the little moments: riding into dense woods as sunlight pierces a thick canopy of green above; pausing atop a cliff to peer down at distantly crashing waves; climbing to the top of a long forgotten shrine to take in stunning views and mentally map the lay of the land ahead. As you ride to your next battle, there is no music. It’s just Wander and Agro, journeying through a land that appears frozen in time and awash in sadness. The mystery is intoxicating. What happened here?
It’s hard to describe what makes such a cut-back, minimalistic experience so thematically and emotionally rewarding. The original game has stood the test of time despite pushing – or perhaps because it pushed – the PlayStation 2 beyond its limits (of course, the evocative and haunting soundtrack composed by Kō Ōtani is utterly timeless). The PlayStation 3 remaster in 2011 finally delivered a steady framerate and this remake goes even further.
The framerate is rock solid (60fps at 1080p or 30fps at 1440p upscaled to 4k on PlayStation 4 Pro), the controls have been subtly and respectfully improved, and the graphics are on par with any other current generation Triple-A video game. In fact, the graphics are so good it’s rather dumbfounding at times (especially with HDR activated); take a look at the gallery of images below, captured on PlayStation 4 Pro via the game’s incredibly robust photo mode:
What makes this remake – and what made the original – so arresting is the niggling suspicion that, no matter how much fun you’re having, you’re fundamentally doing something very, very wrong. From Dormin’s ignored initial warning to the very last stab of Wander’s sword into the final colossus, something just doesn’t feel right. The moment you finally kill a colossus isn’t triumphant; it’s heartbreaking. Wander is a trespasser in this land and – despite seeking to return life to a loved one – all he has wrought is death.
It would be easy to hurl superlatives at this game all day and all night; it’s that good. Bluepoint Games has done an excellent job remastering a true masterpiece for a modern audience. Of course, the original title is still to this day so well-loved that the remake won’t please everyone. There are already forums filled with people arguing whether the graphical changes have altered the original too much, or whether Wander’s face is slightly less expressive in 2018 (it very well might be) – but in the grand scheme of things these complaints boil down to personal preference.
If you’re a long time fan of Shadow of the Colossus, get ready to fall in love with it all over again. If you’ve never played the original but plan to pick up this remake, enjoy it (despite this reviewer’s envy). Ico and The Last Guardian aside, there’s nothing else out there quite like it. Now where’s that horse? Agro!
10 OUT OF 10