Shadow of the Colossus

Platform(s): PlayStation 2, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action
Publisher: SCEE (EU), SCEA (US)
Release Date: Feb. 6, 2018 (US), Feb. 7, 2018 (EU)


PS4 Review - 'Shadow of the Colossus'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Feb. 13, 2018 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

In Shadow of the Colossus, players take on the role of a young man who has set off on a journey through ancient lands to seek out and destroy gigantic mythical beasts. Only you can defeat these formidable colossi, and in doing so, only you can bring life to the girl who lies waiting on the altar.

Buy Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of the Colossus is one of the most influential games ever made because everything it did was staggeringly unique at the time. To this day, its heartbreaking storyline, intense atmosphere, and incredible sense of scale in battle are almost unmatched in gaming. Any modern boss fight against a giant enemy is compared to Shadow and is often found wanting. A remake is a difficult thing to do. Do too much, you risk losing what made the game work. Do too little, and it feels pointless. Fortunately, Shadow of the Colossus for the PS4 is a master class in what a remake should be.

In Shadow of the Colossus, you play as a boy known as Wander. You're escorting a deceased girl, and your goal is to find a way to revive her. A mysterious voice promises to resurrect the dead if you slay the massive colossi that roam the land. With an ancient sword, a trusty horse, and a bow and arrow, Wander sets out to do exactly that. The story is basic but meaningful. There are few cut scenes, and almost everything is conveyed through the environment and body language. Much is left up to interpretation, but the game hits harder than many dialogue-heavy games. It's a straightforward example of how more isn't always better.

Shadow of the Colossus isn't complex. You control Wander, and you have only a handful of available moves. There are no upgrade trees or RPG elements. You can find hidden lizards to upgrade your health, and there are a few optional bonus items, but they're mostly locked in the time trial mode. Wander can stab with a sword, shoot an arrow, climb, and ride a horse, but each action is used in multiple ways. The new PS4-exclusive control scheme certainly works better than its PS2 counterpart, mostly due to more logical button configurations. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you do, it's easy to play.

Perhaps the most controversial control element that hasn't been changed for the remake is Argo the horse. For good or bad, the developers attempted to make Argo feel like an actual horse and not a remote-controlled car. You basically have to point him in a direction and trust him to know what he's doing. If you're used to direct control over an animal, it can feel awkward. In some ways, it's a hint of what the developer ended up doing in The Last Guardian. Still, if there's one part of Shadow of the Colossus that will instantly turn people off, it's the horse.

Your goal is to kill all the colossi, and each colossus is different. The earliest ones are a gameplay tutorial, but as you progress, they get more involved, more dangerous, and more complex. Some are huge and lumbering, and others are surprisingly quick. Some hide underground, gallop like horses or even fly through the sky. Some are peaceful and won't attack unless you bother them, and others are a threat from the moment the set eyes on you. No matter what, you must slay them.

Fighting a colossus is more like a puzzle than a genuine fight. You can't kill something that's 50 times your size in a one-on-one battle unless you're Dante from Devil May Cry. Instead, all of the colossi have vulnerable points that can either slow the beast or damage it significantly. The trick is that reaching those weak points involves an absurd amount of effort. They're usually high up on the colossus and involve finding a way to mount and scale it. You may need to find fur, stone ledges, or various other things to grab; you may have to trick the colossus into acting a certain way; or you may have to shoot arrows to cripple it. It all depends on the colossus.

In essence, Shadow of the Colossus is a series of boss fights interspersed by periods of wandering through a desolate, open world.  On paper, it sounds like it could be boring, but it isn't. The presentation is what carries the game. Each colossus represents one of the best boss fights, and the process of reaching them sets the tone and atmosphere of the fight. If the game doesn't click for you, the process can be seen as a waste of time, but the atmosphere and style of the game are so exceptional that it makes the simple act of riding a horse across a barren landscape feel amazing instead of boring.

That is why Shadow of the Colossus PS4 works as a remake. The original game was amazing for the time, but even with an excellent HD remaster, it's impossible to replicate the feeling of playing the game on a PS2. The awe-inspiring element of the original has gradually been dulled by time. I wouldn't say the original aged out of being playable, but it certainly lacks the same impact today. Shadow of the Colossus PS4 brings it back. Venturing through the deserted lands feels majestic again. Photo mode shows off its art design and the excellent visual upgrades.

The remake is conservative, so don't expect any huge surprises. There are some minor upgrades, including a new collectible that leads to a tiny but amusing extra. The original game is almost untouched, which might be disappointing to those who were hoping for a significant addition. At the same time, however, it's a good thing. Shadow of the Colossus wasn't a perfect game, but it was certainly a deliberate and focused one. The more you add, the more you risk losing the simplicity that made the game work, and in this case, a light touch is better. I wouldn't have turned down another colossus to fight, but at the same time, it's difficult to imagine it fitting in rather than feeling out of place.

There isn't an overwhelming amount of content in Shadow. Aside from the colossi, the world is empty. It can be fun to explore to find hints about the world and setting, and there are a lot of Easter eggs for those who like to search. There are also time trials that challenge you to defeat colossi quickly, and they can unlock fun extra items that slightly change how the game plays, but most are merely silly or cosmetic. There are also various difficulty modes. It's not a game you'll replay dozens of times, but it's certainly worth experiencing.

In terms of visuals, this is easily the best version of Shadow of the Colossus. The game runs buttery smooth, which is almost unheard of in the previous versions. The visual upgrades are also almost exclusively for the best. The game loses a little of its ethereal washed-out quality on the PS2, but in exchange, pretty much everything looks better. It's a pretty game even at the worst of times, and at its peak, it's absolutely jaw-dropping. The new Photo mode works entirely in the game's favor. The soundtrack and audio haven't changed much, but it still does a wonderful job of setting the tone.

Shadow of the Colossus was a generation-defining game for a reason. Even now, a decade after its release, it's one of the most interesting games to ever be released. The PS4 remake is just about everything one could ask for. It retains the same gameplay and same plot but makes just enough upgrades, modifications and changes so the game feels a lot more playable without losing exactly what made it special. There's absolutely no better way to experience Shadow of the Colossus than the remake, and it's a must-play for any PS4 owners.

Score: 9.0/10

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