Shadow of the Colossus is one of the greatest games ever made. It was one of the best things released in 2005. Its influence far reaching. The game that made me fall madly in love with gaming. No preface, no qualifiers. That rare shining gem that still holds up twelve years later. The best thing created by director Fumito Ueda and his studio, Team ICO.
Now thanks to the brilliant people at Bluepoint Games, the PS4 remake of this classic is the new gold standard in both preserving gaming history and in technical accomplishment.
To The End Of The World
The story of Shadow of the Colossus plays out like a dark fairy tale. You are a warrior who has traveled to a forbidden land in order to make a deal with a demon to revive the love of his life. The demon agrees, but in order for the spell to work you will have to travel through the forbidden world and slay sixteen colossi.
That’s it. The story is simple by design. You are given a sword, a bow, a horse, and a general idea of where to go to next. Go out and slay some monsters. The rest of the game is full of traveling through melancholic landscapes in an almost contemplative daze, interrupted by explosive and chaotic fights with the titular behemoths. The biggest narrative elements coming from extended cutscenes at the very beginning and at the very end. Everything else is expressed through both play.
In many ways,Shadow of the Colossus defies conventional design wisdom. The world is large and full of beautiful scenery, but it is mostly there to set the mood. There are no additional enemies to fight, supporting characters to talk to, or side activities to keep you busy. Aside from collecting fruit from trees to increase your maximum health or shooting lizards with your bow, the only thing there is to do is get to the next battle. It’s a game strongly defined by a singular goal and relies entirely on atmosphere to propel the player to the end.
It is through this minimalism that Shadow of the Colossus becomes something special. There is an inescapable somber tone. An all-encompassing atmosphere that meditates on the themes of love, determination, and even how one copes with death. Peaks and valleys conveyed almost entirely visually. Despite how single-minded the central conflict is, there is a lot to read into everything else around it.
Of course this is not to discount that actual colossus battles. Each and every one of them are truly memorable encounters. There is a general formula to defeating these monsters: climb onto them and stab them in a glowing weak spot, but the challenge comes from how you get to those vital spots. You also can’t hold on to these monsters for long, your holding strength tied to a grip meter. These aren’t just boss battles, they’re puzzles.
And all sixteen of these encounters still hold up after all these years. Struggling against the wind while clinging on for dear life on the wing of a giant bird waiting for the right moment to strike. Riding on horseback through the desert avoiding some large snake just below the surface. Using the ruins of a large arena to get the drop on a lizard-shaped colossus. These are encounters that have been burned into my mind since I first played the game over a decade ago, and everything that made those battles so memorable is still perfectly preserved here.
New Look For A New Age
While the core of Shadow of the Colossus has aged phenomenally, it was always restricted by the hardware at the time. In many ways this is what made the original release so influential, pioneering many technological innovations. But simply updating the existing materials just wasn’t going to look or feel completely right on the PlayStation 4’s hardware.
It is here that Bluepoint Games have achieved something truly remarkable. The PS4 remake of Shadow of the Colossus is exactly that. A complete remake built entirely from the ground up with new environments, character models, artwork, sound editing, and overhauled animation across the board. For a game that relies so heavily on environment and atmosphere, going from otherwise flat and drab mountains with simplistic plains to rolling hills with lush foliage, brilliantly detailed mountain ranges with realistic shadows cast by rolling clouds and gorgeous natural lighting is nothing but a major improvement.
In fact, nothing but an improvement can describe all of the visual updates. The original art direction is respected. Each cutscene is given much more dynamic range thanks to modern cinematography and mocap performances. Every single location is packed to the brim with color and contrast. Thanks to the delicate hand that went into this recreation, this is a remake that may be more visually vibrant and appealing, but still retains the source material’s dour overtones.
In addition to the game sporting a Photo Mode, Shadow of the Colossus also has four alternate control schemes. Considering how controversial the original’s button layout was, it didn’t have X as the dedicated jump button, some more modern configurations was a smart call.
There is also a bit of new content in this remake. After finishing the game once, there is a New Game Plus mode where you keep any improvements to your health and grip meters, as well as a Reminiscence Mode where you can rematch any colossus by kneeling in front of their body. There is also a Time Attack mode where you can unlock new items by beating the colossi within a certain time limit. These are mostly harmless additions like alternate looks for your horse, masks and cloaks you can wear, and some trick arrows.
The final puzzling addition comes with collectibles. There are gold coins known as the 79 Enlightenments sprinkled throughout the map. That seems like a lot, but they are surprisingly easy to miss. I only came across ten in my first playthrough. My first reaction was to actively reject this, but it’s clear that these shiny coins are just there as a small scavenger hunt. One that may require multiple completions of the game to fully realize. Even if the ultimate reward for this busywork has been divisive at best.
The remake of Shadow of the Colossus lives up to its own legacy. Everything that made this experience powerful, emotionally resonant, and exciting is still here. Everything that was added only enhances and improves what was already in the foundation. What was already a masterpiece has been given a makeover in all the right places. If you loved the original game and want to experience it again, you will find a lot to love. If this is your first time hearing about this all-time great, now is the best time to try.