Shadow of the Colossus gives me a weird sense of regret. I never played the original release. I skipped over the PlayStation 3 remaster. And I nearly missed the remake.
I knew it was celebrated, but I never really gave it a chance. It just didn’t seem like my kind of game. I was loyal to Zelda. I didn’t need another action RPG in my life.
I was wrong.
Shadow of the Colossus is a testament to what high-definition remakes should be. The PlayStation 4 breathes new life into the game, and it begs its audience to understand why the game was celebrated in the first place.
A battle of wits
Shadow of the Colossus challenges the player’s skill. It can be made easier by collecting items and completing objectives around the world, but it doesn’t tell you that. Its primary directive is to give the player a challenge and let them figure out how to overcome its obstacles organically.
You don’t win in Shadow of the Colossus by having the best stats or shiny new gear. The game is extremely limited in these mechanics. Instead, it forces you into a battle of wits. The easiest way to defeat a colossus is by understanding how to overcome the very unique obstacle standing between you and the soft spot on top of the colossus’ head—or wings or fins.
The best example I have of this is from sixth colossus battle. This encounter puts the player against a giant, bearded colossus in an abandoned temple. The colossus opens new areas of the temple by smashing walls as the player gets chased around the room.
I was 20 minutes into getting chased around when I decided to finally take a break and think about what I was learning from the fight. I found a structure at the far end of the encounter and hid inside. As I thought about the way the colossus was moving and attacking, I was given a surprise—the colossus decided to peak into the structure, giving me an opportunity to grab onto its beard.
I defeated it minutes later. The goal was easily achievable once I understood the importance of the colossus interacting with the environment. This is what makes Shadow of the Colossus exciting to me. There’s some skill involved, sure, but its main focus is making you think about your environment.
An incredible presentation
Its minimalist approach to design heavily influences the game’s presentation. Shadow of the Colossus claims to harness the potential of the PlayStation 4 Pro by offering players two ways to experience its world: performance and cinematic mode.
I was lucky to have a PlayStation 4 Pro handy to review the game, so I got to experience both of these modes how they were intended. Performance mode places an emphasis on framerate, giving users less resolution but silky smooth gameplay. Cinematic mode locks the game in at 24 frames per second, giving the illusion that the player is experience a movie and upping the resolution.
I played the first half of the game equally in cinematic and performance mode, but performance was the experience that triumphed in the end.
It succeeded in its objective to offer a smooth playing experience. I’ve played enough games on the PlayStation 4 Pro to know that not every experience is smooth. I’m often guilty of criticizing games for its performance or graphical issues. It’s probably a result of being spoiled by high-end PC gaming, but Shadow of the Colossus never let me down. It felt great the entire time I played it.
The world that Shadow of the Colossus presents is also one of immense beauty. Travelling over waterfalls to meet my next battle was an experience that was breathtaking every time. The world is bare, but there is plenty to see.
Because the game focuses on uninterrupted travel—there are no enemies to challenge you while travelling from point A to point B—players get to experience its beauty in full. This beauty is what separates Shadow of the Colossus from a typical remaster. Looking at footage from the past games makes it feel entirely new. I’m careful to call Shadow of the Colossus a remake, rather than a remaster.
A (slightly) flawed gem
Shadow of the Colossus’ dedication to presentation is one of its biggest flaws. The beauty within the game shines a light on the elements that make it ugly. I complained about a few key things throughout the game.
Some of these things were user error—it took me a while to realize I could hold the sprint button while riding my horse, rather than abusing my horse into submission—but others are complaints others shared with me.
The two things that I found immensely frustrating were the camera and the climbing engine.
The camera is something that I find reminiscent of the PlayStation 2-era of games. The issues I have with the camera are the same issues I have with every remaster of a game from that generation. It just feels bulky. It’s hard to control and its placement is often unintelligent.
The same is true with its climbing engine. Climbing often feels like a chore, because I found the game was easily glitched and I’d have to restart an encounter as a result of bad climbing mechanics. There were a few moments early on where I had to wait for the game to stop shaking because I was climbing too close to the edge of the colossus.
Maybe I only have these complaints because climbing has been revolutionized many times in the past decade. Games such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and even Assassin’s Creed have completely changed the way I interact with walls in video games.
The game’s ability to use presentation to make you forget it is a PlayStation 2-era game is often negated by its camera and physics.
But these things are minor in the grand scheme of things. If I were to replay the game today, I’d be used to its flaws and I might even consider them quirks.
Thanks to Sony for providing a digital copy of the game for review. This review was completed on a Playstation 4 Pro.