Preview: Shadow of the Colossus on PS4 is absolutely stunning

Shadow of the Colossus is one of my all-time favorite games. I’ll never forget the first time I played it at a demo kiosk in a local GameStop back before it released and then subsequently devoured it in a single weekend once it came out on PS2. Naturally I bought the PS3 remastered collection of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus to enjoy it once again. However, that version only polished off a few rough edges. This time around the PS4 edition of Shadow of the Colossus is a completely rebuilt edition of the game that’s been totally redone from the ground up for Sony’s latest hardware -- and it shows.

Yesterday at a PlayStation press event in San Francisco, CA, I got the chance to go hands-on with the PS4 edition of Shadow of the Colossus for the very first time and came away extremely impressed.

A Tale Worth Telling

For those unfamiliar, Shadow of the Colossus is a cult-classic action-adventure-puzzle hybrid game that originally released in 2005 for the PS2. You take on the role of a young man named Wander on a quest to restore life to a beautiful young woman named Mono. In order to do so you must defeat sixteen enormous, lumbering, massive colossi spread across a forbidden land.

It sounds simple -- and it is -- but that’s part of the beauty of it all. There are no other enemies to fight, no dungeons to explore, items to acquire, or townspeople to interrogate for clues. You spawn at the shrine, use your sword to guide you to the next colossus, and slowly eradicate the majestic creatures one by one. It’s a bit twisted and dark (especially as the story reaches its conclusion) and the lack of true voice acting and sheer loneliness of the world evoke a striking sense of isolation unlike any other game I’ve played before or since.

Gameplay consists of a mixture of intense set-piece battles against skyscrape-sized creatures, light exploration elements, and environmental puzzle solving. For example, one colossus is so tall it requires you to use the surrounding environment to figure out how to climb on top of them while others dig through the sand or even fly through the air. Oftentimes just figuring out how to reach a colossus is half the battle.

Shadow of the Colossus isn’t for everyone, but it’s a powerful and gut-wrenching journey that will surely impact anyone that dares to scale the backs of all sixteen beasts.

More Than A Makeover

Unlike most HD remasters that we see nowadays that simply smooth over the textures and bump up the resolution, this is a true remake. The team at Sony’s Japan Studio remade each and every asset in the game to be totally new and improved for 4K resolution, 30FPS, and HDR displays when powered by a PS4 Pro system. The large 4K screen at the press event is about the same size as my TV at home and the game looked downright gorgeous. They’ve even re-recorded some of the soundtrack so that everything measures up to the increased quality standards.

The way the lighting alone is improved totally revamps the experience. When you point your sword skyward to learn the location of your next objective the entire world darkens as the light cracks through the clouds. Galloping across the desert I noticed  denser sandstorms and more foliage across the kingdom that wasn’t present in the game previously. Every texture is dramatically improved and the framerate is buttery smooth even in the most intense battles.

Shadow of the Colossus has always been a “pretty” game from an art direction perspective, but the hardware it’s been on has never been able to truly capture the beauty of its world like on the PS4. This feels like the ultimate vision of what the developers originally set out to create over a decade ago.

Colossal Conquests

The demo on display at the press event featured the first, third, and thirteenth colossus. During my time I got to take on the first and third colossus while watching another journalist battle the thirteenth.

The first colossus is an appropriate introduction to the game’s mechanics as it requires you to climb up its legs and eventually onto its back and the top of its head. The third colossus is similar in this regard, although much taller and wielding a massive sword -- it’s probably my second favorite fight in the whole game, bested only by the enormous flying bird-like colossus midway through the game. The thirteenth colossus is a fast-flying worm-like creature in the desert that requires you to chase it on horseback before engaging, which does a great job of ratcheting up the game’s intensity.

Shadow of the Colossus is, if you know what you’re doing, a short game. If you’re new to the game it could easily take you upwards of an hour to defeat some of the harder beasts. Overall it’s a short, tightly-woven, richly detailed world that tells a very singular story in a creative way. Whether you’re an existing fan or a newcomer, Shadow of the Colossus on PS4 is shaping up to be an immense adventure for the first quarter of 2018.

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Shadow of the Colossus is set to release once again on PS4 this coming February, 6, 2018.