Few games have garnered the dedicated, rabid fan following that Shadow of the Colossus has over the years. In a market that’s seemingly saturated with remakes, re-releases, remasters, and sequels, that didn’t stop the crows at Sony’s E3 press conference last year from erupting into ravenous applause when Shadow of the Colossus was announced for the PS4.
It’s a game that is not only more than 12 years old at this point, but it also received a remastered edition already on PS3, which came bundled with ICO. As a result, the question at hand is: Does this PS4 remake of Shadow of the Colossus do enough to justify playing it for a second or third time, or is this only for those that haven’t tried it yet?
Let’s take a look.
More than meets the eye
If you’re only interested in playing remakes that add content that wasn’t in the original release then this isn’t the remake for you. Despite all of the cut content and features that were eventually scrapped (did you know they’d originally planned 64 colossi, cut that down to 24, and then went with only 16 at release?), the PS4 version of Shadow of the Colossus is mechanically and functionally the same exact game as the PS2 and PS3 versions. However, it looks and plays a lot better this time around.
The game focuses on that main character, Wander, as he journeys to a strange, mystical world known as the Forbidden Land in the hopes of reviving Mono, a young woman. But you wouldn’t even really know that if you were just playing the game for the first time. The game is very intentionally vague about everything, giving you very few literal details and names of people and places. That’s a big part of the beauty.
It’s an enormous, vast world that you’ve set out across. As terrifying as the 16 colossi are that you’ll face down (and some of them are truly frightening) they’re also majestic in their sheer size and power. They’re like living, breathing mountains in a way, as if the world itself manifested them as guardians. Those themes play strongly throughout the entire game as the truth behind certain events start to become more clear and by the time you see the credits roll you’ll have a pit in your stomach that feels like a mixture between relief, excitement, and profound sadness.
The entirety of the game consists of you controlling Wander both on foot and riding his horse, Agro, across the continent in search of all 16 colossi and killing them each one by one. There are no other enemies and the only other elements of “gameplay” are essentially you traversing the landscape and participating in brief platforming/climbing segments atop each colossus.
While it might sound boring and repetitive, it’s anything but. Each of the colossi are so different from one another that no two strategies for success will ever be the same. Most of the colossi you face are so large and intimidating that you could easily spend upwards of 10, 15, or even 20 minutes just trying to figure out how to approach the beast without dying.
For example, one of them towers far above your character like a skyscraper and slams down a massive greatsword if you get too close, so you have to figure out how to reach his soft, furry skin to do any damage. Or there’s another one, a personal favorite, which is in the form of an enormous bird that flies all around its arena unless provoked into coming down to attack you. In this way, each colossus is split up into basically two challenges: first, figuring out how to attack it, then actually traversing the beast and killing it. Some of them are so large they can resemble entire platforming segments from other games.
While climbing you have a stamina gauge ala Breath of the Wild (I’m pretty sure it got a lot of its influence on climbing from this game) that needs to be monitored. Resting your stamina and climbing around on the colossus while fighting it is half the battle and tumbling off of one in the middle of a fight can be catastrophic for your progress.
You’ll also have a bow at your disposal, which is more of an as-needed case-by-case weapon to draw attention or trigger certain portions of a fight. Loosing an arrow into the underbelly of a colossus while galloping by on your horse or taking shots while racing alongside at full speed then jumping off of the saddle to grab onto a wing is exhilarating. The soundtrack is one of the best in gaming history as far as I’m concerned and it sounds better than ever with this iteration of the game.
Improving on near-perfection
If there ever were a game that was in need of a full-blown overhaul remake, it’s certainly Shadow of the Colossus. The original on PS2 was a marvel for its time, but it’s showing its age now. The PS4 edition of the game here features wondrous 4K HDR visuals (tested and appreciated on a 70-inch 4K HDR TV and PS4 Pro while reviewing) or fluid 60 frames-per-second if you’d prefer smoother gameplay. All of the textures are remade for the new console, landscapes look more vivid and alive, and even the animations feel modernized. This is not a lazy port by any means at all.
The rub here though is that these are really the only changes. It may be the very best remake I’ve ever seen, but at the end of the day it is still the same game. Holding R2 to grab stuff still feels weird in this game, a lot of animations look clumsy and Wander stumbles around frustratingly at times. It’s also incredibly short if you’ve played it before -- the whole thing can be cleared in a single sitting without much issue. There’s even a Stats section of the pause menu to track how long it took you to kill each beast. I think my playthrough on Normal clocked in between three and four hours total.
So if you go into this knowing what to expect in that it’s the exact same game you know and love -- just better -- then you should come away completely happy. The inclusion of a Photo Mode is a welcomed addition and makes what was already one of the most enthralling and cinematic games ever made just that much better.