Remaster. Remake. Reversion. Revengeance… well, maybe not that last one. All could be used to describe a trend we’ve seen over the last few years of bringing a previous generations games up to scratch with current hardware whilst maintaining the original as it was. It’s not often that we see a full overhaul though, Tomb Raider Anniversary is the last one that springs to mind. However, I doubt there are as many games that would be as eagerly received as Shadow of the Colossus. Hailed as a masterpiece on PS2, given an HD remaster on PS3 to smooth out some janky performance, and now getting the full Bluepoint Games treatment on PS4 – if there’s a contender for best game of all time, it’s definitely on the list. Should you be buying it though? Absolutely yes.
This isn’t just an update with some higher resolution textures and better anti-aliasing, this is a full ground up rebuild of Shadow of the Colossus that touches every aspect to make the game the best it could possibly be. My word does it do a good job. You’ll see from the selected shots with this review that it looks fantastic, and static images do not do it justice, it has to be seen in motion to appreciate not only how different it is to the first two releases, but also to see exactly how much has remained the same. See, whilst the surface is new, the underlying mechanics are old, almost frustratingly so… just like they were the first time around. The purpose isn’t to provide a different take on the story or experience, it’s to enhance and preserve for another couple of generations what is a truly unique title. Given the PS4 Pro features that offer either higher framerate of better graphical details, there’s an even greater sheen of polish if you own the supercharged console too.
It’s easy to overlook how much of Shadow of the Colossus was ahead of its time – a large open world, minimal story telling that relies on the environments and player to piece most of it together, barely any HUD to clutter the display, huge bosses that are themselves levels, and a beautifully tragic vibe that tugs at the heartstrings no matter how hardened you think you are. Most of these tropes are commonplace now and that means the remake fits practically perfectly into today’s gaming landscape. There are even collectables available with new ones thrown in to make it feel more like a modern sandbox game. But it isn’t about roaming around looking for things to pick up from a map, this is about loss and death, and not considering the consequences of your actions when consumed by grief.
If you’ve not played before the idea is fairly straightforward: there are 16 colossi in the world to find and conquer, each with a defining characteristic that gives clues to how it can be defeated. The challenge is in figuring out what gives you the starting point to clamber on to the massive beasts, then what gains you the high ground from there. It starts out simple and steadily layers on the difficulty so that each is a puzzle to be solved, but also a creature to be coaxed and cajoled too. All the colossi are living, breathing animals that react to your movement and actions, and range from passively walking on by you to actively hunting you down. Hoofs pound the ground into submission, fur ripples in the breeze, and tusks spear the unwary. Finding the right method of tackling them takes logic and bravery against tremendous odds, much as the main character Wander is supposed to feel.
At least you’ve got Agro to keep you company for some of the journey. The best method of traversing the vast landscape is on your horse who’s there at your beck and call. No matter where you are a quick whistle brings Agro running ready to ride through forests and deserts alike. He’ll even lend a hand with some of the massive beasts too. With only two weapons to hand in the form of your sword that uses sunlight to track the next colossus and its weak points, and a bow and arrow that isn’t even as much use as a chocolate fireguard except for shooting the tails off lizards; the combat echoes the spartan nature of the lands you’re exploring. I suppose that’s because this is a cleverly constructed puzzle game rather than anything else, and that there’s an illusion of fighting for what you think is right, even if it makes you feel like an utter bastard for doing it.
Not just in the game, Shadow of the Colossus provides a bit of a challenge outside too… how to sum it up. Effectively we’re looking at a decade year old game that’s had two releases already and is a shot for shot remake rather than a re-imagining, so there’s an argument that there’s no originality here. Being hypercritical you could say that the controls could have been updated to make the climbing elements easier, but that would spoil part of the tension built when scaling the beasts. There’s practically nothing wrong to be found – it’s not bloated with unnecessary content, and you can add to the argument that it’s better for the focus on the task at hand; it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome, yet offers enough replayability so that you can get value for money from it; and it’s full of mysteries and secrets that 10 years of investigation haven’t fully solved either. It’s an essential buy for every PS4 owner and brilliant game to experience for the first, or third, or tenth time.
The remake of Shadow of the Colossus is available now on PS4 for less than £25 in most places.