In 2005, Shadow of the Colossus wowed the gaming world. Starting with the first demo reel at E3 that year, the highly anticipated follow up from Team Ico impressed many a player by its sheer size and cinematic presentation. Shadow of the Colossus was unique upon its release as it was a game went beyond what was imaginable, daring the gaming world to use every tool at its disposal to deliver an unforgettable, artistic experience.
It was a different landscape in 2005. Critics and fans alike were eager for a game to represent more than just the infantile toys stereotyped by the Jack Thompsons of the world. Shadow of the Colossus was a moment in history. This is a game that oozes presentation and sophistication in a way that can only be described as art. In a wasteland of games struggling to achieve the same visual respect, it is impossible to ignore the legacy Shadow of the Colossus left behind. For the first time, it was substantial proof that games can go beyond their appeal as just commercial products and be enjoyed on a higher level. It was also the first time such an artistic game achieved mass appeal by the mainstream audience, opening the doors for changing the way games are seen by the general public.
It is odd then to revisit the game when so much has changed in the past thirteen years. The PlayStation 4 remaster of Shadow of the Colossus is just the latest iteration of the game, bringing the title to its third consecutive console generation. We are now in an age where the cinematic budgets of games have ballooned beyond what would have been imagined a decade ago. Many games in that time saw their artistic designs tightened, their sound mixing heightened, their gameplay refined. The emotional resonance of many titles over the past generation, from Mass Effect to The Last of Us, The Witcher III and most recently, Breath of the Wild, has only grown more commonplace. Shadow of the Colossus no longer stands alone in this respect, and the remastered edition now must compete with its peers in the one avenue it never had to sell itself on – being a viable commercial product.
Thankfully it has the tools and the fanbase to succeed. Like most gaming remasters, Shadow of the Colossus offers a visual update with several new features attached. The remastered textures, a longer depth of field, all in 1080p visuals and surround sound provide one of the most gorgeous graphical overhauls in a long time. Developer Bluepoint Games was responsible for the PlayStation 4 port, and there are moments where this is awe-inspiring beyond what we have seen in the original release. In a way that makes me respect Team Ico even more for delivering such a rich experience on the PlayStation 2. It was a technical achievement then as much as it is a technical achievement now.
Shadow of the Colossus is more than just its updated visuals though. The controls, for the most part, remain practically unchanged, which brings both good and frustrating game design to the table. The frustrating design comes in the form of the purposeful awkwardness of the controls. How the player grabs, jumps and overall navigates along the colossi is often a button-combination of sorts that values precise timing. The remaster retains the puzzle-like reputation of the original here but with it a lot of the minor annoyances to the control scheme. This compels players to push themselves, however, so while awkward at first the controls are something that can be mastered with time and patience.
Where the game shines with its controls is in the smaller details. Raising your sword to light the way to your next target, kneeling to pray at a remote shrine in the distant plains, climbing trees along a cliffside to grab a dangling fruit; these minor moments are what give Shadow of the Colossus its otherworldly charm. This is a game defined by actions over words; wowing players with brief cinematic visuals and giving them the freedom to control the rest. It becomes a more intimate experience by making active participation core to its design. It gives the world and the player more character without bombastic musical scores or voice-over.
The new features in the remaster are relatively minor but only help the overall experience. Customizable HUDs, the addition of collectible coins (which have turned into a wild Easter egg hunt all on its own) and an easier difficulty are just some of the changes that accompany the visual upgrade. The best new addition to Shadow of the Colossus, however, is photo mode.
Photo modes have become great supplemental features to video games, combining modern technology with instant gratification. Providing colorful and moody filters, texture and contrast controls, size and orientation toggles; games with photo modes allow players to invoke their inner photographer, creating personal portraits of art. It is a welcome addition to the game that further enhances the artistic experience that defined Shadow of the Colossus in the first place.
If there is any complaint to be made, it is a feeling of wanting more. Part of the balancing act for any remaster is providing authenticity with new features. A good remaster gives the player more that can enhance the original experience without sacrificing that authenticity. Some of Team Ico's original plans for the game, such as the cut colossi, for example, could have been added as a bonus feature of some kind. The fire-bathed Phoenix, the gargantuan Worm, even the fan favorite Spider colossi could arguably have been given viable fights in the remaster, tweaking controls and arenas to make them comparable to the rest of the game and finally injecting them into the narrative as planned.
Was Bluepoint Games right in keeping them out of the remaster though? An argument can be made that adding the cut colossi would change too much of the game's charm. The tightness of its pacing, for example, would change completely, and perhaps not for the better for the game itself. Other forms of media can be reworked into director’s cuts, or add extra chapters or bonus songs quite easily. Rarely do those products break the enjoyment of the original release, but video games are different. The slightest alteration to the game's design can break its flow completely. It can provide a whole new experience sure, but often it's one that is not authentic to what made the game memorable in the first place. The colossi that were removed were done so because it was infeasible for Team Ico to make them work. Perhaps there is wisdom in Bluepoint leaving them in the cutting room floor once more, despite a golden opportunity to provide fans a massive treat for their dedication to the game.
Outside of this nitpicking, there is not much to really say about Shadow of the Colossus. The sixteen colossi Wander and Agro must hunt down are epic encounters to face, each colossi is a unique puzzle to overcome. Shadow of the Colossus was always a game that impressed with its sense of scale but often downplayed is the subtle challenge it presented. The controls get most of the credit here for that of course. Each fight provides a fair mix of both player skill and in-game difficulty that many games struggle to pull off. It is also a subdued game; one that allows its visuals and music tell most of the story. We react to the tragedy of loss and the frightening sacrifices Wander makes with a higher degree of emotional weight; showing us the effects of Wander's actions while rarely saying a word.
A game like Shadow of the Colossus is a must play for gamers of all stripes. Its age does show in its controls at times but even there the charm of it comes from the strengths of its overall package. It is a game that is timeless art, one worthy of not only of this great remaster, but of all the accolades it rightfully deserved in 2005. That praise alone, along with the never-ceasing challenges the game provides, is the highest recommendation anyone can give.
Our Shadow of the Colossus review was conducted on PlayStation 4 with a copy purchased by our reviewer.
Shadow of the Colossus is a timeless game that is timeless art, one worthy of not only of this great remaster, but of all the accolades it rightfully deserved in 2005.
- Great Controls...
- Added Features for a Remaster...
- Breathtaking Visuals and Design
- Photo Mode
- ...That Take Some Getting Used To
- ...Could Have Added More