2005’s Shadow of the Colossus was a revelation, a game whose gorgeous aesthetic and reserved tone were, at the time, undeniably distinct. Together with its unique take on boss encounters and a stirring soundtrack, those aspects made the game a defining title of the PlayStation 2 era. But it was also a game infamous for its technical issues: most notably, the ambitious design of the titular colossi meant the game would often suffer from a choppy, aggravating framerate.
A 2011 HD remaster for the PlayStation 3 alleviated these problems, but now, with 2018’s Shadow of the Colossus for PlayStation 4, Bluepoint Games has completely rebuilt every aspect of the game’s world while leaving the underlying structure and mechanics intact, a move which not only rejuvenates the game visually but uncategorically intensifies the utter majesty of this extraordinary experience.
Shadow of the Colossus takes place in an ancient world, where young warrior Wander and his horse Agro transport a deceased loved one to a forbidden, sealed land. With a mythical sword and an ordinary bow, Wander hopes to take advantage of a fable that suggests something in this isolated province has the means to bring back the dead. There, he encounters an omnipresent entity who compels him to destroy sixteen colossi scattered throughout the territory in order to enable his wish.
If you’ve already played a previous version of Shadow of the Colossus, you’ll find that Bluepoint’s rendition feels much the same, barring some minor differences in controller mapping, some subtle quality-of-life tweaks, and a new Easter egg. The locations of each colossus and the methods of defeating them remain the same, as do the locations of every white-tailed lizard and fruit collectible. The weight and movement physics of Wander and Agro feel unchanged, and New Game+ rewards are identical.
But the impact of the completely rebuilt world is transcendent. This is a world that is geographically as you remember, but one that still astounds you as if seeing it for the first time. Highly detailed environment modeling in tandem with impressive light and shadow simulation bring amazing life to the game’s breathtaking biomes. Forests are densely packed with majestic tall trees and twisting foliage, dappled beautifully with soft rays of sunlight. Vast, arid deserts feel hauntingly desolate as you try and sight somber ruins through a wispy sandstorm. Even the simple sight of mountainous crags and cliff faces is impressive, with shadows acutely defining their rocky surfaces, making them pop ominously. Every time you crest a hill, emerge from a crevice, or change your perspective, the landscape will be a sight worthy of pause.
The increased fidelity of the reconstructed colossi is just as spectacular, and the mere sight of one in this version of the game is even more awe-inspiring than it is in your memory. Each foe–some small and nimble, the rest impossibly titanic and overbearing–is a terrifying beast of stone, fur, and leather. That fur is now noticeably more dense and luscious, and hanging onto it for dear life as your enemy tries to violently shake you off feels even more intense. These moments are enhanced by the detail of the distant environment that lies far beneath you when on top of a colossus, combined with motion effects that amplify the sense of danger at these dizzying heights. The first time I mounted a flying colossus in this version of the game, I could feel my chest wrench as I squeezed my controller to hold onto its wing for dear life while it soared, flapping wildly through the air. It was exhilarating.
Playing on a PS4 Pro offers you the ability to further enhance visual fidelity via high dynamic range color, as well as the choice between two different graphical options with different priorities. Cinematic mode enables 4K resolutions, as well as allowing for impressive downsampling (that is, scaling down a higher-resolution image) for 1080p displays at a targeted 30fps. Performance mode provides less impressive graphical quality but maintains a smoother frame rate targeting 60fps. In my experience, I preferred the crisper image offered in Cinematic mode–once you realise you can recognise the definition between each individual blade of grass, it’s hard to let that go. However, the visual quality offered by both modes still enhances the experience of the game in ways previously mentioned, especially for those whose last memory of it was suffering through sub-30fps framerate issues on the original PS2 release.
The visual reconstruction doesn’t detract from what makes Shadow of the Colossus great, and the game’s holistic and understated direction still comes through strongly: its muted colors, cinematic camera angles, and stark absence of music while exploring the world still evoke a poignant tone of desolation and solitude. The world’s large forsaken landscape doesn’t feel bereft of things to do, because simply riding through it and enjoying at the majesty of the land, accompanied only by the sound of Agro’s hooves scraping against the earth, is a meditative experience.
Fighting a colossus is still a grand, solemn, and tense challenge that is exhilarating to overcome. The impassioned orchestral soundtrack heightens the pressure of every maneuver: Deciphering a method of mounting your impossibly enormous enemy, clambering to reach their vulnerabilities as they try to fling you off, and driving your sword into their flesh. Every moment of a colossus battle is thrilling to execute and witness, whether you’re doing it for the first time, or the fifteenth time in a post-game time trial.
While the passing of twelve years hasn’t affected the overall quality of Shadow of the Colossus, there are two technical annoyances that persist and remind you of a bygone era. The third-person camera system does not clip through world objects, so it becomes erratic and troublesome to adjust when moving Wander through enclosed spaces, or near a solid object. Additionally, the game’s unforgiving climbing system, which asks you to jump with the X button and grasp onto a ledge or surface with the R2 trigger, is occasionally temperamental in certain situations; there may be times when contact with a ledge may not correctly register even though you may have been holding R2 well in advance and correctly estimated the distance needed for your jump. However, both of these issues affect only a small amount of your time with the game and should not be considered a significant strike against the whole. In the case of the climbing system, it’s a quirk that’s easy to come to peace with because of how absolutely essential the mechanic is to creating the rousing pressure and suspense of colossus encounters.
Shadow of the Colossus is a tremendous journey, and one well worth taking and retaking. The visual overhaul is stunning, thoroughly enhancing every facet of Wander and Agro’s excellent adventure. Galloping through the tranquil world is always breathtaking; felling a monumental colossus is always humbling. Shadow of the Colossus is a beautiful reconstruction of an already exceptional title. It continues to be a modern classic and is an extraordinary game that everyone must experience.