It’s no secret that I am a rabid fan of Team Ico games, and Shadow of the Colossus is by far my favorite of the bunch. In fact, it’s one of my favorite games of all time. So, as I sat down to play the 2018 remake of Shadow of the Colossus (provided to us by Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe for review purposes), I knew this review was going to be hard. I had to stay as impartial as I could, so I decided to be as critical as possible. Then, the opening cinematic started playing, and the game sucked me in all over again. It is as beautiful and moody as ever. The story absorbed me as if I was playing it for the first time. I barely snapped out of it, and I realized that this was going to be much more difficult than I thought.
Before we get into the remake itself, I’m going to explain why Shadow of the Colossus is such an enduring classic. When it came out, back in 2005, open-world games were still in their nascency. But, what immediately sets Shadow of the Colossus apart is that it had the courage to offer an open world that is largely empty. Other than fighting the Colossi, there’s little to do in the game. And that’s a crucial part of Shadow of the Colossus and its unique charm. It puts heavy emphasis on loneliness and a foreboding atmosphere, not an overabundance of content.
The desolate feeling that the Forbidden Lands creates forces you to breathe the game in, and builds a unique experience. More importantly, the environments that you explore tell the backstory of the Forbidden Lands. It’s very subtle, but if you pay attention, you can catch a lot of details that reveal an advanced civilization that has been erased by some disastrous force. Taking away from the intricately-built world and atmosphere with liberating outposts would sacrifice a lot of the game’s appeal. This is one of the core elements of what sets Shadow of the Colossus apart from every other adventure game.
Then, there’s the Colossi. The bosses are truly unique. Every one of the Colossi is intimidating it its own way. Every reveal serves to set up why you should be very afraid of the monster. However, you don’t fight them like other huge bosses in other games. Instead, you have to use your head and figure out the platforming / environmental puzzle to get to the Colossus’s weak spots. Once you pull that off, the power balance shifts dramatically. You lop off significant amounts of health with a single, strong stab. The colossus desperately tries to shake you off and howls in pain. It makes you feel like the monster. That goes double for the death scenes, which are mournful instead of triumphant. The game makes you feel like you just killed an innocent creature that wasn’t harming anybody. You antagonized them, not the other way around. I can’t think of any other game that does this so well.
Last, but not least, the story. Like the original, the remake opens with the protagonist riding in on his horse, carrying a dead body of a woman. He rides across a long, slender bridge across the blasted land and arrives to the Shrine of Worship. A disembodied voice named Dormin tells the protagonist that it can bring the woman back to life, but it first needs you to kill the Colossi. That’s about as much as I want to go into the plot. While a lot of the elements are intentionally vague, the story itself is tragic, deeply touching, and beautifully told. You have to experience it for yourself.
Now, let’s see what the remake brings to the table. As for the content, the game is the same as the original, and I like that they didn’t add anything. The game’s pace plays perfectly as is, there’s no need to change anything. The star of the show are, of course, the new visuals. And, by god, Bluepoint Games have gone all out on this one. The game has never looked this gorgeous, and I don’t say this lightly. This update really makes Shadow of the Colossus look like a game from the modern generation. he scenery is breath-taking, especially the water, sand, and lighting effects. The clothes on the characters look fantastic, as well. But, the biggest and best update is to the Colossi. They look truly amazing. Both their organic parts and the masonry that acts as their armor look better than ever. They are living, breathing creatures, which plays wonderfully into the game’s story, on top of looking stunning.
The one major complaint I do have, oddly enough, is the face of our protagonist. It looks kinda like a baby porcelain doll. It’s so strange, especially because the rest of the character model looks great. In the original, he had a more elongated, angular face. This was due to the technical limitations of the time, yes. That’s why it’s so strange that he looks more human than in the updated version. It got very distracting. Another problem I had were a few visual glitches, where the horse’s legs would end up above its head while riding down rocks. Those were pretty funny, though, so I forgive them.
As for the gameplay, a lot of improvements are very much noticeable. An enduring issue with Team Ico games are stiff, awkward controls, camera issues, and wonky hit detection. This has been a problem in Shadow of the Colossus, especially because platforming and hit detection where paramount for the gameplay. It didn’t stop the original from being amazing, of course. That being said, Bluepoint Games have improved the controls greatly, as well as the collision detection. The game still comes off a little stiff, but overall, it plays so, so much better. The one remaining problem that remains is the camera. I had to wrestle it for control every now and again, because it insisted on showing me the scenery while I was trying to make a precise jump. It’s not as bad as in The Last Guardian, but still. I have enough trouble hanging on for dear life on a Colossus back without the camera insisting on showing me the nearby cliff wall.
The game offers you two ways to play, as far as visuals go. You can pick Cinematic Mode, which pushes the game in 4K HDR at 30 fps. The other option is Performance Mode, which runs at 60 FPS and 1080p. I initially played in Cinematic Mode, and then switched to Performance Mode for comparison. I ended up playing through the rest of the game in Performance Mode, because it runs much smoother. Since I didn’t play it on a 4K screen, so I didn’t notice much of a change in visual quality. If you do play in 4K, your results will probably be more drastic. Choose whatever works best for you.
Let’s start wrapping this up. As the closing credits rolled, I took a deep breath. I felt so sad that the game was over. Almost without thinking, I dove right into the New Game +. I needed more. The game doesn’t really offer much in terms of post-game content. But, then again, I don’t think it needs to. There’s the Gallery, where you can unlock different art. And, of course, there’s always the time trials, where you have to beat a Colossus as fast as possible. This unlocks new items that you can use to your advantage in future playthroughs. There is some pretty solid replayability here. And defeating Colossi is just so much fun. Exploring the world without the immediate urgency of the plot and discovering little details that I haven’t before is so enjoyable. Yes, I’m still playing. I just can’t put it down.
In conclusion, I absolutely recommend the Shadow of the Colossus remake. It improves upon the game where necessary, and leaves alone the elements that were already perfect. So, saddle up, raise your magic sword, and immerse yourself into this moody, dark adventure. Shadow of the Colossus remains a classic, and an important part of gaming history. An absolute must-have.