Shadow of the Colossus (PS4) Review

By Blair Nokes on January 30, 2018

Every so often in this industry, there comes a game that truly revolutionizes the medium; a title that breaks the mould of traditional gameplay and offers something truly unique. 13 years ago, that game was Shadow of the Colossus for the Playstation 2. One needn't look far to witness the volume of critical acclaim that the original version garnered, despite the erratic frame rate it had. It earned the "Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction" from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, and handful of Game of the Year Awards, and is still talked about to this day as an example of utilizing the limited hardware of the PS2 in ways previously unheard of.

Under the direction of perfectionist Fumito Ueda and producer Kenji Kaido, the two and their team of 35 individuals at Team ICO, began developing Shadow of the Colossus as an early tech-demo demonstrated at the 2002 D.I.C.E Summit. Kaido had challenged developers to incorporate a realistic physics system within the movement of the giant colossi - to the point where if a colossi would move sporadically, Wander's position would shift in response, or if one of their limbs were positioned horizontally, Wander could walk across realistically.

Ueda truly wished to change how players perceive boss fights in video games. Traditionally, most games have waves of lesser enemies, with mini or level bosses as your end goal of any given level, tracking your progress. With Shadow of the Colossus, the only enemies you will ever encounter are the sixteen colossi. This was also a deliberate design choice to ensure the quality of the colossi were as high as possible, given the technical limitations of the Playstation 2.

Ueda is quoted citing The Legend of Zelda as his primary influence for their Boss design, referring to them as "Inverted Zelda Dungeons." It was his philosophy of seeing dungeons as "dangerous playgrounds" over deep dark labyrinths that really sparked the need for the colossi. Not only that, but it was a conscious effort to get players to experience a sensation of sorrow when you bring them down; you see them writhe in pain as you stab their weak spots, and you really get the feeling that these are living breathing creatures within the game's world.

The colossi truly looked and felt enormous in game. The size and scale of them were unlike anything seen before, and each had their own unique puzzle or pattern to getting to their weak spots. Taking a deeper look into the design of the colossi, some of the most impressive feats were Team ICO's brilliant use of fur, and the cheaper method of tiling textures to add variety with little memory footprint. The fur on any colossi was important to denote since it meant you could use them to climb and scale the colossi. There are about 6-8 polygon layers, grouped into 3 groups of fur - white, grey and a darker grey. Thankfully, the PS2 Video RAM had a bandwidth fast enough to deal with these textures. It was a very taxing technique, and coupled with large open world that housed the sixteen colossi, it's understandable why the framerate suffered as it did.

Another genuinely impressive tool Ueda incorporated was the musical score present throughout the game. Sound was brilliantly designed in all facets of the game; with the way all sounds are muted as you make your final piercing blow, to the frantic movements played when a colossi is angry or swinging you away. One of my personal favourite uses of sound was when there wasn't any background music. Their conscious choice of an "organic" soundtrack, where the only sounds present during the exploration of the Forbidden Lands are the ambient sounds the world gives off. The orchestral pieces are present in the cutscenes and colossus encounters, leaving you with this eerie silence, which plays into the motif of loneliness or isolation.

The story seems rather simple at face value, with Wander charged with slaying sixteen colossi in hopes of reviving Mono - the maiden whom you bring to the Shrine of Worship at the beginning of the game. However, Shadow of the Colossus unravels the mysteries behind the Forbidden Lands, the entity known as Dormin, and the bond between Wander and his trusted companion horse Argo.

You soon notice that with every colossi slain, black mist swells from the fallen beast and appears to poison or consume you, leaving you with the internal struggle and realization that the further you go, the more damning it is on your character's life, which is only a testament to how deeply Wander cares for Mono and how far he is willing to go.

Releasing in 2005 was a bit of a gamble, as by then players around the world had been introduced to the 7th generation of consoles with the Xbox 360, and were teased with the infamous E3 2005 trailers for the Playstation 3. Shadows of the Colossus truly was a swan song for the PS2, and remarkable one at that. In 2011, the developers at Bluepoint Games released an HD remaster of the game which offered a native HD resolution, content that was previously missing from the North American release, and trophy support. Sadly, the framerate issues were still persistent.

Bluepoint Games returns as the primary developer in what can only be described as their ultimate love letter to Team ICO, and Shadow of the Colossus with a complete remake of the game, incorporating ultra high definition assets for the game. Rather than simply remastering the game once again, this is actually a project where all their assets were remade from the ground up.

The end result is quite simply breathtaking; it feels like an entirely new game while retaining the essence and soul of the original title. The Autumn Forest is a relatively small yet complex forest situated around the middle of the game's map. The original game, despite its technical shortcomings, still evoked a sense of awe while traveling about it. With the remake, we're given an incredibly dense and atmospheric forest that still gives off a sense of awe and wonder, just on an entirely elevated level. Each colossi were rebuilt from the ground up, to the point where the design and rendering took a few months a piece to make.

A big change the the core gameplay offers a revision of the control scheme, improving the fluidity of the core controls and offering a layout more akin to what players are used to. As a nice gesture to the core fanbase, the traditional control scheme is offered for your preference.

Perhaps one of the most impressive feats this game achieves is its rendering in 4K, support High Dynamic Range, and supporting a fluid 60 frames per second (on PS4Pro Models).

Part of the charm in exploring the world is discovering its creepy vacant-like atmosphere, which really amplifies the theme of the Lonely Hero present throughout the game. At the same time, we have these sixteen uniquely designed, monstrously gargantuan colossi that you not only need to scale and slay, but find using your sword. By raising it in the air, it becomes doused in light with rays shooting in every direction. By turning your character. you may notice that the lights slowly start to bend towards a center; when they're all together, it signifies that that is where your next colossi lies. It's a great mechanic to incorporate a real world item with the discovery of further parts of the map. It's not as simple as blinking objective markers that some games showcase these days, or atmosphere-breaking lines or pointers that guide you to your destination. A recurring ideology you will notice with about every facet of the design of Shadow of the Colossus is that everything is deliberate and carefully executed.

Expect a new set of easter eggs to find as you go off the beaten path, especially if you've played or experienced The Last Guardian. On top of that, Bluepoint Games have included the ever-popular photo mode that's present in a lot of top quality Sony Exclusives. This offers a whole array of tools to use at your disposal as you capture some of your most memorable moments of the game, or take in some of the luscious scenery.

Final Thoughts

Shadow of the Colossus marks the 3rd attempt at bringing this masterpiece of a game to newer audiences, and the third time's the charm, if you'll pardon the cliche. Bluepoint games encapsulated the essence of the PS2 classic, and delivered a full remake that is meticulously designed and beautifully executed. All of the former issues prevalent in both the PS2 and PS3 versions of the game are remedied with the PS4 version, all the while enhancing all that was great with the original game. The environments present a sense of scale and depth unlike ever before, the colossi themselves have never looked more detailed, and yet it's still the timeless tale of a Lonely Hero on his journey to save a loved one. This remake deserves to be played and enjoyed by everyone, newcomers and fans of the original and comes very highly recommended.

Shadow of the Colossus (PS4) was reviewed using a PS4 Digital Copy provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
A true remake in every sense of the word, with all assets remade from the ground up.
The new control scheme feels far more natural, and the classic scheme is still available for purists.
I found myself obsessing over certain angles, images and filters with my time in Photo Mode.
Some of the issues in the original game, namely the stuttering framerate, are completely remedied with a fantastic 60 frames per second.
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