When I first played Shadow of the Colossus back in 2005 on the PlayStation 2, I was treated to a world of melancholy and majesty all in one. At that time, I was writing for a different internet publication, and at the end of that year gave the game its proverbial and well-deserved Game of the Year status. Even with the technical limitations of the hardware, Shadow of the Colossus was a triumph in not just game design but also a defining measure into the argument of video games as an art form. Fog masked landscapes and some camera frustrations couldn’t damper the experience it delivered, tackling 16 vastly different bosses in a barren landscape and when defeating them, a moment of self-reflection in whether this was a noble quest or not.
Now thanks to the power of the PlayStation 4, Shadow of the Colossus is now fully realized in all its glory. It loses nothing in the remastering of its design, as even more detail has been added to an already intrinsically detailed game. Control changes, better camera placement and even retooled boss A.I. serve to take an already classic and awarded game and catapult it into the stratosphere. Everything you ever loved about Shadow of the Colossus is in this remake, and if you played the original and love that one, you will fall in love all over again.
The love of attention to detail in this game is as immense as the game itself. From desert to forest, swamp, hot spring to the occasional ruined temple or tower, there is a rich story just present in the environment alone. Everything in the game is about some type of reflection whether inward or outward. That the game’s story toys with the notion of light and dark and life and death serves to highlight the thoughts that enter your mind as you explore the land and fell these mythical beasts. What was clearly a world that served purpose at one point has been left uncharted and alone at the ends of the earth. The air of mystery that envelops this game is one of the highlights of its narrative design and the folks at Bluepoint Games did a marvelous job of maintaining that impact in the story while making changes to the rest of the game.
The greatest change is not just in the graphical fidelity, but in the gameplay. The control scheme has been modernized and remapped in a much more intuitive way and yet still preserves the essence of the original. You can choose to play in the classic control scheme as well, a nice touch by the studio. The colossi also have had slight A.I. changes to boot. They react a little more aggressively when upset and shake a lot more violently when you climb them making them feel fresh and challenging all over again. This is made even more so in the game’s Hard Mode as the colossi understand their size over you, and you must actively annoy them to anger them a bit more than you would have to do in the original games.
It’s not perfect all the way though, as there are some minor grievances I had with this remaster. These are extremely nitpicky, but I feel it’s worth mentioning my full experience with the game. The horse Agro is basically terrible at most things except going extremely fast and makes some of the colossi battles that involve him a little tougher. It seems as if they put in some A.I. code to make the horse react more as a horse would during this situation so if Agro feels you are in danger, he actually reacts accordingly and will bolt in a different direction if you’re not in a safe position…even while riding him. There are also some graphical glitches due to the game making you react to surfaces differently. Its most notable in the colossi that have both fur and stone ledges as the game seems to want to randomly determine if you’re grabbing onto fur or holding onto a ledge. It’s easy to work out based on your placement on the colossi, but harder to figure out when said beast is thrashing around as you attempt to scale it. The two smaller colossi (the bull-shaped type ones) also have additional attacks now and depending on where they do these attacks, these hits can corner you and it sometimes leads to an inescapable death loop as they can slam you into the ground and attack again while you get up. Again, these were minor grievances but noteworthy to mention for those curious about the full experience. In the long run, they did nothing to ruin my overall experience in replaying this masterpiece.
The best thing about Shadow of the Colossus is not just the sense of scale or the immensity that the game presents. It is more than the sad, beautiful colossi you come across on the journey. It is the traversals across vast landscapes on horseback that are full of solitude and beautiful scenery coupled with massive boss fights tied together by sheer personality that draw you in. The weight of the task at hand and the themes of death, faith, longing and the destructive power of grief all serve to hit every emotion you can feel. That this is all found in “just a video game,” says a lot about the state of gaming back in 2005, and is ever more prevalent in today’s generation of video games. Shadow of the Colossus stands the test of time and thanks to new technology can leave its imprint yet again for fans who played this years ago on PlayStation 2 and for the newcomers who are curious enough to venture into the solitude of this epic adventure. It is a fantastic and wonderfully designed remaster and an enjoyable new game for first timers that brings you along for a ride in a way very few video games have been able to do.