Shadow of the Colossus Review
Standing the Test of Time
Published on February 17, 2018
Shadow of the Colossus
Release Date: February 6, 2018
Developer: Bluepoint Games, SIE Japan Studio
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
With another generation of Sony consoles comes another version of the Shadow of the Colossus. Initially developed by Team Ico and released on the PS2 in 2005, it left gamers speechless with its fantastic storytelling and world building. Remastered by Bluepoint Games in 2011 for the PS3, it was able to receive similar acclaim. Seven years later, we find Bluepoint at the helm again, trying to recreate the magic once more for the PS4 and a newer generation of gamers.
From the beginning, the game instantly treats the player to an amazing cinematic that recreates the intro from the original release. With no need for dialogue or exposition, the cutscene does its job through music and visuals alone. What culminates is a moment of nostalgia for those who went through the trials and tribulations more than a decade ago and a perfect introduction to the world that newcomers will be exploring.
Its use of the medium is what makes Shadow of the Colossus such a beautiful game a decade after its initial release. The game employs “show, not tell” with perfection. It cinematography rivals those of high-quality Hollywood movies. Every movement of the camera, every note of a song and every frame of a cutscene is masterfully crafted to pull you deeper into the world. The player is never forced to explore, yet you feel compelled to visit the many vantage points and vistas throughout the map.
With the upgrade to new hardware, the limitations set by the PS2 are gone. The fog that obscured the lands to limit draw distance are non-existent. The framerate stays at a stable 30 or 60 FPS depending on if you’re playing on the PS4 or the PS4 Pro. The addition of a photo mode means you’ll be able to frame a perfect picture no matter where you are. By building the game from the ground up, it feels as if this was the original vision for the game back in 2005.
Although the game is beautiful, the motifs and the feelings that surround the story are anything but comforting. You play as a young man, Wander, who sets out to a forbidden land to forge a pact with an entity named Dormin. The deal is simple: conquer the colossi that roam this world to resurrect his female companion, Mono. Leaving Mono in the safety of the central temple, Wander sets off to different parts of the surrounding land to take down the colossi one by one. Different biomes and landscapes are featured in these areas, but the unchanging feeling of loneliness plagues your journey.
There are no NPCs to talk to, objects to interact with, or towns to visit. Your only companion is your horse, Argo, who acts to expedite your travels to different points of the map. The sounds of the galloping hooves and the wind rushing past you are the only sounds to accompany your journey.
That is until you find one of the 16 colossi that you’re tasked to defeat. The music swells, and you face off against the giant standing hundreds of times taller than you. It’s a daunting task to even think about how to take down this foe. Luckily, the ancient sword you wield can highlight the weak points of each colossus, giving you a chance of survival. Using the environment and the titan against itself, you find your way up to the glowing spots. You stab away at your foe, hanging on for your life as it tries to shake you off. With the final stab, the colossus falls to its death, and yet you almost feel a sense of guilt. You were trespassing on their land, and murdering the inhabitants for your benefit.
The ending keeps the story in the grey area, with enough vagueness to leave room for endless interpretation. Were you playing as the protagonist or the antagonist? Were you doing what was morally correct? The lack of a clear-cut answer from the game deepens the experience even more.
Controls and gameplay complement what the game is trying to convey. The unorthodox controls and slight lack of polish in the movements create a sense of frustration during failure and a feeling of triumph with every accomplishment.
Although a highly contentious topic of the game, I feel the developers carefully chose every action in the game with immersion in mind. Holding onto a surface requires you to hold down the R2 button as if you’re gripping onto something. Every stab needs you to hold the square button to wind up, and an additional press before you decide to thrust down into the colossus. Tripping and falling is guaranteed when running on uneven terrain. When Wander falls off due to running out of stamina, it’s not just the character that lost his grip; it’s the player that has failed and fallen as well.
The camera, however, leaves a lot to be desired. As it’s not allowed to clip through objects, you can easily find yourself trying to shake the camera around to get a glimpse of what you’re trying to climb or jump over. Couple this with an automatic reset of the view that is decided by the engine rather than the player, it can sometimes feel like a battle against the camera system rather the colossi. When the core of the game revolves around battling giants that barely fit on the screen, the lack of total control of the camera adds unnecessary frustration.
Each colossus that you will face off against is set in a unique environment, each with their weakness. Some will ignore your presence, only retaliating when necessary; others will actively try to hunt you down. Even with all these differences, one thing remains constant: it’s not a battle of strength, but one of wit. You can’t brute force yourself to victory; you’ll be required to use the surrounding world to best the beast. Even when you have everything figured out, execution is a challenge on its own. A tiny mistake may throw you off a platform or cause you to get shaken off the titan. Trial and error is a natural part of the process, and failure is something that players will learn to embrace.
After the battle is over, it feels like having won a war. Having taken down a creature that’s a few hundred times larger is no small feat. A cutscene follows every victory, with Dormin telling Wander where to find the next beast. There’s no rush to get to the next objective; you’re free to do as you wish. Yet, you feel a sense of urgency, and it’s only a matter of time before you set off to cross off another colossus from the list.
Although the game embraces player freedom, some parts of the game require the player to play the game as the developers intended. Not only is this linearity surprising and pulls the player out of the immersive world, it usually causes the death of the player, resetting them to the last save point. It’s irritating at best when the game provides no hints to why you’re not able to progress.
The collectibles, time attack mode and new game plus that are present in the game feel a bit tacked on to increase the replayability of a fairly short game. The main game is good enough on its own, and these additions only act to push the player to play the game again. I did go through a second playthrough with new game plus to see if there are significant changes, but it was mostly a repeat of what I went through the first time with some minor power-ups.
Overall, Shadow of the Colossus remains faithful to the 2005 release, down to its problems. It masterfully utilizes the new hardware to amplify its immersion, yet remembers to maintain the importance of the original ideas and message. Even with its flaws, it’s a game that everyone should experience.