Shadow of the Colossus Review
Sony PlayStation 4
Shadow of the Colossus has been one of my favourite games for about 10 years now, always falling into my loose top ten games (which admittedly is somewhat fluid). It’s a game I’ve tried unsuccessfully to get my friends to play for the last decade and even as the game became some mythic entry into video game canon with discourse around the game itself turning to the question of whether video games could be considered art, all I knew was that I loved it. I waited patiently over that decade for the next instalment from Team Ico, now working under the banner of Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan Studio, as The Last Guardian took seemingly forever to be released. I had briefly played the HD remaster of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus on the PS3, from the same developers as this full remake, to tide me over. When I first read of the full HD remake it was a pleasant surprise. When I first saw what it would look like, I was in awe.
For the uninitiated; The game’s story finds a young man named Wander entering a forbidden land seeking an ancient power to resurrect a young woman who he recently lost. Communing with a spirit named Dormin, he’s tasked with defeating 16 giant creatures roaming the land as a test to prove whether he’s worthy of what he asks. As his adventure unfolds, you begin to realise something else may be at play here. The game itself is a minimalist, melancholic journey, essentially 16 boss fights one after the other with sections of exploration of this forbidden land in between. But don't expect much else. There are no NPCs or side quests. Wander has one goal and his story is inexorably tied to it.
The Colossi themselves are more impressive than ever, now rendered in full HD. Time and memory had mythologised the original PS2 title in my mind, but I was often genuinely scared for Wander whilst facing off against some of these creatures. As cosy as I had become in defeating them over and over the numerous times I had played the game in the past, seeing them in HD on the 55 inch screen was a world away from when I took them on in 2007 on a TV that was deeper than it was wide. The land itself is always rendered beautifully and just like back then, I have found myself wandering aimlessly just admiring the world they've created, all the while telling myself this is always what it looked like in my head.
One of the greatest strengths of Shadow of the Colossus on the PS4 is paradoxically its biggest weakness. Despite this essentially being a from scratch remake, it is the same game. Yes there are some minor tweaks, an extra collectible added to the main game, unlockables and a photo mode but make no mistake, being as this is from the same studio that developed the HD remaster, this is essentially an HD reskin. If like me you are a fan of the original, you can dive right in but may find little challenge in essentially paying to replay an old fave with nicer graphics. Indeed, I blasted through the first half of the game, dispatching some of the Colossi in a matter of a few minutes, whilst others took up to 20. But after I had slain the 8th Colossi, the halfway point in the game, I decided to take a break and realised I had only been playing for 2 hours 47 minutes. My initial estimates that I could complete it in 10-12 hours were off. As of writing this I'm on track to complete it in under 6.
That’s not to say there isn’t replayablity on Shadow of the Colossus. Beating the game once isn't nearly the same as 100 percenting the thing. There are the standard three difficulty settings - easy, normal & hard - and of course hard mode would be the next logical step if you find yourself breezing through the game on normal, as well as a time attack option. There are the hitherto mentioned collectibles scattered around the land, but be warned they are as minimalist as the game itself. The unlockable art is a nice touch, especially the comparison images between the PS2 and PS4 versions where you try to convince yourself it never really looked like that back then, but having some of it locked away behind beating the Colossi in easy mode seems a little silly. As a veteran of this game, I’m certainly not going back to easy mode just for some unlockable art. But each to their own, it's there if you want the challenge. The inclusion of a photo mode is a fun option I grant, but I personally never used it for longer than a minute or two before dashing off on my horse toward the next foe, the real and honestly only meat of the game. But I will likely revisit it on a second or third play through, specifically to take as goofy pictures of the Colossi as possible.
The game’s soundtrack, which I'll forever affirm is one of the best video game soundtracks ever produced, has become one of my favourite to listen to ever. I have, without question, listened to it 100 times more than I ever played the game over the last decade and it was quite surreal seeing the music, which had almost become its own thing in the intervening years, sync up with scenes in the game which had half faded from my memory. Most of the tracks have simply been remastered but composer Kow Otani has said some were re-recorded for this remake to add the the grandness of the scale of your adventure.
Ultimately, re-playing Shadow of the Colossus was like re-reading an old classic in a new cover. I’m glad to have it and it’s reasonably priced I feel. Where the real magic comes though, is in those discovering it for the first time. After 10 years I finally convinced one of my friends to play through the first colossus it was brilliant to see someone get introduced to this adventure. To anyone who’s never played this game before, I implore you, buy this game and without reading much else about it, just try and feel your way through this world. To those who already love Shadow of the Colossus, who am I kidding, you’ve already bought it.