Welcome to Late to the Party, a series in which I discuss video games that I’ve finally gotten around to playing. Today I’m going to talk about the PlayStation 4 remake of Shadow of the Colossus. I played Shadow of the Colossus on a PlayStation 4 Pro and today’s post will be spoiler free.
The original Shadow of the Colossus came out in 2005 and is widely regarded as one of the most iconic games to grace the PlayStation 2. I played Shadow of the Colossus at least twice on PS2, and once more when the remastered version came out on PS3, and if I were to create a list of my personal top 20 games of all time it would likely make the cut. The announcement in 2017 of a complete remake of the game for PS4 was pleasant surprise and last month I made the journey into this latest edition of a gaming classic.
Shadow of the Colossus takes you to a mysterious land, seemingly at the edge of the world, where a man has come riding in on his horse along with the body of a deceased woman. In a large temple he strikes a deal with the local deity who offers to restore the maiden to life in exchange for the wanderer striking down the 16 colossi scattered throughout the land. With that most rudimentary of setups you are sent off to complete your quest with nothing but a sword, a bow, and your horse. Who are you? Who is the woman? These things are never explicitly explained in the game and in fact there’s hardly any dialogue at all. Shadow of the Colossus is one of those games that primarily utilizes the “show not tell” method of storytelling and much of the plot is left to the player to determine. This sort of narrative can be difficult to pull off but Shadow of the Colossus is one of the games that nails it, delivering a deceptively simple story that becomes steadily more intriguing as you progress and start to realize what’s going on.
For veterans like me the biggest draw to the PS4 edition of Shadow of the Colossus will be the massive visual overhaul the game has received. The amount of detail that’s been added to the game is nothing short of incredible and if you have the time I’d recommend going on Youtube and looking up comparison videos that show just how much better the PS4 edition looks compared to the PS2 edition. When I first started Shadow of the Colossus I spent over seven hours exploring the world before fighting my first colossus and with all the enhancements that have been made it was almost like I was experiencing every region of the map for the first time again. At times Shadow of the Colossus looks almost as good as Uncharted 4, which is no small feat. If you are photographically inclined like I am the game includes a very welcome Photo Mode you can use to capture the sights of everything you come across as you play the game.
On PlayStation 4 Pro you can also select one of two visual modes that dictate how the game looks and runs. In Cinematic Mode the game will look its best but the framerate is locked at 30fps while Performance Mode has a slight visual downgrade but allows he game to run at 60fps. Cinematic Mode is the default option and was the mode I personally preferred but people who prioritize their games running silky smooth will want to go with Performance Mode. One thing I should note, however, is that while I experienced notable environmental pop-in on both modes when galloping around on horseback at top speed the pop-in seems to be more prevalent in Performance Mode, and on rare occasion in Performance Mode I would experience split-second graphical glitches.
A few other important changes have been made to the way Shadow of the Colossus is played. Perhaps most importantly, the control scheme has been modernized. If you played the PS2 version of the game you might remember that the button mapping was a bit weird and I’m pleased to report that the new control scheme is a significant improvement over the old one. The layout is much more natural, though if you’re feeling nostalgic you can switch back to the old one, or one of the hybrid control schemes the game offers. On top of this, the modern Shadow of the Colossus fixes one of my biggest gameplay complaints from the old game in that when you push the button to draw your bow you now automatically aim wherever the camera is looking. Lastly, you can now save your progress from anywhere on the map and not just at shrines. When you load up a game you’ll still awaken at the last shrine you prayed at but you no longer need to run back to a shrine to save your stats.
What hasn’t changed much, whether for better or for worse, is your horse Agro. Your trusty steed has been something of a divisive issue in the gaming community since the original Shadow of the Colossus, and can elicit some strong opinions from players. Personally I’m a fan of Agro and she’s one of my favorite horses in all of video games, partly because she’s one of the few horses in gaming that behaves more like a horse and less like a motorcycle with legs. I particularly like that Agro will start doing her own thing if you mull about a small area for long enough. Many times when I was done gathering fruit to increase my character’s health bar I’d find her grazing nearby or drinking out of a watering hole. That said, I completely understand the complaints some people have about Agro. She can be tricky to control and when you start galloping around on her the game switches to a cinematic camera that isn’t always the best for directing her to your intended destination.
Another thing that’s unchanged, and this is definitely for the better, is the game’s structure. At its core Shadow of the Colossus is a series of 16 boss fights, with some travel and exploration in between them, and each colossus encounter is just as epic today as it was in 2005. Every colossus is a giant puzzle for you to solve and even though I remembered how to beat all but one of them I still had a great time with every battle. Some of that satisfaction comes from the design of the boss fights and some of it is due to Kow Otani’s masterful soundtrack that returns just as strong in the PS4 edition as it was on the PS2. Playing this new edition of Shadow of the Colossus was sort of like rewatching a great movie I hadn’t seen in a long time—I knew exactly what was going to happen but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of it in the slightest.
Depending on how much exploration you do, Shadow of the Colossus will likely take new players about 8-12 hours to beat. After the credits roll you’ll unlock two new game modes: New Game+ in which you’ll start a new game with your previous game’s final stats, and Time Attack in which you try to beat individual colossi in under a preset time limit. These modes extend the game’s life and Time Attack mode has the bonus of unlocking special items that you can use in the main game. As you play through Shadow of the Colossus’ game modes you also unlock art galleries that can be viewed in the game’s start menu. These galleries have some very cool concept art and character models to check out, and I particularly like the gallery that shows an image from the original PS2 game alongside the same view from the PS4 version. Strangely, there are some pieces of artwork that can only be unlocked by defeating colossi on easy difficulty. While this did give me an excuse to try to speedrun the game on easy difficulty I would have preferred if they automatically unlocked when you beat colossi on harder difficulties.
Shadow of the Colossus on PS4 is a new benchmark for how to remake old games. It completely overhauls the game’s visuals, fixes most of the issues present in the old version, and keeps the parts that made the original game so iconic. It has a few minor flaws here and there, but overall Shadow of the Colossus on PS4 is an outstanding game and I’m going to score it at a 9.5 out of 10. Shadow of the Colossus is the closest I’ve ever come to experiencing that old gamer fantasy of playing a game again for the first time and reliving the magic of that initial playthrough, and it’s currently the best remastered/remade game I’ve ever played.
Nice job writing a thorough review without going into spoiler territory. I enjoyed reading through your sections on Agro and the game’s structure; she definitely has a mind of her own! Good to see someone who enjoys writing about Ueda’s games as much as they do playing them.
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Thanks, glad you liked it. The original Shadow of the Colossus is a very special game for me and I really wanted to do the PS4 remake justice with this review. Playing the remake also reminded me that I need to get around to playing The Last Guardian. Hopefully I’ll get to that within the next few months. Ueda’s games are truly in a league of their own.