Shadow of the Colossus is a legendary game and rightfully so. By coming to PlayStation 4, the players can finally experience the game as the authors intended, that is without any technical compromises. How did the new studio Bluepoint manage with this remake?
It was 2006 and I somehow got to this gem on PlayStation 2. I must say that I've missed its predecessor, Ico, which was hard to find back then, but I got hooked on this unusual game where your sole goal is to defeat all the bosses. The original game, however, was plagued by the lower framerate, which was sometimes dropping to intolerable values. Despite that, the game was highly praised and got great reviews. In 2011, Sony has released a remaster with higher framerate for PlayStation 3, made by the very same Bluepoint. So why are we returning back to the colossi again for the third time? I can only assume that during the remastering the game they thought the game would look a lot better in current gen graphics with modern shaders and particle effects, so they have called upon Japan Studio for help and guidance. Thus, Bluepoint have created all of the art assets from scratch and all the previously low-res textures received a well deserved upgrade while keeping the source code and animations intact. If you think this was a waste, watch a video comparison of all three versions. On a regular PS4, you can achieve a stable 30fps, while PS4 PRO gives you the option to play in 60fps on 1080p resolution.
SOTC has a story full of emotions taking place in a seemingly empty world. It´s primarily inhabited by the sixteen colossi, which our main hero must kill if he wants to resurrect his girl. It would be impossible to achieve in the land of the mortals, however, Wander has heard about a strange foreign land, where a god called Dormin can resurrect the dead. Determined, Wander embarks upon a long journey into the Forbidden land, where entry is punished. As soon as you see the weirdly structured bridge for the first time, you can recognize Fumito Ueda's signature architecture from Ico. You'll find many ruins and empty building which silently tell the tales of the old battles or the lives of its people. Wander, however, did not come to learn about these interesting tales of the old civilizations. After he gently puts down Mono on the altar, an ancient voice speaks out. Realizing that you are carrying the sacred sword, Wander is given his first task. Not heeding Dormin's warning that the price for this deed might be too high, Wander gets on his trusty steed, Agro, to fulfil his mission to take down all of the sixteen majestic colossi.
This is just a short intro, but the game contains minimum cutscenes and focuses mainly on gameplay. The game gives you a vast world to explore which is fun to traverse. In order to not get lost, you can always check your position on the map or just use the landmarks to orient yourself. You'll find plenty of unique rock formations, Stargate-like rings in the desert or pillars jutting out of the ground around that one corner. If you ever feel you lost your objective, there is an easy solution. Your sword is not just any random weapon. It reflects sunlight which can help you light up dark areas or, most importantly, point to the precise location where the next colossus is hiding. If Wander would try to get into this land on foot, he would probably still be running on that super long bridge you find at the beginning of the game. Luckily, his companion, mare Agro, is really fast and can tackle long distances with ease. You do not control her directly but by pulling her reins to turn or stop. You need to give her a kick to go faster. It's very effective and galloping across the plains never felt so majestic before this game. Agro will usually always try to reach you, but if you ignore her, she will try to keep herself occupied by eating the grass or drink from a spring you found. Sometimes she will start walking into the distance on her own but you can always call her back with a shout or a whistle, if she is too far away.
The world of SOTC is mostly deserted but beautiful. Wandering through centuries of nature unspoiled by human hands is thrilling and is accompanied by her serene sounds. From the rich green forests full of chirping to the wind blowing around statues half buried in countless sand dunes. You will visit several lakes, full of fish, whose silence is interrupted by Wander's splashing in the water. There is no time limit to achieve your main goal and that gives you the opportunity to just stop and look around. To think about how this ancient, crumbled city used to look like at the height of its existence. It´s so easy to just take a stroll through the forest, catch a few lizards to get an improved grip or search for the exotic fruit, which prolongs your life. You can even try to latch onto a passing flying hawk or a fish and see how long can you hold on for. There are lots of different things to do to keep yourself occupied in between the hunts for the colossi. This is strengthened by the stunning visuals, which changed quite a lot since PS2 was around. While the former blocky design was necessary in the past, now it's just a choice in places, where it actually fits. Many times I've stopped just to look at closer at those sharp textures on the rocks and ravines to make the best screenshot. Particles were also improved. Your horse now leaves hoof prints in the sand and Agro's tail and mane playfully flutter in the wind. The fur on the colossi bends as you climb over it as well. There are other effects like light mist above lakes and inside forests, sand coming off rocks in the desert and I have never seen so many patches of lush green grass in one place.
The battles with the colossi could be regarded as their own levels and are the biggest draw of the game. Every colossus has a different design, size and behaviour. Some are more aggressive than others and in order to beat them, you need to search for their weak points. Your bow serves more to draw attention of the colossus to that tiny human on the ground, which is you. Your special sword, on the other hand, is the only thing which can do any damage, though, and has to be stabbed into the glowing spot until enough of the black fog escapes. Once you have conquered the beast, it helplessly topples into a rubble of rocks and sand, as if it was just an empty shell. To climb upon such a monster is not easy. Luckily for Wander, part of their bodies is covered by thick fur which he can grab onto. It's not possible all the time, however, and you might need to find a way to flip over the colossus to reveal a climbing spot. Holding onto the alerted enemy is not an easy task either, as it will start to rock backwards and forwards as soon as he finds out that you are on his shoulder. This is where Wander's grabbing strength comes into play. You start with a small circle, which depletes rather quickly, but by eating lizard´s white tails, you can improve it significantly. The lizards are usually hidden around the checkpoint shrines but catching them is not easy as they are fleeting. If you manage to hold on (taking breaks on your grip can replenish it much faster at a risk of falling off), you have to search for the colossus' weakness which your sword can expose. Each glowing mark will take several charged up stabs before you have to move to the next one, but it is usually between two or three before the colossus succumbs to your will. The difficulty of each fight varies and while some are harder than others, it is not overly difficult. Sometimes you just need to use your environments to your advantage and lure the colossi where you need them, whether it be by hiding so it can't see you and it is fun to find out what works. If you'll take too long, Dormin will also give you a hint on how to proceed. The whole fight can take from several minutes to half an hour, depending on your skills and knowledge of the game.
The source code of the game stayed while all the 2D and 3D objects where swapped out for their higher polygon versions. Bluepoint did an excellent job here while adhering to the structure of the original. The viewing distance has been vastly improved and now you can see 3D objects in the distance with ease. Graphics are not the only one which received an update, however. Even though the voice over, sounds and music stayed the same, they were all improved and now sound much higher quality. It is a joy to listen to Agro's hooves hitting the ground or immerse yourself into the majestic orchestra which accompanies your efforts to slay the beasts and fuels your efforts. Other times it can evoke a calm, melancholic atmosphere when you discover new locations. The intro and outro tracks bear a strong emotion but you should definitely listen to the whole soundtrack as it is brilliant. The controls were a bit clunky in the original but the developers have made Wander's motions more fluid and added two more modern control schemes. Unfortunately, both of them place the horse control on the triangle, which you need to hold down and it is very uncomfortable if you're trying to move the camera around with your right thumb at the same time. I have solved this by setting the horse command to R2 and grab to R1 instead in the PS4 settings and it was a lot better this way.
To beat the game for the first time takes about 8-10 hours. It is a bit of a shame that Bluepoint did not try to go further and bring back the missing eight colossi, which did not make the cut in the end. Throughout the world you'll find many deserted places, which almost beg for another epic confrontation. Time trials are back and if you beat enough of them you'll get extra items just like in the original (different weapon types, masks, or even a parachute). The main menu also offers concepts and screenshots to look at. At the beginning, you can choose from three difficulties – easy, normal and hard. I recommend going for hard as the colossi have more weak points this way and take longer to kill, as the game itself on normal seemed too easy. After beating the game you'll also unlock new game + and you can play the game in different screen filters. There is a newly added photo mode which is nice but I was a bit disappointed you can't position the camera freely.
SOTC is still a unique title just like when it came out originally. If you have played it back then, on PS2, it won't harm to refresh your memory again in a much better visuals and in high-res with stable framerate. Even if you already own the PS3 remaster, this is a perfect remake worthy of your purchase. Thanks to Bluepoints hard work, new gamers can now fully enjoy this masterpiece in the shadow of the colossus.
+16 unique colossi battles
+ horse riding
+ stunning scenery
+ technical improvements
+ orchestral music
+ time trials
- static photomode
- controls still need tweaking