Shadow of the Colossus - Critique
Shadow of the Colossus on PlayStation 4 is a breathtaking return to this classic that already impressed us on PlayStation 2 in 2005. Artistically completely redone and featuring spectacular lighting effects, the title captures the unique beauty of the original game, its awe-inspiring scope and its absolutely heart-wrenching history while at the same time correcting a handful of imperfections. The result is not only an incredible remake, but it is also one of the best and most beautiful games the PS4 has to offer.
Part of Shadow of the Colossus's defining legacy is found in its relatively simplistic design. You explore a vast and beautiful world in search of 16 unique and terrifying beasts, which range from humanoid to giant bird to massive sea creature. While it's never really explained, your motivation is clear: you have to kill them in order to give life back to a woman in a coma, which is truly the most important thing to you. But while this premise is simple, taking on a six to eight hour quest to continue it is particularly noteworthy.
Exiting the central shrine and using the ray of sunlight reflecting off your sword like a dowsing wand to find your next target is a continually satisfying way to start my hunt. And every time I started to make my way to one of the beasts' territory, I found myself stunned by how magnificent Shadow of the Colossus was. In the way light creeps through a forest to the tangled tufts of hair of a colossus, not to mention the texture of my character's cloak, it now does better than other contemporary games, which says a lot about the original quality. The game is superb even on a first generation PlayStation 4, and even more so on PS4 Pro.
This remaster also does a fantastic job of solving some of the problems with the 2005 game, completely modernizing the experience to stick to 2018 standards. Frame rate no longer plummets in the presence of a particularly massive colossus, and when you set your PS4 Pro to Performance mode, the game even holds up to 60 FPS with minimal visual sacrifice. You can see details all the way to the horizon as you walk around on your mount, revealing a sense of scale hidden in the original game (due to reduced viewing distance). And the new control setup remaps the jump and input buttons in a more logical way than was done back then. Combine all of that with a flexible Photo mode and a handful of easter-eggs, and this remake will make you forget you're playing a 13-year-old title.
There are still a few slight issues still present: for example, the grandeur of some battles and the proximity of a giant hairy colossus means that the camera will sometimes get lost in the tufts of hair, obscuring the view at a crucial moment. Likewise, the success of some encounters relies on placing the Colossus in a very specific position, which can sometimes be akin to holding a dog in place in a bathtub.
But overall, the design of Shadow of the Colossus has stood the test of time without any signs of wear and tear. Each of the 16 Colossi is a puzzle, and if at the beginning the learning of the controls and the mechanisms turns out to be rather simple, the challenge and the complexity increase in depth at the end of the game. I love this moment of amazement and terror that we have when we see for the first time one of these animals, but which is quickly replaced by curiosity; pacing a creature, learning its nuanced movements and distinctive behaviors as you attempt to reach the top of its skull feels like you're inside a wildlife documentary. It's this illusion that these are living creatures that creates internal conflict, when you hunt and kill them, and Shadow of the Colossus uses that emotional springboard brilliantly.
Likewise, having a minimum of tools - a simple sword, a bow, and your Agro horse - means you need to master each of them in order to take down the Colossi. There are a few upgrades that can be obtained by completing the optional Time Attack modes, such as more powerful weapons, different colored horses, and even a parachute for easier exploration. And while none of these are necessary to defeat your opponents, they provide a solid incentive to replay certain encounters.
Once aboard a colossus, the whole experience is nourished by a fantastic feeling of tension. The wonderful and evocative soundtrack takes its ease, the creatures try to free you from their backs, and your stamina meter drops, even as you try to find a weak spot. That feeling of impending dread and accentuated by that last element - endurance management leads to some awesome cinematic moments where I come to a safe edge just as my grip is fading. This mechanism evokes at times what we could have had in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which was, in retrospect, clearly inspired by the original Shadow of the Colossus.
All of these encounters fuel the emotional arc of the story. The journey of your character and her sleeping sister (Queen? In love?) Is thus marked by tragedy. There is something very brutal about watching your hero slowly become less and less human as you kill innocent beasts, all in the name of the salvation of someone you love. It's a moral issue that comes up every time you take down a Colossus - so there's no celebration, we're just conditioned to head to a new boss. There is no XP, nor money. Instead, you encounter the silence that invites you to reflect on what you just did. And, without revealing anything, the story climax remains one of the most emotional moments in video game history.