Republished on Wednesday 26th February 2020: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of March's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
It’s fitting that one of the greatest games of all time should be graced with one of the best remakes of all time. For some years now the Texas-based Bluepoint has set standards with various high-profile remasters like Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection and the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, but Shadow of the Colossus sees the studio elevating its work to the next level. This is, for all intents and purposes, a painstakingly faithful resurrection of Fumito Ueda’s iconic 2006 opus – and yet it can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the very best that the PlayStation 4 has to offer in 2018.
Frankly, this is an exquisite conversion. Unlike the famed Resident Evil remake, this return to the Forbidden Lands doesn’t tinker too much with the nuts and bolts beneath the hood, but it’s all been redrawn in dynamic 4K (on the PS4 Pro, anyway) and it looks absurdly beautiful. Whether it’s the way the grass dances in the wind or the manner in which light breaks through a cluster of trees, ethereally illuminating a misty forest fog, the title’s deserted plains look more mysterious than ever before. And the colossi themselves, unsurprisingly, are a sight for sore eyes.
For those of you lucky enough to be embarking on this adventure for the first time, Shadow of the Colossus depicts the tale of Wander, a warrior who’s arrived at a dilapidated shrine with the hope of resurrecting his fallen female companion. The gods inform him that his wish will be granted if he carries out one simple task: slaughter all 16 of the noble beasts that roam the lands. And so, armed with a royal sword and a bow, you embark upon your task, dispatching each titan one-by-one. But are you acting justly – or has grief clouded your judgement?
Much like Ueda’s other games, this is an interpretative affair which makes do with the shortest of scripts, allowing the actual action itself to shape your emotions. Despite all of the mechanics being introduced in the opening 10 minutes or so, each boss fight manages to challenge you in a unique way. There are constants (you’ll typically need to find a way to climb atop the beasts and decimate their weak points) but the battles are awe-inducingly original, whether you’re running across the spine of a giant sand worm or playing hide and seek with a bearded troll.
There’s a puzzle-like feel to the way that the battles unfold, and you’ll need to figure out the steps in order to off the enemies. A lot of this revolves around a stamina bar, which limits how long you can “grab” onto objects. Seeing as you’re going to be climbing all over your enemies, it’s an important mechanic, because they’re obviously not going to be too impressed by the young man tugging on their fur. As with all of Ueda’s games, there’s a degree of clumsiness to the way the title controls – and that’s despite Bluepoint’s modernised controller mapping.
But the frustration will be drowned out by the sheer exhilaration you’ll feel as you bring these beasts to their knees. One battle sees you attracting the attention of a bird-like creature with your bow, and then leaping to catch its wing as it swoops down to attack you. To be clear here: you kill the bird while it’s flying high above a lake with you clinging onto its back. Another sees you running up the sword of an armoured titan, using its attacks to your advantage as you clamber across its bicep and onto the top of its head.
While these battles already looked epic on the PlayStation 2, the framerate dipped into single digits as the hardware wrestled with the ambition of Ueda’s imagination. The excellent PlayStation 3 remaster cleaned up these complaints, but this remake sees each of the 16 beasts rendered in meticulous detail – and at a fairly robust 60 frames-per-second on the PS4 Pro to boot. The performance isn’t perfect, and you can opt for a sturdier 30 frames-per-second in dynamic 4K if you prefer, but whichever way you play you’re guaranteed some of the greatest set-pieces you’ll have seen on the PS4.
There’s much more to the game than outstanding boss fights, though. You’re free to explore the entirety of the Forbidden Lands as you wish, using your trusted steed Agro to get you from A-to-B. The world, while stunning, is desolate – and it’s remarkable in an era of Ubisoft watchtowers to exist within a space that’s so empty. But this, of course, all plays a part in shaping the mood of the story; we’re hesitant to say too much more for those who haven’t played it yet, but the game is masterful at marrying emotion to mechanics.
And the gushing doesn’t end there: the soundtrack, with its exotic instrumentation, is incredible; the cinematography during the title’s few cut-scenes is extraordinary; the ending is… Well, we’ll let you experience that for yourself. Rest assured if you’ve played ICO, then you’ll be curious to see how the titles tie together. Purists may complain about the minor artstyle changes – Bluepoint’s rebalanced the contrast, ditching the iconic oversaturation of Ueda’s version – but we firmly believe the changes are for the better. And if you simply can’t stand them, then the faithful PS3 remaster still exists.
One of the greatest games ever made resurrected in one of the greatest remakes of all time. Shadow of the Colossus remains faithful to the 2006 original, but its presentation is on par with the very best that the PS4 has to offer. A masterpiece.
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