2018 appears to be turning back the clock, introducing a new and/or unfamiliar generation of gamers to some of gaming’s most historic titles. Honestly, I can’t think of a better way to kick off the proceedings than with the heavily lauded Team Ico masterpiece Shadow of the Colossus (SotC). As a guilty admission to our readership before we get down to business, I’ll be honest and let you know that I’ve never played SotC before. Hence, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to get hands-on with the full rebuild of this timeless classic and espouse its virtues and merits. The rock I’ve lived under all this time has been lifted, so rejoice my friends!
As this game is a remake, I won’t spend too long talking about the already well-covered narrative of SotC. Granted, from a first-time player’s perspective, I’m incredibly impressed at how Team Ico managed to say so much with so little. The minimalist narrative structure is perfect for the setting, and I applaud SotC for exploring an array of distinct human emotions and philosophies while also allowing players to devise their own impressions. From Wander’s unsettling pact with the unknown entity Dormin to rescue Mono to the desolate landscapes, there are just so many different elements of storytelling and visual work that culminate in a unique and haunting experience. The writers managed to take a well established “rescue the princess” trope and completely deconstruct it and turn the narrative principles on their head.
Traversing the rolling landscape along with your faithful steed Agro, I love how the sprawling environment feels so vast despite taking place in a relatively small squared area. It’s a real testament to the design work put into the game, and again I salute the creators for being able to influence this perspective from its audience. Working hand-in-hand with the gameplay, the design of the colossi provides a wide variety of experiences and challenges while playing to the strengths of the gameplay mechanics. Despite struggling initially with some of the colossi and figuring out how to defeat them, the game manages to train your approach to strategy when tackling each that follows. Whether this is a conscious or subconscious design choice, I’m impressed that the difficulty curve continues to increase throughout while also allowing you to improve alongside it.
One of the touted enhancements regarding the remake is the remapping of some of the games controls, adopting some easier trigger mechanics for players than its predecessor. Honestly, if the controls have improved, then I’m glad I didn’t play the original game in this particular instance. As I’ve played, I continue to have flashbacks to my time with Team Ico’s latest release, The Last Guardian. The controls just feel clunky and outdated, especially compared to other modern day releases with platforming and climbing elements. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled with more contemporary game design, but at times the controls were a source of pure control flipping frustration (especially on the final colossi).
The major talking point of this remake, however, has to be the thoroughly reconstructed graphics. In the wake of what may have been considered an extremely ambitious rebuild, Bluepoint Games has done a fantastic job in both updating the game for current generations while also remaining true to the original’s aesthetic. Furthermore, making full use of the PS4 Pro hardware, you’re able to choose between the “Cinematic” mode which allows for play at 1440p with 30 FPS or the “Performance” mode which plays at 1080p with 60 FPS. I decided to take a look at the cinematic mode for my main playthrough, and I don’t regret it. The visuals are breathtaking, and it’s a joy to use the Photo Mode which allows you to capture incredible shots of the environment. For those who would prefer a smoother gameplay experience, though, the performance mode is equally as impressive.
As no small aside to the rest of the game, I also couldn’t do SotC proper justice without talking about the music. The orchestral arrangements breath life into the narrative and highlight key moments in the game with a dominant emphasis. While other video game soundtracks I often find either catchy or obnoxious, there are very few which leave a lasting impression on me as much as the game itself. Composer Kow Otani has worked on significant anime projects during his career such as Shakugan no Shana, Eyeshield 21 and Haibane Renmei amongst others, and his master hand shows in constructing this collection of evocative compositions.
Shadow of the Colossus is the gold standard of video game remakes for this generation, period. Bluepoint Games deserves all the credit for offering a remake worthy of the praise placed upon the original, and as such have given an entirely new audience license to experience one of video games most exceptional titles. Forget the cynical rhetoric around “cash grabs” and easy franchise milking with texture update “HD remasters.” Instead, I hope this game becomes enshrined as a new sort of video game remake renaissance in which new and old audiences alike can experience classic titles as if they were brand new again. We’re currently going through a period where the video game industry is under siege for a laundry list of nefarious practices, so it’s cathartic to have something about which I can be genuinely and unabashedly enthusiastic. However you need to do it, make sure to get your hands on a copy of Shadow of the Colossus on PS4.