A Monument To Greatness
HIGH Every inch of this game is absolutely breathtaking.
LOW Getting stunlocked to death multiple times.
WTF The camera wonkiness was kept? Really?
The sign of a true classic is whether it stands the test of time. Is there still something of value in a game when it’s isolated from its contemporaries and examined years later? Can people who weren’t even born when it was created connect with the vision it presents?
Many people in gaming would rank Fumito Ueda’s Shadow of the Colossus as an undisputed classic, but the question of its status now has a slightly unusual twist – what to make of a ‘classic’ that’s been completely rebuilt from the ground up by a new developer?
I originally played Colossus on the PS2 in 2005. I haven’t played it since then, nor have I spent time with the two re-releases that cropped up afterward. So, from my perspective this 2018 remake by Bluepoint Games is exactly the same thing as Ueda’s original in terms of structure and design — there are no new modes nor any mythical 17th colossus here. Some mechanical tweaks have been made (bow improvements, customizable HUD elements, and so on) but they’re subtle and non-intrusive. For all intents and purposes, this is the same experience that someone would have had the first time around except for one thing… The visuals.
Memory is a funny thing. When playing Bluepoint’s version, I was struck by its beauty – nearly every inch of it is heartbreakingly beautiful. Stone structures feel ancient and rich with history, open plains are as green as anything and invite the player to ride as fast as they can, and the vistas are, genuinely, beyond description. However, while I was in love with the new visuals, I didn’t think they looked that much better than the original.
I wanted to confirm those recollections, so I pulled up some videos of the original for comparison and I was blown away by how much richer and more detailed they are now. Bluepoint’s Colossus is an order of magnitude above what the PS2 was capable of, and in taking advantage of the PS4’s hardware, they’ve crafted a version that looks exactly like what I had imagined Ueda’s did. It remains true to that vision, but goes far beyond the tools he had at the time.
So while the graphics are a marked step up, what about the content underneath them? Is the game still worthy of its ‘classic’ status?
For those who are coming fresh to Shadow of the Colossus, it tells the mysterious story of a boy who enters a remote temple carrying a girl’s lifeless body. A voice in the temple tells him that she can be brought back to life if he destroys sixteen colossi scattered throughout the land, so he immediately sets out, sword in hand, to perform the deed.
Ueda’s work here is a masterpiece of focus and minimalism in design. Time spent playing is either roaming the land while searching for the next target, or fighting enormous, enigmatic creatures that come in all shapes and sizes. There’s no list of side quests, no home base to upgrade, nothing to craft, no resources to manage, and certainly no season pass or DLC. Colossus lays everything out in a clear and simple way, and cuts out everything that does not serve the core vision. This artistic restraint was a revelation back then, and in light of modern tendencies towards More Content, Games As Service and an endless flood of Skinner boxes masquerading as gameplay, Ueda’s approach is even more so.
In fact, the way Colossus does so much with (seemingly) so little is amazing. The main character can climb and jump, he’s got a sword and a bow, and he’s accompanied by a horse – that’s it, yet Ueda has designed the colossi to take full advantage of the abilities at the player’s disposal. The first fight asks the player to climb the fur of a hulking brute and stab it in a glowing weak point – straightforward, yet hugely entertaining as overcoming such a formidable opponent is thrilling and empowering. Later colossi require the use of environmental features, indirect attacks, or clever misdirection. Each one is a unique puzzle, and collectively they’re a set of masterful locks that use a single key in sixteen different ways.
As someone who greatly respected it the first time around, I’m happy to say that Bluepoint’s work has only magnified the things that Shadows of the Colossus achieved. It is a true classic, no question. That said, it’s not a perfect game – it had problems when it was new, and some of those issues still persist.
First and foremost, despite some tweaks to the camera system, I still find it maddening. The game wants the camera to provide certain viewpoints, and very often, those viewpoints are not what I want to see. After moving the camera in order to get a better angle on something, it automatically drifts back to where it thinks it should be, over and over again. Of all the things in this game to battle, the camera shouldn’t be one of them. A similar frustration happens with horseback riding — it’s fine when galloping across open plains, but the beast is hard to steer and feels impossible to control at times.
Another issue is that it’s sometimes possible to get stunlocked to death. When the protagonist gets knocked down, it takes him an eternity to get back up, and many attacks launched from a colossus strike in less time than it takes him to get back to his feet. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s impossibly frustrating when it does. It was also disheartening to glitch and fall out of the world or get caught in geometry, which happened to me several times as well. Colossus autosaves so there was never an unreasonable amount of progress lost from such occurrences, but it was still disappointing to see.
While I’m undecided whether Bluepoint making bigger changes to resolve issues that were present in the original would have been taking too much liberty with Ueda’s work, what they have done is treat a legitimate classic with the utmost respect and made it both appealing and accessible to countless people who might have never seen or played it otherwise. In this critic’s opinion, Shadow of the Colossus ranks among the best works this medium has ever produced, so giving it new life in this way is both giving players everywhere a gift and erecting a monument to its greatness.
Disclosures: This version of the game was developed by Bluepoint Games and published by Sony. It is currently available on a standard PS4. The original version was developed by Sony Japan. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 7 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood and Violence. Their official description is as follows: This is an adventure game in which players assume the role of a young man on a quest to resurrect a maiden. As players explore a vast wasteland, they must hunt down and kill gigantic colossi creatures. To defeat these enemy creatures, players scale their bodies to search for weak points. Players repeatedly thrust a sword into the giant creatures’ weak points until their health bars diminish; large sprays of black blood-like fluid are depicted when they are injured/killed. In one sequence, a character is shot in the leg with an arrow and impaled through the chest with a sword.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue comes via text (they speak a fictional language in the game) and there are no audio cues necessary for successful gameplay. It’s fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: This game offers a few preset configurations but the controls are otherwise not remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.
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