Shadow of the Colossus (2018) Review

With so many remasters having come out in the past decade, it can be difficult not to become jaded with the concept.And at face value, 2018’s Shadow of the Colossus looks like one more remaster churned out by the industry, with few changes from the original game other than prettier graphics and a new control scheme. Yet even with few changes, Shadow of the Colossus defies expectations. Its unique gameplay is largely untouched from its original form and still delivers an experience that very few games can match, made all the better by the remaster’s beautiful visuals.

Shadow of the Colossus is a game of details and a minimalist piece in every way. You’re a character named Wander who has brought his deceased love to a temple in a far away land, determined to bring her back to life but defeating the sixteen colossi that roam the landscape. You’re guided to the giants with light that extends from your sword and once there, it’s up to you to figure out the method to take down each one. Each battle is slightly different in exactly how you proceed to kill the colossi but the general formula consists of studying the colossus’ movements, using your surroundings to your advantage, climbing up the colossi, and stabbing them in weak points.

The gameplay remains largely the same when compared to the original game, save for a new and improved control scheme, but 2018’s Shadow of the Colossus feels like a current game. Thirteen years later, the gameplay remains unique in how the player has to balance between gripping onto the monster and allowing their stamina to recover by letting go of their grip. The size difference between the player’s character and the colossi is still awesome and the simple story remains well executed and interesting. The game is incredibly stylish but not in the typical sense of over-the-top animations and bright colours. Instead, the style here is mystery, wonder, and awe. The world reveals only the most minimal of hints about itself and the creatures within it.

As for the expected graphical overhaul, Shadow of the Colossus does away with simply upping the game’s resolution and adding a few new textures and effects. Instead, the developers of the game have rebuilt the library of assets from the ground up, and it shows. The landscapes are stunning. Waterfalls in the distance flow down richly coloured cliffs, mist clouds where they meet the ground below. Massive temples carved into rock by ancient hands add mystery and wonder to an already enigmatic land. And as for the colossi, they also look remarkably better, owing greatly to the greatly improved hair and fur textures. Despite having played the game a handful of times on past consoles, the PS4 version of Shadow of the Colossus delivered many moments of joy for me from its visuals alone. The way the camera sits so that your character’s position adheres to the photographic guideline of the rule-of-thirds makes for beautifully framed scenes.

And that’s a good thing, because the remastered version of Shadow of the Colossus includes a photo mode so that you can snap impressive screenshots. The game also includes other improvements: better visuals for cutscenes, easier tracking for time attack mode, and new collectables to find. The game also has a few warts that weren’t improved upon: the physics engine can still produce some uncommon but ludicrous animations and a couple of the colossus fights are less than enjoyable and can trend towards frustration. But for me, those are all details that do little to affect the overall experience of the game. The meat of the game is travelling through its beautifully empty world and facing off against unbelievably huge enemies, and the large majority of these experiences are masterfully executed.

Shadow of the Colossus is not the best example of a remaster that modernizes its original version. Instead, it’s an example of how a visual upgrade can be so extensive that it draws a modern audience into its world much the same way that the original did thirteen years prior. It’s also proof that certain combinations of game structures and elements are so original and rich in style that they transcend time, remaining relevant and fun years after the original game’s release. Shadow of the Colossus’ latest remaster is a title whose excellence lies in an unclear mixture of improvements and the unchanged, and while the game is imperfect, its originality and execution make it as relevant in 2018 as it was in 2006.

Daniel Podborochynski

A Canadian who loves video games, soccer, sandwiches, reading, cats, dogs, Aphex Twin, bike rides, Fallout, Daft Punk, barbecue, and beer.

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