Shadow of the Colossus was unmistakable a marvelous game when it debuted in 2005. Unfortunately, the PlayStation 2 was starting to get long in the tooth when it released, and although it was a beautiful and unique game in its original form, it was marred by technical issues that made it frustrating to play. The PS3 version rectified this somewhat, but it wasn't until the announcement of a PS4 remake of the title that I dared hope Shadow of the Colossus would finally be released on a system that could keep up with Fumito Ueda and Team Ico's ambition.
Sony tasked Bluepoint with translating Shadow of the Colossus from the PS2 to the PS4, the type of task they're very familiar with. The enhanced remaster of the first three games of the Uncharted series was handled by Bluepoint, as well as the remaster of Shadow of Colossus on the PS3. However, the PS4 remake of Shadow of the Colossus (which retains the original title, with not "HD," "Remastered," or anything added to it) is the first time Bluepoint has been asked to create the assets of the game from scratch.
Shadow of the Colossus Remake Review: The Same at the Core
Bluepoint has created what is possibly the most faithful remake is video game history with Shadow of the Colossus for PS4. The original SotC code from the PS2 is still what controls the colossi, the core gameplay, and Agro the horse.
It was apparent from the first release that SotC's engine had robust physics and animation capabilities, it was just the hardware that wasn't up to the task. Even the PS3 couldn't entirely run the game to its full potential, and even though it had a much more stable framerate, it retained some of the gameplay issues of the original (like the terrible camera) and added some problems with grip controls that drove players mad.
For this remake, Bluepoint has fused the original code with a host of fixes and new art assets to make the definitive version of this game. As I said in the preview for the PS4 edition, I didn't enjoy the PS2 version of Shadow of the Colossus. I'll be the first to recognize that it's an artistic masterpiece, and the concept of the gameplay and plot are enthralling. However, in practice, the whole experience felt like walking through mud, and I just didn't feel like putting up with the clunk.
Shadow of the Colossus: Still Pushing the Limits of Hardware
Even on the PS4, Bluepoint's remake pushes the limits graphically. Fortunately, you have some options (on the PS4 Pro) that allow you to choose between framerate or resolution. If you pick Cinematic mode for the graphics, the game will target 4K HDR (1440p checkerboarded) at 30fps. If smooth animation is more important to you, Performance mode will set the priority for 60fps with a variable framerate. For the original model of the PS4 or the PS4 Slim, you'll get 1080p at 30fps and no graphics mode options.
Besides the underlying code that lies at the heart of the game, remake actually means remake with Shadow of the Colossus for PS4. All art assets have been recreated from scratch and paired with a new lighting system to make the game just as impressive a release on the PS4 in 2018 as the original was on the PS2 in 2005.
Every foot of ground, every building, and every colossus is incredibly familiar when you see them, but the effect is as if a near-sighted person put on glasses for the first time. Everything is sharp, bright, and detailed to a degree the original couldn't come close to. The original game's blurriness somewhat added to the dreamy feeling of the game, but I much prefer the crisp graphics and high-res textures.
Shadow of the Colossus Remake Review: In the Shadows of the Colossi
The increased detail makes the melancholy of the game's events even more pronounced than before. A lot of games try different mechanics to make you feel bad about killing your enemies. Some titles really lay it on hard, while others are more subtle, but Shadow of the Colossus does this without a single line of dialog or implicit statement of any kind between you and the colossi.
The added detail of the world, especially to the colossi, makes these towering creatures even more imposing than before. It also lends even more of an intelligent, human quality to their features. The fact that it's you that is the invader in this land—and you who are the selfish killer who is only out to save your loved one at the expense of these noble creature's lives—becomes more powerful each time you take down one of these incredibly detailed creatures.
Shadow of the Colossus Remake Review: Not Just a Pretty Face
These new graphics wouldn't pack nearly the punch without the other blessings Bluepoint has brought with this remake. The original SotC's controls were more than a little finicky. Part of this was due to the highly unstable framerate, and part of it was that the controls were just bad. It's understandable, though, that the controls for the PS2 version weren't the best after all this was a groundbreaking title back then and pretty much every third-person game had rough camera and aiming controls at the time. Bluepoint has taken the progress the industry has made in the 13 years since the original's release to make Shadow of the Colossus for PS4 control just as well as any contemporary game.
I've noticed one of the things that date older games, more so than graphics, in my opinion, is the controls. With the improved camera behavior, better controls for ledge-hang jumps, easier switching of weapons, easier horse mounting and bow shooting, and the ton of other little improvements that have been made, this is a game that could stand on its own feet without the illustrious reputation of the original Shadow of the Colossus and still be a hit.
For better or for worse, the PS4 remake of Shadow of the Colossus is incredibly faithful to the original. So much so that there are only two real additions to the game. The first is a photo mode, which pauses all the action on the screen and allows you a considerable amount of control over the camera so you can snap awesome screenshots. The second is a customizable HUD that allows you to move all the UI elements around to positions that are more to your liking. If you were hoping for any cut colossi to be restored or the map to be expanded, that's not the case.
Shadow of the Colossus Remake: Remasterful
Whether or not Shadow of the Colossus for the PS4 is the best remake/remaster of all time is incredibly subjective. I've rarely seen a game received such an extensive makeover while being so faithful to the source material. Usually, titles either get a thin coat of paint in their remaster to a new console, or are wholly remade to be almost unrecognizable, and few take the middle ground where the charm and content of the original product are maintained while fully taking advantage of the technology of a more advanced platform.
I will give Shadow of the Colossus the rare compliment that of its peers I can think of one remake that is comparable in quality. Only the remake of the original Resident Evil on GameCube so startlingly changed the visual quality of a game while still retaining all the aspects that fans love. Shadow of the Colossus for PS4 makes the original game and its PS3 remaster obsolete and is the version of the title to play from now on. For longtime fans, it retains the entirety of the original with nothing taken away, and for those who are playing for the first time, it has tight controls and smooth gameplay that makes it approachable.