As time has passed, Shadow of the Colossus is a game that has only grown in stature. First releasing at the end of the PlayStation 2’s life, its influence has since been felt in how games explore certain themes and methods of story telling. It’s a game whose tone and tenderness was ahead of its time, and a defining moment that Sony have seemed keen to preserve. Following on from their work on the 2012 PlayStation 3 HD Remaster, Bluepoint’s efforts have afforded them the opportunity to effectively remake the game in its entirety for the PlayStation 4. Their work here shows just how timeless this game is.
On the one hand, Shadow of the Colossus could be seen as a boss rush game, and it is, as you explore a grand open world devoid of any life but the towering colossi that you’re sent to kill. However, more than anything else, these colossi are puzzles for you to overcome, as you try to clamber up their bodies and find weak spots that you can stab repeatedly until they collapse, dead. Truthfully, they’re not really the aggressors here, and when they do attack, they do so like you would swat away a fly.
Mixed in with the tension of clinging onto their bodies as they try to shake you loose, fearfully watching as Wander’s stamina gauge drains, there’s a poignance to each of these isolated encounters. Each creature has this strangely innocent face that is oddly disarming, and the way that the sound cuts out as you deal the final blow and they slump to the ground really hammers home what you’re doing. Wander sacrificing the colossi is the one way that he can find to bring Mono back to life, but it’s a series of sacrifices that comes to affect him just as deeply.
As the cottage industry of video game remakes goes – not remasters, but remakes – Bluepoint’s work for Shadow of the Colossus is easily amongst the very best, seeing them step far, far beyond their bread and butter of remastering and porting games between platforms. Across the board, it just feels right, both in how the game plays and how the game looks. If you’ve played the game on either PlayStation 2 or PlayStation 3, this remake is how you will likely remember the game in your mind’s eye. It’s actually a much larger visual improvement than you might think, as the weight of the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 4 Pro are brought to bear.
The game pushed the boundaries of what the PlayStation 2 could achieve, but it was still only when the game was stepped up to 720p for the PlayStation 3 HD Remaster that we got to see the original art assets for what they really were. The world felt more expansive thanks to the widescreen support and the way the higher resolution brought forth more detail from the original assets, while the more stable frame rate helped the game play better. Bringing Shadow of the Colossus to PlayStation 4, however, goes far beyond this, remaking the game from scratch.
On standard PlayStation 4, the game runs at 1080p and 30fps, while PS4 Pro owners get the option of 1440p at 30fps and a Performance mode with 1080p at 60fps. Look solely at the resolutions and frame rates and you might be disappointed, but what these numbers don’t tell you is just how comprehensive Bluepoint’s efforts have been in rebuilding this game.
Riding Agro through the grand open world and there’s so much new detail that has been created from scratch. The floor is now lush with grass and foliage, when it was a relatively flat texture before, the cliff faces in the distance are now much more three dimensional craggy rocks, and the crumbling structures within this world have more detailed masonry where there were flatter surfaces. All of the texture work is much higher in detail, but always in keeping with Team Ico’s signature style that we saw most recently with The Last Guardian. In fact, it looks quite a lot like The Last Guardian at times.
Coming across the game’s titular colossi and you find that they’ve been imbued with just that little bit more life. Again, they’re much more detailed with their models and textures, but as you have to try and find a way to clamber up their bodies to strike blow after blow at their weak spots, you come across much more realistic fur that moves back and forth as the creatures tries to shake you loose. The game’s animations are another aspect that have been recreated from scratch, adding detail but retaining the feel of the original game.
Perhaps the most tangible point of variation is with the game’s lighting. The PS2 original made heavy use of a hazy, almost ethereal bloom effect across the skies and to emphasise the difference between light and dark. On PS4 there’s now full HDR support for TVs that support it, with a much more natural effect that allows to have the same degree of brightness as was intended, but with more detail to the clouds in the sky and volumetric lighting that adds to the atmosphere.
Bluepoint have also modernised the controls to a certain extent, reassigning buttons from where they felt most appropriate for a Japanese developer during the PS2 era to something more appropriate for today. Jump is now on cross as opposed to triangle, grab is now the R2 trigger instead of R1, and so on. It’s still a little atypical compared to other action adventures, but that’s more down to preserving the original gameplay than anything else. By default it makes the game just that little easier for newcomers to pick up and play, but thankfully, there is also the option to revert to a more classic layout for those familiar with the original.
Shadow of the Colossus isn’t necessarily a game that needed to be remade in such an elaborate fashion, and yet, I’m so glad that it has been. Bluepoint’s remake of this sublime and poignant adventure is phenomenal, both managing to stay utterly true to the original and bringing it up to date in glorious fashion.