By sheer coincidence, I’ve spent the last week playing two games that, on paper, couldn’t be any more different from each other. Despite its greater emphasis on accessibility, Monster Hunter World (which, for the record, I’m quickly becoming a fan of) is complex to say the least, with a dozen different gameplay systems to learn and master, and enough customization and weapon options to keep you busy for dozens of hours. On the other side of the spectrum lies Shadow of the Colossus, or rather, its PlayStation 4 remake. Unlike Monster Hunter World, Team ICO’s magnum opus is a shining example of minimalist design; a stark contrast to the overly complex worlds which grace our TV screens in this day and age.
But before I get into the game’s masterful design, let us focus on something else that I mentioned earlier. Contrary to what your local GameStop employee may have told you, this new version of Shadow of the Colossus is not a remaster or re-release; it’s a full-blown remake. Developed by Bluepoint Games (who you might remember from their work on the Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection), this marks the second time the team has worked on this game in particular, having released the ICO and Shadow Of The Colossus Collection on the PlayStation 3. Unlike that release, which stands as a re-worked version of the original, this is a complete, ground-up remake, with ultra-high definition assets to boot.
If you’ve played the original before (and remember it fondly), it won’t take long to see just how much work has gone into recreating Team ICO’s vision. The PlayStation 2 version was incredibly taxing on the console’s hardware, and as a result, many shortcuts and tricks had to be implemented in order to get it running in the first place. For example, the game originally featured a very aggressive LOD system, which would render far off structures and vistas in incredibly low detail, often in simple 2D images. On PlayStation 4, the more powerful hardware is able to draw the world in much greater detail, even when viewing objects from across the map.
To complement this, all of the game’s assets and artwork have been redrawn in high-definition (which was all done in-house by Bluepoint’s newly-hired art team). I will admit, this remake does look fairly different (the final image on screen looks less desaturated in comparison), but the artwork itself falls very much in-line with the game’s original vision. A volumetric lighting system has been implemented, along with a few other more modern rendering techniques. Volumetric fog, light shafts, dynamic depth of field, a physically based renderer; all of these new additions come together to deliver some of the best visuals on the system.
All of these changes make for a solid experience, whether you’re still rocking original launch hardware or the mid-gen PlayStation 4 Pro. On a base PlayStation 4, the game runs at native 1080p, locked to a rock-solid 30 fps. For those playing on the Pro, you have the option to play at a slightly higher resolution of 1440p (still locked to 30 fps), or at 1080p at 60 fps. While I normally enjoy a bump in rendering resolution, the jump to 60 frames per second is too hard to pass up, and is what I stuck with for a majority of my playthrough. If you have a capable display, you can also turn on HDR, which allows the new artwork to really shine.
I could go on and on about the numerous technical improvements (the colossus’ fur and per object motion blur look fantastic), but I can save a lot of time by saying that, without a doubt, this new version of Shadow of the Colossus is one of the finest remakes of all time. Instead, it’s worth focusing on the minute-to-minute action, which still shines more than a decade later. A lot has been written on the game since its original release, praising its immersive gameplay, its well-crafted environments, and emotional story; all things which I think hold up, even today. That being said, I’d like to make a point on how the game’s emphasis on minimalism is what makes it stand apart from its contemporaries.
The last decade or so has been graced with more and more complex virtual worlds for us to explore, littered with towers to climb, maps to expand, and side-quests to complete. While these checklist-fueled open worlds offer up stunningly recreated versions of real-world locations (as well as dozens of hours of playtime), it’s hard to notice how shallow these worlds can feel once you’ve peeled back the layer of digital paint. Don’t get me wrong; I love cruising around Los Santos or Ancient Egypt as much as the next person, but it can sometimes be hard to look at these worlds as anything more than a list of things to do; a kitchen-sink approach to keeping players entertained.
Shadow of the Colossus, on the other hand, excels through its tightly focused direction, keeping players engaged as they chase down colossus after colossus. This new remake is built with some of the best, cutting-edge tech the industry has to offer, but its designer Fumito Ueda’s adherence to minimalist design (best summed up with the phrase ‘addition by subtraction’) which elevates Shadow of the Colossus to a whole other level. In many ways, the game is very upfront in its mechanics; there are no low-tier enemies or grunts to take care of or side-quests to complete, and all of the player’s abilities are available from the onset. After the opening cutscene, the player knows exactly what to do, it’s just a matter of actually doing it.
If, for some reason, you missed out on Shadow of the Colossus the first (or second) time, you owe it to yourself to give this one a go. I’ve been reviewing video games for quite a while now, and have handed out my fair share of high scores, but let’s forget about all that for a second. Without a doubt, Shadow of the Colossus ranks among my favorite video games of all time, and the universal praise it has received is not unwarranted. Fumito Ueda’s masterpiece in game design has stood the test of time, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s still being talked about for years to come. Thankfully, Bluepoint Games has ensured that an entire new generation of gamers will be able to experience it in the best way possible.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 Pro version of the game, which was provided to us for review.
More than a decade after its original release, and Fumito Ueda's masterpiece is still an absolute joy to play. Whether you've played it on older hardware, or you've yet to take the plunge, you owe it to yourself to play through Bluepoint's remake of one of the best games ever made.