Beautiful Remake for a Beautiful Game
Since Shadow of the Colossus originally released in October 2005, it's been commonly referred to as one of the greatest PS2 games ever, pushing the PS2's hardware to the absolute limits of what was possible and showing everyone that some video games truly could be considered an art form. While the game had amazing gameplay, visuals, and a soundtrack that balances on perfect, the technical aspects of the game were simply too far ahead of it's time; the stock PS2 release was plagued with frame rate drops, an erratic camera, and relatively awkward controls. In 2011, Shadow of the Colossus saw a PS3 HD remaster that helped fix a majority of the frame rate drops and added some higher resolution textures. But, unfortunately, the same issues stubbornly remained; the frame rate was much more stable in this release, but still occasionally dropped in more intense scenes, the camera still had the same issues, and the awkward controls were still...awkward. Now, in 2018, developer Bluepoint Games has completely remade Shadow of the Colossus from the ground up, featuring "Ultra HD" graphics, a new control scheme, and a few new features as well like New Game + and Mirror Mode. But is this remake truly the definitive version of the game? Is it really the best way to play Shadow of the Colossus in 2018?
Yes. Yes it is. To start, I'll give you the general gist of the game since it remains virtually unchanged since its initial 2005 release. Shadow of the Colossus starts off with a beautiful cutscene showing Wander's trip to the Forbidden Lands and the Shrine of Worship, delivering a young girl named Mono to the shrine's alter and asking the entity that resides there, Dormin, to bring her back to life. Dormin, of course, ambiguously agrees when he see Wander brandish the sacred Ancient Sword, and assigns a task to Wander as trade; defeat the 16 Colossi and Dormin will grant his request. And that's basically it, you start off in the Shrine of Worship, you're given a Colossus to find and kill using the ancient sword as a beacon, and once defeated you're taken back to the Shrine of Worship and given a new Colossus to find, rinse and repeat. There are no NPCs to interact with, no real side quests to fiddle with, no other filler enemies to fight. It's just you, your horse Agro, and 16 Colossi. This simplistic game style may seem like a con at first, but as you make your way to each Colossi, you find that simplicity really just fits with the aesthetics and setting of the game. The Forbidden Lands are empty, but pleasing to explore thanks to the varied environments, with forests, lakes and rivers, canyons, deserts, and more to check out and view with little standing in your way from the get-go. Climbing objects (and Colossi) plays a major role in the general gameplay, and makes use of a Stamina gauge that increases with every Colossi you defeat. Accompanying you on your fight with Colossi is music by Kow Otani, which is again untouched from the original and is still the perfect soundtrack for any game of its type.
Exploration and finding the Colossi is only half of what Shadow of the Colossus is about, the other half, obviously, is taking down those Colossi when you find them, and that's where Shadow of the Colossus really shines. Instead of focusing on just non-stop action packed button mashing, combat relies on puzzle solving, environmental awareness, and the ability to successfully climb a Colossus while managing your stamina gauge. Once you reach a Colossus, the first thing you'll want to do is find its weak points. To do this, Wander uses the Sacred Sword to reflect sunlight, and where the narrower the beam is the closer the weak point will be. Once you find the weak spot (with one usually being on a Colossi's head, of course), you must climb the Colossus and give it the ol' stabby stabby. But this is generally easier said than done. Wander is mainly equipped with two weapons, the Sacred Sword to find and stab a Colossi's weak point, and a bow which is generally used to attract, distract, or temporarily cripple a Colossus. Each Colossus has its own little gimmicky design and arena, each playing a significant role as to how you'll be fighting each Colossus. For some, you might need to shoot a particular body part to make the Colossus shuffle down so you can grab a particular patch of fur, for others you might need to attract the Colossi to a specific ledge or area so you can jump on top.
But this is all old stuff, things present in the 2005 release, so what exactly is new? The graphics, obviously, have received a massive upgrade over the original and PS3 HD Remaster, with each asset made from the ground up in Ultra HD. If you have a PS4 Pro, you can make use of two different graphical modes; one offers textures at 1440p (upscaled to 4K) and 30fps for a "Cinematic" experience, the other lowers textures down to 1080p, but gives you a stable 60fps. If you own a normal PS4, you're left with just 1080p and 30fps, but regardless of how much action is on screen it is thankfully a buttery smooth 30fps. Both the PS4 Pro and the original PS4 have additional filter options you can apply to the game that slightly changes the way the game looks. While some are relatively useless, like Emerald whatever which just gives the game a weird green overlay, others offer more vivid colors, or darker tones than the stock experience. Animations are also upgraded from the original release, for both Wander and the Colossi, which gives the gameplay a more "fluid" feel, instead of a relatively jerky experience. The camera is also upgraded from the previous game and is less erratic, no longer randomly correcting itself in times you simply don't want it to. The controls were also revamped with a "modern" control scheme, which simplifies some actions like rolling and picking up items, and makes it a more "tight" experience. If you're a veteran of the old releases, the old control scheme is still there as well.
The Remake also includes a few new items and game modes, as well. Originally, you needed to beat the game on Normal mode to unlock Hard mode (which features different weak points for Colossi, and more damage dealt to Wander), but it's now available right from the start, so if you've already played the previous releases and want more of a challenge on your first playthrough you can do so right away. A New Game + mode and Mirror Mode have been introduced in this release, with Mirror Mode obviously mirroring the Forbidden Lands, and New Game + mode that keeps the Stamina and Health upgrades you receive from beating Colossi on a previous playthrough. A Photo Mode was also added, which allows users to pause the game during gameplay to take UI-less screenshots. You can edit filters, change the FOV, swap the point of view from which the screenshot is taken, and more to produce a heartwarming, beautiful screenshot suitable for marketing PR...or, if you're like me, as your new desktop background since it's so dang pretty. A new skin for Wander was introduced as a reward for Hard Time Attack mode, which gives Wander his Dormin-possessed look, complete with horns and all. A new collectible has also been introduced with this particular remake, in the form of little Golden Coins. There are 79 of them to collect, and you'll hear a high-pitched ringing noise when you're near one. Collecting all 79 will give you a special, new unlockable item that is completely underwhelming for the time it takes to find them all, which I won't spoil here, but it's still nice to see at least some new content that alters actual gameplay.