Shadow of the Colossus (2018) Review – A Harrowing Masterpiece Returns

Back in 2005, Fumito Ueda and the rest of Team Ico released Shadow of the Colossus, a uniquely dark, somber, and personal journey that’s widely considered to be one of the best games of all time. Thirteen years later, Bluepoint Games, the same studio that remastered the title for PS3, take on their first completely solo project: rebuilding an absolute classic from the ground up. Did they succeed, or is this return to the Forbidden Lands doomed from the start?

Shadow of the Colossus
Publisher: Sony Interactive Enterainment
Developer: Bluepoint Games
Platform: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed)
Release Date: February 6th, 2018
Players: Single Player
Price: $39.99

Shadow of the Colossus is stunning. Without any input from the former Team Ico, Bluepoint Games remade and redesigned all of the game’s assets and art, while keeping the original game’s dark atmosphere.

If that itself wasn’t an achievement, the entire game runs at a locked 1080p 30fps on a base PS4. After both the PS2 and PS3 version were known for their choppy and inconsistent frame rates, it’s refreshing to see the game running at a smooth, solid frame rate while looking this good. In all honesty, it is simply one of the best looking games on the PS4.

While sparse, the sound of Shadow of the Colossus is another achievement. Outside of the fights, the world is mostly quiet. In fact, the sound you’re likely to hear the most in a playthrough are the gallops of your horse, Agro. It make sense, though. When you aren’t fighting a colossus, you’re alone in a cold, nearly lifeless world. In a fight, however, the beautiful score shines through. Kow Otani’s compositions remain some of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard in a game, perfectly encompassing both the thrill and the sadness of an encounter with a colossus. Even over five years since I last touched the game, the songs are nearly impossible to forget, and hearing them again gave me a sort of nostalgic joy.

The gameplay remains engaging and compelling, too. Riding around the ruins of a nearly lifeless world on Agro remains in and of itself a somber, powerful experience. The Colossi themselves are also their own unique experiences, with figuring out the ins and outs of the creatures becomes its own puzzle. Even after three playthroughs, finally getting to a colossus’s weak spot and attacking it remains a uniquely satisfying event.

Time Attack mode adds in more replayability, requiring you to know exactly when and how to execute your attack. While some things, such as navigating with the sword, the realistic reaction to the colossi’s movement when climbing it, and a sometimes awkward camera can seem like hindrances, in the context of the game it works. You’re all alone, gripping onto the fur of a giant beast armed with only a sword and a bow. You’re both immensely powerful and incredibly vulnerable fighting a colossus, and that dynamic is what makes every fight so engaging.

While Bluepoint didn’t alter much from the original, what they did change came as welcome improvements. The game has a brand new control scheme made for the modern day, and it works very well. Overall responsiveness is improved over the original game, allowing for more precise movement on colossi.

Auto-saving is also added, removing the need to search for shrines. While there’s also a new collectible and some new easter eggs based off the other Team Ico games, this is still mostly unchanged from the original. The original wasn’t broke, so it didn’t need fixing. +

Shadow of the Colossus’s vague plot remains as impactful as ever. You play as a young man named Wander who comes to the Forbidden Lands in search of a way to revive Mono, a woman sacrificed for her cursed fate. When he arrives at the central temple, a being named Dormin gives him a task: kill sixteen giant creatures, and Mono will live.

Armed with his trusty steed, Agro, Wander prepares to sacrifice everything to bring back Mono. The plot doesn’t expand further because it doesn’t need to: Shadow of the Colossus finds its power in leaving the experience up to your interpretation and your own emotional response.

A big part of the story’s impact comes from the world itself. The Forbidden Lands are a ruined, nearly lifeless world. Throughout your quest, the only life you’ll see are birds, lizards, fish, and the Colossi. There’s something somber, yet beautiful about exploring the ruined civilization on horseback as you approach the next Colossus.

This beauty applies to the Colossi themselves as well. They vary from small and ferocious bull-like beasts to gigantic yet pacifistic serpents. Each one serves a distinct and unique purpose, and I ended up genuinely feeling bad for killing them.

In the age of loot boxes, overly-complex open worlds, online multiplayer, and big yet hollow AAA flagships, Shadow of the Colossus has returned, and it didn’t disappoint.

Bluepoint Games did the impossible: they took one of the greatest games of all time, rebuilt it from the ground up, made sure it didn’t lose a bit of its impact. For that alone, this game is an achievement. It’s only one of the best PlayStation 4 games of all time, it’s also one of the greatest remakes of all time. It’s not the game you remember: it’s even better.

Shadow of the Colossus was reviewed on a regular PS4 using a review copy purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

The Verdict: 10

The Good

  • Remade with care, respect for the source material, and precision
  • Beautiful on base PS4
  • Retains the original’s dark and somber atmosphere
  • Score remains one of the best soundtracks in all of gaming
  • Story remains impactful as ever
  • All of the game’s elements combine to make a truly unique, harrowing, and personal experience
  • Rastaanparta

    Spoilers ahead.

    My only real issue with Shadow of the Colossus is the lackluster final colossus. Throughout the game we’ve seen these wondrous giants, some being able to fly, burrow underground or swim underwater. Expectations and emotions for the “last” battle builds up so big I just can’t help it, but feel utterly disappointed to fight against this huge, stationary laser turret. Sure, it looks pretty threatening from the distance, but once you realize it’s not going to break free from its chains, the climb is already over. There’s a couple of clever tricks there, but nothing brilliant enough to stand out from what we’ve done with the other colossi.

  • Snorlaxation

    I would’ve been fine with that, but my biggest issue was that not all the colossi were really what they should’ve been, i.e. COLOSSAL.

  • Mr0303

    The original was one of the best games on the PS2 and the remake is one of the best ones on the PS4. Bluepoint did an amazing job with the remake – they modernised the game in the best ways possible with autosaves, better controls and even added more secrets.

  • Chocolate ISISCream

    Sony just CANNOT BE

    S T O P P E D
    T
    O
    P
    P
    E
    D

  • DrearierSpider

    Definitely love me some SotC. Even ended my Gamestop boycott to get the special edition (can’t really be picky where you’re buying from on collector’s editions that sell out so quickly). Wish I had a PS4 Pro so I could play at 60 fps, but it’s the only game on the system that I’d really see an advantage from so hardly worth $200+ to upgrade what is already a dust collector 90% of the time.

    As an aside, the PS3 remaster wasn’t known for choppy frame rates at all, and was locked to 30 fps almost all of the time.