Originally released on PS2 in 2006, director Fumito Ueda's Shadow of the Colossus is rightly regarded as a masterpiece. How, then, do you improve on what some consider perfection – especially when an HD version already graced the PS3 back in 2011? Do you revamp for modern audiences? Add new mechanics or features? Reboot?
The trick, developer Bluepoint Games has discovered, is to barely change a thing. The new remaster looks far better and gives the controls a spruce, while retaining the nuanced combat, subtle narrative, explorative gameplay and themes that made the original so special.
Shadow of the Colossus on PS4 remains the same thoughtful, challenging, emotionally complex experience it was over a decade ago. The game follows the desperate journey of Wander, a young swordsman out to restore a girl named Mono to life, charged by otherworldly forces to slay 16 mystic behemoths that roam the land to do so.
Returning players will find its structure exactly as they remember it – from the sequence in which the Colossi are battled, to the tactics employed to lure them out, scale their titanic bodies, and end their lives. It’s meditative rather than repetitive — or, given the game’s mythological essence, like reciting an old fable. New players experiencing it all for the first may initially find the world barren, with no enemies or characters to interact with beyond the Colossi, but the desolation of the setting soon weaves its spell.
While the controls have been updated and better mapped to the PS4 controller, the original controls remain available. Unfortunately Wander's horse, Agro, remains frustrating to control in either layout.
The land is empty, but it teems with tantalizing hints of what came before.
The biggest change to be found is the visual overhaul. The aforementioned PS3 HD version merely upgraded the PS2 build (and added support for 3D TVs, when Sony was still trying to make those happen). Here, Bluepoint has gone back to the original code and rebuilt from the ground up, with support for 4K HDR screens and a ridiculously detailed camera mode to take advantage of it.
Shadow of the Colossus was always a pretty game, but before it was almost impressionistic, with murky textures and a muted palette. The PS4's 4K presentation brings the cold beauty of Ueda's world to life. The rich details of the abandoned, mysterious valley Wander travels are now more evident than ever, helping create deep emergent storytelling – even if it's all constructed in the player's head. The land is still empty but it teems with tantalizing hints of what came before, from the mossy ruins scattering the grasslands, to the intimidating mountains stretching across the landscape, and the gargantuan hand-carved plateaus that emerge from staggeringly realistic lakes.
The addition of new post-game challenges to acquire masks, character skins, and weapons provides extra longevity for those who become truly immersed, but the core game effortlessly stands the test of time. Shadow of the Colossus is a work of art, now with visuals on a par with its sparkling reputation.