I want to start this off by stating that my review of this title will be based purely on how 2018’s Shadow of the Colossus for the PS4 preforms as a game and will not take into account the fact that it is a remake. I, like many people who may have interest in this title, have never played any of the previous versions and therefore will not carry over any influence from a past play-through.
I’m Just Trying to Win My Girl Back
One of the first things I noticed about shadow of the Colossus is its style. It’s evident as soon as the opening cut scene begins that this game has a unique flavor that you don’t often see in todays market. The colors, the music, the silence, it all makes you instantly aware of the artistic nature of the game.
You start the game off as a wanderer traveling to a ancient temple where you make a deal with a mystical being, calling itself the Dormin, to bring a young maiden back to life. It task you with killing giant Colossi that roam the land in exchange for restoring her soul. You accept the challenge and mount your horse using the light from your sword to guide you to your colossal foe.
This is the first of few cut scenes in the game and it alone sets up the foundation of the story. That may sound boring and uninteresting but I found this stripped down limited version of story telling to be refreshing. The game isn’t trying to be something bigger than it is, you have a bunch of small goals that lead to you achieving the big goal. This is the foundation that all games are built on, Shadow of the Colossus is just very upfront about it.
The game immediately sends you out with a to-do list, but unlike washing dishes, killing giant furry stone monsters is actually fun. All the Colossi are unique and even the ones that are similar require different methods to bring them down. This level of individuality brought to each Colossi is a very very good thing. Had killing these giants gotten repetitive, it would’ve completely ruined the game since that’s literally the only thing you do.
Today’s Forecast is Cloudy With A Chance of Clouds
Correction, killing Colossi is one of the TWO things you do in this game. The other thing is look for Colossi to kill, which I found to be way less fun. While the map design is fantastic, I’ll get to that later, it’s a complete nightmare to traverse while in search of specific locations. What seems like a simple task is often made frustrating by an impeding landscape, sketchy in-game map and simplistic navigation system. Using the map honestly felt a bit useless until later in the game when more of the landscape had been reviled. It can lead you to the right bridge to cross, but beyond that it becomes a bit cloudy as the map is well… covered in clouds.
Your ancient sword shines a light toward the location of the next Colossus, but this also is an unreliable system as the light only goes in a straight line and fails to guide you down the twist and turns that lay in-between. The bright side of being lost in this game is that the environment is astonishing. There are an assortment of terrains from, grasslands and forest to deserts and volcanic pathways. Sadly these areas don’t offer much value beyond the beautiful scenery and some collectibles, making hunting around for the location of the next fight a bit of a chore.
Luckily, these frustrations of navigation are overshadowed by the satisfaction you get from taking down one of these massive beast. Every Colossus has a different set of moves and weakness and finding the proper way to defeat them requires a bit of puzzle solving. The puzzles aren’t extremely complex, but there are a few here and there that will have you running around trying to figure out exactly what action the game want’s you to preform. They often involve you triggering Colossi animations or climbing something, but the way the structures are laid out it’s not always clear what you can or can’t climb.
Pushing Your Buttons
The climbing mechanics are at times a little clunky and don’t feel as smooth as something like Uncharted or Assassin’s Creed. There is one jump when going to face the third Colossus that I found frustrating in particular. My character would often auto stop at the edge of the platform making me lose momentum or changing the course of my jump completely. The game doesn’t drastically impede you beyond this specific instance, and some of the blame lays on the controls.
Outside of scaling walls and killing titans, I found the button mapping to be a bit odd. Things like picking up items with R2 and shooting with R1 feel off and take a few moments to get use to. You can use triangle to mount your horse, but you also use triangle to make it gallop. Most games use the R2 trigger to accelerate, but in this game pressing R2 after mounting your horse causes you to stand up on its back as it just sits there. While this does make for a great Instagram photo it becomes a bit irritating as years worth of muscle memory has me doing it every single time.
I have to give the game credit on it’s handling when it comes to shooting on horseback. It wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t find myself having a hard time trying to adjust my camera while driving, as your horse has the ability to self navigate to a certain degree. While I never played the original version of this game, it does bring back memories of old camera angles. There are a few moments when the camera snaps into a different angle when close to a big object or wall. Most fights are in big open areas so this doesn’t do much to get in the way of gameplay, but it’s something you’ll notice during play.
If Looks Could Build
Graphically the game is stunning. Most notable are the stone structures spread across the land. The level of detail etched into the pillars and passageways, the uneven and jagged surface tiles, all of it creates a sense of realism.
Outside of man made monuments, the plains and cliffsides add more depth. Open fields littered with rubble and the different textures of weeds and grass blowing in the wind all work to bring this location to life. The steep rocks that surround and encase the map make it seem like a real place.. I know I was just complaining about the inconvenience of navigating these mountainous regions, but that’s also what gives the game a level of authenticity, after all natural landscapes in the real world aren’t convenient.
The Sound of Nothing
The sound design is just as impressive. The way they account for distance is immersive, you’ll here the stomps of your horse grow louder or softer as the camera pulls in and out. I admire the simple things like the changing ways the protagonist calls out to his horse depending on how far away he is, as well as the echos when traveling down deep and hollow ruins. The sounds during combat are also well done with thumps and crackles giving scale to the giant Colossi. There is something wickedly satisfying about the sound your sword makes when it plunges into the hide of a Colossus, it just sounds so powerful.
The soft and mysterious music also lends itself well to the environment and mystical nature of the game. As well as the epic battle themes when engaging the colossi. Just as important as the music, is the lack of it. There is a constant howling sound of wind in this game, that overlayed with the sound of your horses galloping, almost becomes it’s own theme song. It really reinforces the idea of how alone you are in this world.
Over all this game is very simple. There are no side quest, no NPC’s to trade with, no creatures in your path waiting for an opportunity to strike. Just a man and his horse trying to bring his love back, by killing giant monsters. I can’t speak any further on the story without spoiling it, due to its minimalistic nature. That’s not to discredit it though, as the game is still very effective at story telling even with this technique. This game has a rich sense of style and is definitely worth the $40 price tag. If you haven’t tried any previous versions of the game you should definitely consider giving it a go, it’s a fantastic break from the Hollywood style action titles.