When Shadow of the Colossus released 13 years ago on the PlayStation 2, it was hailed as a classic. Team Ico’s journey of sacrifice, melancholy, and, yes, monster slaying, surprised people, tugging at their heartstrings and making their pulse pound in equal measure. But even then Shadow of the Colossus was held back by the technical limitations of the time.
It was an ambitious experiment in the action-adventure genre, one that pushed past the PS2’s limits. With the PS4 remke of Shadow of the Colossus, Bluepoint Games has made far and away the best version of the game available. It surpasses the team’s previous remaster of the game on PS3, a version that also struggled at times to capture the colossi climbing and tense action. Obviously the PS4 is better equipped to run a game like this, but Shadow of the Colossus on PS4 succeeds not just because of technical and visual fidelity. It succeeds because Bluepoint Games realized that the devil is in the details.
The original game felt empty, foggy, and dreamlike and had a painterly visual aesthetic. Faithful fans might prefer those features, but for most those ideas weren’t central to the experience. The PS4 remake fills in those empty landscapes with visual detail and makes you want to explore the mysterious Forbidden Land. It’s full of lush forests, massive plains (visualized with the help of better draw distances), crumbling ruins that have a palpable sense of lost history.
Details aren’t just there because Bluepoint wanted to push the technology. By filling in the landscape, the team has made the world of Shadow of the Colossus feel more lived in, which only makes the lonely treks across its vast landscapes more moody and emotional.
A large part of Shadow of the Colossus’ appeal were the long stretches of silence and reflection that followed and preceded every colossus fight. Like many things in this remake, Bluepoint kept this intact but added enough small touches to improve the experience.
The fog and mist of the original game, which were probably the result of technical limitations, have been replaced by more wide, sweeping views. It’s a small change, but it really helps convey the idea that Wander, and the player, are just alone in this vast, mysterious world.
Although the detailed environments in Shadow of the Colossus on PS4 convey the somber tone of Team Ico’s vision better than ever, most people only really care about the colossi. And in that area, Bluepoint has really outdone itself.
The original game’s 16 colossi are some of the best bosses to ever appear in a video game, so Bluepoint has changed almost nothing about them and their fights.The core gameplay idea is relatively unchanged in the PS4 remake. Scoping out a colossus’ weakness and climbing its massive body to take it down is still one of the most adrenaline-pumping experiences you can have in a video game.
The battles themselves haven’t changed in terms of mechanics, but Bluepoint’s visual upgrades to the colossi drastically improve the tone and feel of the fights. The fur on the colossi is some of the most impressive stuff ever rendered in a video game. It looks… well, furry, like real fur. It might seem small, but when half of your time battling a colossus is spent with your face in its fur, the detail is important.
But the biggest improvement to the colossi is their eyes. The detail that’s been put into the eyes is astounding. The colors are vivid, the little bit of cloudiness is textured, and the expression that Bluepoint gets out of them is disturbingly human. You can see anger and fear in those eyes.
It’s most noticeable during the eleventh colossus fight where you have to chase a boar-like beast off with fire. Mechanically it’s still as challenging and tense as ever, but the fear in the colossus’ eyes is visceral. That detail is important for Shadow of the Colossus’ story and emotional resonance.
The appearance of the colossi is important not just because it makes them prettier to look at, but because it makes each fight feel more visceral and real. A lot of the emotional payoff in Shadow of the Colossus comes from slaying these massive creatures and realizing that your victory looks an awful lot like defeat. The silence that follows each boss battle, as opposed to some victory music playing or massive “SUCCESS” text flashing on screen, is heartbreaking. Now that the colossi feel more real – more human – those moments are even more powerful.
Remaking Shadow of the Colossus for the PS4 was probably a challenge for Bluepoint Games. How do you update a classic game without changing what makes it a classic in the first place? The team answered that question by changing almost nothing and augmenting almost everything. Yes, the game looks a lot better, but it feels the same, both in your heart and your hands. Bluepoint made Shadow of the Colossus look and feel like you remember it.
It took 13 years and two remakes, but Bluepoint finally captured Team Ico’s original ambition and produced the definitive version of Shadow of the Colossus.