Shadow of the Colossus review: An emotional rollercoaster
Thanks for PlayStation NZ for the review copy of Shadow of the Colossus. (The game was reviewed on a PS4 Pro, mainly using the performance mode but sometimes I switched to the cinematic mode just to check it out. Please note, the two videos included in this review show how to take down two colossi, so if you don’t want to know, don’t watch them.)
If a game is considered a success because of the emotions it arouses in a player, then, for me, Shadow of the Colossus is one of the best games of all time.
Despite its simple premise of a boy on a horse, traversing a vast, empty wasteland in search of 16 giants that he must kill in order to bring back his dead love, Shadow of the Colossus struck an emotional chord with me, so much so much so that I felt guilty about slaughtering some of the colossi, especially the ones that seemed to be minding their own business.
I took no pleasure in hearing their painful moans as I plunged a sword into their skulls, black liquid shooting from the gaping wound (each colossus has one or two glowing marks that must be repeatedly stabbed to kill them). These massive beasts had done nothing to me but here I was, snuffing out their existence for my own selfish desires. I was feeling guilty about killing virtual giants, most of them shaking the earth as they crashed to the ground, lifeless.
I played the original Shadow of the Colossus on the PlayStation 2 then the remaster on the PlayStation 3 but for some reason, the game didn’t capture me then like it has now. I think I defeated the first two colossi, maybe. It could have had something to do with the less than friendly control scheme, which made for frustrating times and has been remapped here and is a vast improvement (ie it uses the R2 button for grab/hold, which is a much more ideal situation than the original game’s R1). Make no mistake, this is a re-make not a remaster. Be clear on that.
Apart from Wander (our hero), his horse Agro (is this the most wonderfully animated horse in all of video games?) and the colossi, the world is devoid of other life (apart from the odd lizard scurrying about and an eagle that follows Wander): There are no NPCs to converse with, no enemies that jump out from behind a rock to attack you, no traders to upgrade weapons, and I think the game is all the better for it: It is singularly focused on what you have to do: Kill the colossi and not be distracted by side missions.
I started the game full of vigour and bravado, searching out the lumbering first colossus, and by the mid-point, I was starting to question that perhaps I was the monster, and not the beasts wandering the land. It tugs at your heart-strings and continues plucking as each colossus falls. Most of the colossus aren’t even aggressive towards you.
If you own a PlayStation 4 Pro, you’re in for a treat with Shadow of the Colossus, as the wizards at Bluepoint Games (longtime Sony collaborators) have given you a couple of nice options to play it in: A performance mode, which locks the framerate in at a buttery smooth 60 frames per second or a cinematic mode which pretties the graphics up but locks the frame rate at 30FPS. I played most of my play through using the performance mode: I mean, why wouldn’t you? With a game like this where jumps and perfect timing matters a lot, a locked 60 frames per second is what you want, and guess what? The frame rate stays at that locked rate. I can’t say I noticed any hiccups or dips while playing. Sure, things look a little nicer in the cinematic mode but I don’t have a 4K TV yet, so I’ll save that mode for when I do have a newer panel.
The soundtrack deserves a mention, too. From the frantic orchestral pieces for each colossi to the quieter moments, the soundtrack is one that I could listen to time and time again. It’s fantastic. The game also has a pretty nifty photo mode, which I used to capture the images that accompany this review. Nice.
Shadow of the Colossus has faults: The camera goes wonky from time to time, obscuring your view of things and trying to climb onto Agro at times can be comical. I was also frustrated by a simple jumping puzzle against the third colossus, Gaius the Knight, for far longer than I should as Wander can’t sprint so I was forever missing the jump, plummeting to the cold water below, forcing me to try again and again and again until I got it. Wander also can’t swim very well, which means the fight against the colossus that lives in water – Hydrus – extremely frustrating and more difficult than it should have been. I also felt that some colossi weren’t as impressive as others, for example, Gaius’ fight was awesome, Hydrus’ and Phaedra’s not so much.
Ultimately for me, Shadow of the Colossus is a game that evokes emotions – whether that’s the intention or not by the game’s creators (I’m sure that is the intention) – both over what the player is doing throughout the course of the game and whether it’s all worth it. When a game makes you question what you are doing as a hero, as Shadow of the Colossus does, and makes you think whether you’re doing the right thing, it’s hitting all the right notes. Shadow of the Colossus hits all those notes for me.