PLEASE NOTE: This review of Shadow of the Colossus was played and screen capped in 4K on a PlayStation 4 Pro with HDR settings on. As a result, some displays won't show the full fidelity of the originally captured image. Moreover, a handful of these images are examples of the game's robust photo mode on display, too.
Eye-candy in the day and age of true 4K HDR gaming, on consoles as powerful as the PlayStation 4 Pro
and Xbox One X
, has meant couch warriors can enjoy graphics conversation with the desktop jockeys out there without feeling like an alien from outer space. Games like Horizon: Zero Dawn
, Assassin’s Creed Origins
, Gears of War 4
, GT Sport
and Forza 7
, among others, are leading the way for what can only go up from here. Especially given we’re at such early stages in the world of powerful console gaming.
The one caveat to that, however, is eye-candy alone just isn’t enough, especially when the computing power inside these boxes means games and lofty gameplay ideas can swiftly become reality.
Image captured using the game's new and in-depth photo mode
Which brings me to the curious case of Shadow of the Colossus in re-release form exclusively on PS4, and looking exceptionally good running on a PS4 Pro on my newly setup 65” Curved Samsung QLED Q8C
TV. Seriously, this near 13 year-old PS2 property has arrived as potentially the best-looking game on Sony’s console and takes full advantage of 4K and HDR on the right screens, showcasing just what’s capable -- from a tech sense -- in the right hands and with the right vision.
But the thing is, what was fresh and innovative from a gameplay sense over a decade ago hasn’t really translated all that well today. The game is a masterclass in set piece design given it’s pillared around fighting and killing giant bosses (or, “colossi”), but a dynamic engine-driven camera system you’re in constant battle with, awkward climbing controls, ‘floaty’ jumping and drawn out ‘combat’ leaves Shadow of the Colossus as relatively empty as the game-world you’re trouncing through.
Your first few colossi are revelatory. Especially if this is the first time you’re ever playing this classic. But repetition kicks in soon after, and each colossus you battle only ever serves up the same formula, shifted slightly based on how you’re tasked with climbing up on them. Admittedly, the deeper into the experience you get, the more varied the engagement process becomes, but it’s usually still pedestrian in the *cough* larger
*cough* scheme of things. Other than that, the playspace presented here -- despite being utterly gorgeous -- is vacuous. There’s nothing to do, and exploring the inviting world before you quickly feels like someone sent you a postcard with no message. And it’s frustrating because the fidelity and visual realisation of this ‘world’ just screams “explore me”, “learn more about me”, “I’m right here”.
I know for many, that’s not the point of Fumito Ueda’s game-worlds. He makes interactive stories. He lets the player fill in the context they want. His stories are personal, even if they’re centred around culling giant bosses who’ve seemingly done no wrong. He likes exploring simple inputs and player goals. He doesn’t build Zelda experiences, but I’d like to see him do it. And Shadow of the Colossus just seems like the perfect vehicle, especially given it has a second lease on digital life.
And we’re not talking survival mechanics here -- rather, it would have just been good to have more to do within the game-world. More context to uncover in the myriad, empty ruins scattered about the “forbidden land”. Newer weapons to discover capable of dealing more damage, or aesthetic clothing or dressing for your horse, Agro, for example. And when you consider the game’s colossi hunting is a whopping 16 in number, with little else to do in between seeking them out and destroying them, an argument can
be made that adding a bit more to do, or explore, within the game’s vast expanse would have been welcome.
But then, it might have also ruined the soul of the game and certainly wouldn’t be a proper Ultra HD re-release of a classic action-adventure outing. I’m just torn and would have accepted more, if it was on the fantasy table.
So for the PlayStation faithful, this is a no-brainer -- I just implore you to play it on a proper 4K HDR-capable screen. Any less than that and you’re not giving yourself the visual experience Bluepoint Games worked so hard to deliver you. Beyond that sweet eye-candy though, you know what you’re in for and I doubt any of my words are going to sway you one way or another.
For newcomers, Shadow of the Colossus might be a new experience. It’s certainly unique, and in the early throes, it will
grab you. But a frustrating dynamic camera constantly trying to sell you a cinematic experience is at total odds with fighting giant beasts you literally need your eyes on all the time. Even an option to turn off the dynamic camera in favour of a player-controlled camera would have been welcome, and you will feel like you’re playing tug of war with what the game thinks
you should see, and what it is you actually want
to see. Moreover, the game’s climbing controls and mechanics can take a while to master, and even then, don’t expect it to be a totally reactive, exact 1:1 input science.
Felling these majestic, giant creatures is fun, but the formulas aren’t overtly varied enough, and it can all get a bit tedious after awhile. Seen one colossi, you’ve sort of seen them all. From an art perspective, the game’s design and renewed Ultra HD lease on life is as fresh and jaw-dropping as you’d hope with the power of PS4 Pro, but as I’ve said about other games of this visual nature in the past
, chasing eye-candy can’t be the only hook for players, especially in a day and age where gameplay is as important and varied as ever thanks largely to the burgeoning and creatively risky Indie scene. But I’m getting away from the point here.
Shadow of the Colossus has its place in videogame history. It’s not indelible, but it is much-loved and for a number of good reasons. It’s just a barebones experience that can get tiring quickly, and feels like it needed just a little bit more “oomph”. I’m not here to rag on what it meant as a game back in 2005, but I am here suggesting that a visual overhaul of this nature -- in that it is glorious -- could have also come packaged with camera and gameplay fixes, at the very least. You’ll need patience and determination above all else, but if you’re an eye-candy sort of person, Shadow has it in spades. I just wish it also had a little something more as well.