I’ve already written my fair share of content about my favourite video game of all time, Shadow of the Colossus, from reviewing it on PS4, to dissecting just how effective its open-world is, to getting behind-the-scenes to explore the cut colossi from the game. However, I’ve decided to compile a more comprehensive look into the numerous reasons why Bluepoint Games’ landmark remake of Shadow of the Colossus on PS4 should be high up on your must-play list if you haven’t given it a chance. I won’t be divulging in too many spoilers (since you may have already come across some content about the game), but I’ll do my best to condense these points on why the title is a quintessential play on PS4.
Shadow of the Colossus drew a lot of people in thanks to its powerful story – and I use the word “powerful” as the aptest description of its narrative. Taking place in a far-off, mystical kingdom called the Forbidden Land, Shadow of the Colossus follows the story of Wander, who travels to these lands with his horse, Agro, and deceased lover in arms. The lands speak of ancient magic that can resurrect his fallen lover, but it comes with a catch: Wander must first slay sixteen enormous creatures that roam the Forbidden Land. Without spoiling too much of the story, the climax is emotional, intense, and well worth the long and epic journey that must simply be experienced to be believed.
Superb Visual Upgrade
Bluepoint Games did a phenomenal job in the graphics department for Shadow of the Colossus on PS4, taking what Team Ico achieved all the way back on the PS2 and making significant upgrades to its overall visual design. While the PS2 game’s art style was a limitation of the PS2 hardware back then, Bluepoint had more freedom on the PS4 to create a far more dynamic and immersive world, including fantastic new animations and visual touches for characters and the colossi themselves. Finally, Shadow of the Colossus was realized to its full potential on current-gen hardware, and it’s truly a sight to behold.
Gargantuan Open World
By comparison, Shadow of the Colossus open world might not scale the ambitious sizes of games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, but it more than makes up for its epic scale with the most unique and expansive open world ever put to a video game. The Forbidden Land features wide open spaces, vast stretches of deserts and fields, and hidden paths in mountains to explore. With so much empty space, Shadow of the Colossus fills it with a sense of wonder, mystery, and intrigue – a palpable, haunting atmosphere that few games rarely achieve today.
A Simple Gameplay Loop
Shadow of the Colossus is unlike any other action/adventure game on the market, largely thanks to its rather simple gameplay loop. There are no smaller enemies to fight, no meaningless objectives to complete, and no fluff to pad out the game’s length. Instead, your one objective from the moment-to-moment gameplay is basic: highlight a path to your next target colossus using your sword, travel to its domain, and slay it (a boss rush, if you will). This makes the game remarkably accessible, and removes the extra padding that often weighs down open-world games of this scale.
The mission of slaying colossi isn’t as simple as running up to it and hacking away at its feet until it dies. Instead, each colossus is designed like an elaborate puzzle. With weak points strategically placed on vital parts of its body, players must figure out ways to engage the colossus by using the environment and the limited tools at their disposal. When I say “limited”, all you really have is a sword and bow (with the occasional torch). It’s all up to how you use these tools to take down the colossus. The puzzle-solving is ingeniously designed based on each colossi’s natural abilities and mannerisms. For example, to bring down a flying colossus, the bow might come in handy. The game does a great job of not holding your hand, and rewards your intelligence once you figure out exactly how to take down your target.
As previously mentioned, the Forbidden Land is massive, but outside of the areas that take you to the colossi domain, you’re free to basically explore every piece of the world from the get-go. There’s no collect-a-thons going on except for the odd lizard hunts, but just exploring and discovering new areas out in the open is wonderful and oddly, quite relaxing. You explore at your own pace, and if the bombastic action gets too intense, you can simply uncover new parts of the map at your own leisure.
Tying into the previous point, coming across these hidden and often out-of-reach areas comes with its own personal rewards. Most of the time, uncovering a new part of the map won’t yield any immediate rewards, but it does give players something a bit more valuable, in my opinion: wonder. Many open-world games miss the mark entirely of how important their world design is, but Shadow of the Colossus leans into this aspect to great effect. The landscapes are unique in that you probably will never encounter them in any other open-world title, which is where the game soars.
All of this exploration wouldn’t be possible (or as speedy) without a trusty horse, and that’s where Agro comes in. For the large majority of the game, you’re entirely alone in the Forbidden Land. There are no NPCs, no densely populated villages or towns, and hardly any signs of life except for small animals you’ll occasionally come across. Agro plays the vital role of being your mode of transport, but also your only friend in this vast, desolate world. Thus, Agro also remains your anchor, and your only real emotional connection. He’s undoubtedly one of the best horses in all of gaming.
Connections to Ico & The Last Guardian
Team Ico, led by the talented Fumito Ueda, previously made the PS2 classic, Ico, and the PS4 title, The Last Guardian. Stylistically, it’s hard to ignore the obvious similarities between all three games. Each game takes place in wondrous kingdoms, have similar gameplay mechanics, and are only speculatively tied with overarching lore that requires players to be more attentive to its narratives and worlds. Of course, this hasn’t been confirmed or denied by Ueda either, so it’s up to the player to imagine just how deeply connected these games are, giving them layers. I mean, c’mon, Trico isn’t the elusive 17th colossus, right?
We can’t talk about Shadow of the Colossus without mentioning the absolutely mesmerizing soundtrack by Kow Otani. The music evokes so much powerful emotion, that it’s hard not to get at least teary-eyed during some of its quieter, more intimate moments. Couple that sense of mystery and wonder that the iconic “Prologue” theme evokes with the booming orchestra of the battle music (“The Opened Way” being the standout), and you have the ingredients for a legendary, unforgettable soundtrack.
The Art of Adventure
Shadow of the Colossus has been used countless times in the age-old (and frankly redundant) argument of if video games can be considered art. My simple response is yes, video games are an art form, but Shadow of the Colossus‘ presentation makes it easier to digest and grasp in that regard. Ueda’s team have done an astounding job in creating a piece of high art in gaming, one that really transcends expectations with its distinctive look, feel, and tone.
While closer in DNA to its cousins, Ico and The Last Guardian, there really isn’t any other game like Shadow of the Colossus. Yes, it has spawned its fair share of imitators and some who drew inspiration from its formula, but there hasn’t been anything attempted in gaming to this degree and there probably never will. It’s not an easy game to replicate, but most importantly, it can’t be.
It really takes a person with a heart of cold steel to not at least feel an ounce of emotion during Shadow of the Colossus. While the narrative is mostly bare up until its climax, there are enough big emotional pay-offs in the last few hours of the game alone to warrant a tear or two. Again, without spoiling anything, the emotions are magnificently built up and unleashed in its stunning climactic moments.
The gaming industry has a large amount of respect for Fumito Ueda, the mind behind Shadow of the Colossus, and for good reasons. His vision for the game was unwavering and, even going against the current of traditional game design at the time, was able to boldly subvert expectations and our understanding of what an open world/action-adventure game should be. This has, of course, allowed other developers to think more creatively, and encouraged them to follow their visions confidently. I believe Shadow of the Colossus opened that door for a lot of game developers today, which is why Ueda cannot be understated as one of the most important game creators of our time.
The biggest point on this list (no pun intended) is the colossi themselves. Inspired by actual animals and wildlife today, the colossi designs are cleverly designed to resemble, well, moving structures too. From birds and tortoises to snakes and humanoids, the colossi are all unique in their designs and usually, its their basic anatomy that players must consider as puzzles in order to bring them down. For example, the third colossi, a humanoid knight, wields a giant sword that he constantly uses to attack you. By plummeting his gigantic stone sword into the ground, it suddenly becomes a ramp that players can use to run up to his arm. As the game goes on, the colossi become more challenging, not only from a difficulty standpoint, but from design too. Engaging these hulking creatures is only one part of the obstacle, as traversing the environment to find their domains is a task in an of itself. Needless to say, some of Shadow of the Colossus‘ designs have become iconic in gaming.
It’s Free on PS Plus in March!
By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the great news that Bluepoint’s Shadow of the Colossus will be free for PlayStation Plus subscribers in March 2020. This is an ideal time to pick the game up if you haven’t given it a chance, and I hope that these reasons have now given you an incentive to at least try out this masterpiece.