It is a little hard to believe that six years have passed since Shadow of the Colossus was originally released for the PlayStation 2. With its wholly unique premise and unparalleled atmospheric prose, the game has long been hailed as one of the finest PS2 games ever released, and one of the strongest arguments for videogames as an art form. This particular reviewer has extremely fond memories of the game, so obviously the prospect of a high-definition remake in the form of The Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection was impossible to pass up. Even after six years, Shadow remains one of the most unique and beautiful interactive experiences ever created. That combined with an impressive HD facelift, a bargain price tag, and an HD remake of spiritual predecessor Ico makes this game a must-have for PlayStation 3 owners.
While most are surely familiar with the basics of Shadow‘s plot, here they are for posterity’s sake: the player takes on the role of a mysterious young man named Wander, who enters a forbidden land with only a sword, his horse, and the dead of body of a girl named Mono. Upon entering a massive temple, a disembodied voice addresses Wander, and promises to bring back her soul in exchange for a task – or, sixteen task, as it were. Sixteen beasts known as the Colossi occupy this land, and Wander must find, confront, and slay each one of them.
Save for the beginning and end of the game, Shadow does not employ a great deal of story exposition. The player’s objective is clear enough, and there is little need for further explanatory cutscenes. While this lack of dynamic plot development may be a turn-off to some, it should easily be recognized that Shadow benefits from this minimalistic form of storytelling – and, in fact, it is a key contributor to the game’s atmosphere. The player is almost never taken out of the game’s world – which greatly enhances the sense of immersion, as well as the constant tone of isolation.
The gameplay in Shadow of the Colossus is unconventional, to say the least. The single objective throughout is to hunt down and slay sixteen colossi – which literally entails jumping on Wander’s trusty horse, seeking out the colossi in question, then slaying him. This might sound like a recipe for a very short game, but each battle is a puzzle in and of itself – each Colossus has a trick, pattern, or weakness that must be discovered and exploited in order to win. The puzzles are generally quite clever, and the process of analyzing, combating, and finally taking down these massive beasts is incredibly rewarding.
And that is to say nothing of thrilling. In addition to being the brunt of the gameplay, the Colossi battles are among the most cinematic and breathtaking visual spectacles in videogame history. Clinging for dear life to the wings of a giant bird as he spins and twirls through the air, shooting a grotesquely large sandworm in the eye while simultaneously fleeing from it on horseback, dodging a sword that is easily the size of a building; these things are not only thrilling in the moment, but create memories that are never forgotten. Simply put, Shadow of the Colossus defined “cinematic gameplay” back in 2005, and it still does today.
When Wander is not engaged in combat, he is likely riding his trusty horse Agro throughout the game’s massive world. While this may not seem like something worth speaking of, it absolutely is. The Colossi may steal the show due to their sheer visual spectacle, but the masterful atmosphere of Shadow is largely conveyed through its beautiful, silent world. Aside from the Colossi, there are no denizens of the land, man or beast – save for the harmless lizards that crawl around, and a hawk that seems to pop up at the most cinematically appropriate times. At all times, it is simply Wander, his horse, and the roar of the winds. The atmosphere can be compared to games such as Metroid Prime and to Shadow‘s own predecessor Ico, but neither comparisons provide full justice – Shadow of the Colossus is a game that must be experienced in order to understand.
The fact that the game is now prettier than ever certainly aids its cause. Many readers may be skimming through this review simply to find out how effectively the game transfers to HD, which is understandable; and the answer is “quite well.” Upon its release in 2005, Shadow‘s visuals impressed more for their artistic merit than technical, and this is still true of the remake – but make no mistake, it is wonderful to see the game’s uniquely soft and muted visuals given the HD treatment. The Colossi, in particular, look fantastic – more so than they ever have. And, in all likelihood, the player will be compelled on more than one occasion to stop, stand, and simply take in their surroundings – which, of course, are now prettier than ever. A framerate locked in at 60fps is nice as well; it (obviously) eliminates the mild frame issues that occasionally hindered the original PS2 release. By this reviewer’s experience there is but one graphical issue that rears its ugly head, and this is texture pop-in; a problem that I do not believe was present in the original, at least not to this extent. While certainly not a deal-breaker, it occurs far more often than it should, and does occasionally mar the sense of immersion.
Six years after the fact, Shadow of the Colossus is still something special, and this HD remake is an absolute must-have for those who have yet to experience this classic. For those who have, a return journey is absolutely worth the time, and not only because the game is so much prettier now. It is truly the only experience of its kind, and that sort of experience is worth having again. And again. Check back in a fortnight for my review of the other half of this collection, Ico HD.