Reviews// Shadow of the Colossus

Posted 1 Mar 2018 10:31 by
Of all the games that I have played over the last few years, Shadow of the Colossus is possibly one of the most difficult for me to write about. The game has a storied history. It was first released on the PlayStation 2 towards the end of its lifespan, before being re-released in an updated form on the PlayStation 3. I only had a PlayStation 2 for a short while and I never owned a PlayStation 3. I have fond memories of ICO and I very much enjoyed The Last Guardian, despite its faults.

Shadow of the Colossus has often been described to me as being one of the best games ever made, so naturally I was eager to play this remake by Bluepoint Games. As an emotional journey it is exceptionally well plotted. However, I have to admit that I found it rather difficult to ignore some of the more irritating aspects of the game. These aspects, although not enough to significantly damage the experience, are a little unfortunate.

Shadow of the Colossus follows the journey of 'Wander' a young man attempting to return life to a girl named Mono who has been sacrificed because she was believed to be cursed. Wander enters into a deal with an unseen entity known as 'Dormin' who tells him that if he manages to slay the Colossi that inhabit the game's world he will use his power to return Mono to life.

The relationship between Wander and Mono is not clearly established, but his desire to restore her life is strong and Wander sets out to bring down his first Colossus. The game begins inside a central hub area, an enormous structure rather reminiscent of the castle from ICO. By holding his sword aloft, the player is able to determine the direction that he or she must go by reflecting the light of the sun. This system works reasonably well, and I was generally able to navigate the environment quite quickly, only getting lost once or twice.

This targeted approach to progress does, in my mind, have one disadvantage. I felt far less inclined to explore the vast world map as I knew that it would be unlikely that I would find anything of real significance. It appeared that Colossi could only be engaged in a specific order. Consequently, I rather felt that I was just travelling from one location to another in order to complete an objective, rather than more naturally exploring the world in front of me.

The world recreated by Bluepoint on the PlayStation 4 is positively stunning and is probably one of the most beautiful games I have ever seen. It is the first game in which I have felt the desire to take screenshots and share them with other people. The lush green fields, the grass swaying in the wind, the waterfalls and ancient buildings, are really utterly incredible and do a magnificent job of establishing a sense of place and atmosphere. As with the imagery of The Last Guardian, the gigantic ruins hint at a vast but unknowable fallen civilisation, the colossal broken bridges of a world once controlled by a complex culture.

Unfortunately, the degree to which the player is able to interact with this world is minimal. I have no problem with the barren nature of the world, the plot after all explains that this is a forbidden, sacred land. However, I would have enjoyed the opportunity to climb some of the mountains or navigate the environment in less prescriptive ways than those that are available. The world created by Team ICO looks incredible, I just wish they would have provided the means and incentive to explore it in more depth.

Although exploration is rather limited, the core of the game, the defeat of the Colossi, is extremely engaging. Each encounter provides a generally unique experience as the player attempts to understand the best method for taking on such gigantic and relentless beasts. Each Colossi represents a new environmental challenge, some of which provide truly breath-taking experiences. I am unlikely to forget the moment I first encountered a flying Colossus or the exhilaration of hanging on to its wings for dear life as it flew through the air whilst I desperately tried to inch closer to its head with my sword. These encounters are long enough to prove satisfying, but short enough that they never really become repetitive; with one exception.

Shadow of the Colossus has one of the absolute worst final enemies that I have encountered in recent years. My time spent defeating it left me extremely frustrated as the usually tight level design and adequate controls appeared to be abandoned in favour of luck.

Words cannot express how much I disliked this experience and for some time afterwards it significantly soured my feeling for the game. Bluepoint got so much right with this remake. As I have already mentioned, it looks incredible and I had no problem with the control systems. I just wish that further attention had been given to this final aspect of the game. The quality of the Colossi is universally good, with the exception of what should have been the game's crowning triumph. The last Colossus should provide the opportunity for the player to utilise all the skills they had acquired in previous battles for one final and memorable engagement. It certainly was memorable, but not for the right reasons.

Shadow of the Colossus is undoubtedly a seminal piece of game design. The story that unfolds, although melancholy, also provides hope and is certainly not one I will soon forget. Visually the game is stunning, I really can't emphasise that enough, with a soundtrack that raises the level of any encounter with a Colossus.

My issues with the lack of exploration are largely the result of the game's PlayStation 2 roots and it would be unfair to focus too greatly on this aspect. Indeed, that the game remains so engaging after all these years, despite the final encounter, is testament to the vision of the original design team and the
excellent job undertaken by Bluepoint for this remaster.

+ Visually stunning.
+ Incredible atmosphere.
+ Innovative from one Colossus to another.

- The final Colossus.
- World exploration is rather limited.
- The final Colossus.

SPOnG Score: 8/10

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