The Slow Regard of Massive Things
Desensitization in games can mean a lot of things. The most common connection is arguably to violence. Don’t let the kiddies see too much blood and death in these Calls of Dutys, the concerned parents and occasional congresspeople say. It’ll give them an insatiable urge for bloodlust! But it goes beyond that. A game-playing person can be desensitized to any number of things a game might try and convey. I think a key one of those things is creating enemies that actually feel imposing. We live in an era of open-world games with hundreds of things to kill, and outside of multiplayer experiences like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, there aren’t really a lot of games that put a ton of weight on singular enemies. That’s why a remake of something like Shadow of the Colossus is not only a reminder of a great game, but a lesson in the weight and power that can be conveyed in a single foe. Shadow of the Colossus is a masterclass in enemy design. It always has been. And now, it gets to show off its stuff while running smoother and looking better than ever before.
Into the sealed lands
Shadow of the Colossus builds an undertaking on a simple premise. A lone wanderer enters a sealed-off cursed land with nothing but a sword and bow at his hip, a loyal horse on which to ride, and a dead young woman in his arms. In this lonely land, he comes to the altar of a mysterious demigod-like being known as Dormin, asking for salvation for his lost love. Dormin tells him that the woman can be resurrected if the wanderer takes magic sword in hand and goes off to confront a series of 16 colossi that wander the land. And just like that, it’s time for the hunt to begin.
The world of Shadow of the Colossus is expansive enough to accent it’s overarching deadness. That’s not to say nothing grows there. There are bits of wildlife, lush forests, glistening lakes and the intricate, Aztec-inspired architecture of the people who once lived here before it was all sealed off. But there’s an atmosphere of hollowness and vacancy, as the wanderer holds his sword aloft as a compass to the next great beast to slay. All of this emptiness, then, only further accents the meat of the game, which is taking on the giants themselves.
Like it’s premise, Shdaow of the Colossus‘ breadth of gameplay mechanics isn’t that huge, either, nor does it need to be. The sword does stabby things, as swords are one to do, but is also used to find the particular weak points on whichever big, big boy you’re squaring off against. There’s a bow and arrows as well. What’s nice about the remake is Bluepoint decided to make this item actually usable, a feature arguably devoid from the original. More particularly, it’s quite a bit easier to fire arrows while riding horseback now, which is extremely useful when facing a couple particular colossi. Also new to this remake is a photo mode, so no matter where you are in exploring or fighting, you can pause for a second and snap a nice fantasy polaroid.
The nature of the beast
One can’t say much more about Shadow of the Colossus without talking in more depth about the titular giants themselves, so let’s do that. This is where the game’s power and inventiveness are centered, after all. Each colossus is a moving puzzle in itself. Whether it walks on two legs or four, whether it’s huge and slow or smaller and irritable, each colossus is a gripping experience to fight, because each manipulates tension in a different way. For some, the simple act of running up to something as absolutely large as Valus is enough. Does that not do it for you? How about the tension of fighting something that moves faster, and can hit you from a distance, like Kuromori? What about a foe you can’t always see, like Hydrus?
Regardless of what kind of tension it is that gets to you, all are coupled with the release of figuring out how to best whatever foe you’re facing. Nothing pairs with the imposing might of a hulking architectural ox-beast like showing it who’s boss once you’ve solved the puzzle of how to get to its sore spot. You swim around a still lake as Avion the bird looms like a shadow of death. You wait. He waits. What’s he gonna, do? What’s this damn bird gonna do? And then you provoke it, and next thing you know, you’re riding this thing to valhalla, blood spewing from its wing as you hold on for dear life.
Getting a grip
Shadow of the Colossus is mechanically much the same as it ever was, which is mostly fine. The Wanderer has a stamina bar and health meter. Both can be improved as the player goes on through the game. Stamina is used for grip, which you’ll need a whole hell of a lot of when holding onto a colossus as it thrashes about, desperate to get you off before it gets tired and gives you the chance to take a sizable stab at its massive glowing weak point.
Patience and resilience are both skills this system demands. Sometimes you get a weak spot on something like an arm or wing, where there’s enough steady fur-ground to hold onto. But Shadow of the Colossus is not a twitch-based game. The wanderer has his own physics, and everything else does as well. As stated, hitting a colossus in its weak spot takes a moment, as every attack must be to some degree charged. This can be frustrating, but the reward of downing one of these impossibly ancient creatures is incredible. It’s interesting that this game came out so close on the heels of Monster Hunter: World, because it’s a similar kind of rush.
Unfortunately, it’s not perfect. I was lucky enough not to face the worst of it, personally, but many players have reported issues occasionally popping in causing the wanderer to climb in the wrong direction or lose grip suddenly while there’s still some left in the meter. I only ran into a small instance of this with the game’s final colossus. Generally speaking, these issues are nowhere near constant. But it’s more than a shame that they would crop up in a remake of a game that already had issues to begin with. Also, they couldn’t have fixed the thing where the horse slows down upon turning, even slightly? There is literally no reason for that to be there. Nobody is helped. Nothing is gained. Agro is still a stupid horse.
Large, old, enduring
Shadow of the Colossus is a beautiful remake of a PS2 classic. There are things it could have improved on but didn’t, and that is a shame. But the artistry with which every fight in the game’s 6-hour length presents itself endures. As its own scenario, its own experiment, it’s own idea of how to raise tension and adrenaline. Outpacing giants on horseback, tricking monsters off ledges or into traps, and weaving through the woods and mountains and deserts and piecing together what once was, is just as magical as it ever was. Bluepoint found one of the most unique atmospheres of isolation in exploration in gaming, and managed to keep it intact as they rebuilt Shadow of the Colossus; by mountain, by forest, by titanic hulking beast.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PlayStation 4; Publisher: SONY Interactive Entertainment; Developer: SONY Interactive Entertainment Japan Studio, Bluepoint Studio; Players: 1 ; Released: February 6, 2018 ; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Shadow of the Colossus (PS4) purchased by Hey Poor Player.