Shadow Of The Colossus Review – A beautiful, heart-breaking beast
I don’t like Wander, the ‘hero’ of Shadow Of The Colossus. I think he’s a bastard.
That’s not to say that Wander is the worst protagonist I’ve ever come across in a videogame. In terms of being morally moribund, the likes of Alex from Prototype and Trevor from GTA V leave him in the shade.
But those sods inhabited worlds that were almost as insane as they were. In the hate-filled Los Santos and the virus-ridden New York, Trevor and Alex felt less like they were ruining everything and more like they were reacting to their environment.
Wander on the other hand is let loose in a haunting, beautiful, fairytale world and what does he do? He kills a bunch of majestic, seemingly peaceful creatures for his own selfish reasons.
It feels wrong. Playing Shadow Of The Colossus feels wrong. And beautiful. And amazing. And enthralling.
If you’ve never played this game before, its story centres on Wander and his quest to revive a deceased woman. He travels to a foreign province and enters a temple in which a disembodied voice tells him that in order to revive his loved one, Wander must track and kill sixteen colossi that are lumbering about the land. Armed with only a sword and a bow and arrows, Wander sets out on his horse Argo to bring down these beasts.
That’s it, really. One of the game’s biggest strengths is its haunting atmosphere, which is helped by the threadbare lore contained in the plot. The game’s story doesn’t really give the player a lot of background to why the land Wander travels through is deserted – although its crumbling ruins hint that it was once the site of a civilisation – or the origin of the colossi.
The second is the moral ambiguity contained in this tale. Wander isn’t killing these giants to save a people or right a wrong in the world. He’s doing it because his loved is dead and he’s prepared to sacrifice the colossi to get her back. When a player finally conquers one of the beasts, the sword thrust and jets of black blood make the whole exercise feel brutally savage and outright selfish.
Moral conflicts aside, the PS4 version of Shadow Of The Colossus looks achingly beautiful, which must have been difficult for developer Bluepoint to accomplish. Updating the game to HD risked exposing a lot of the visual flaws from previous generations, but this isn’t the case here. The game is filled with beautiful architecture and flora, each landscape holding atmosphere promise of mystery and desolation. Up close, the level of detail is astonishing and Shadow’s cinematic camera makes sure that every long-viewed vista is an awe-inspiring sight.
That camera, incidentally, is one of the game’s week points too; in enclosed spaces it can play havoc with the player’s ability to see what’s going on, and feels generally like a throwback to games of bygone days. The control pad command for gripping ledges (that would be R1) is also unreliable at times; sometimes Wander can bounce about on a climbable piece of scenery, making progress feel erratic and frustrating.
The puzzle-solving aspect to each colossus battle is as awe-inspiring as it was on the PS2. As Wander approaches each giant, the player immediately finds themselves looking for handholds, platforms and weak spots (highlighted by glowing runes).
Each encounter is a tense, white-knuckled ride as Wander scrambles up the beast he faces, alternately shimmying between platforms, gripping fur on the colossus’s back and hanging on for dear life. In lesser hands, these boss battle could turn into frustrating wars of attrition, but even with its control niggles, Shadow avoids this fate. This is game that’s a wonder the first time one plays it, and it continues to reward on repeated play-throughs.
Shadow Of The Colossus Review – Verdict
Shadow Of The Colossus for the PS4 is about as good as HD remakes get. Yes, like the recent Okami HD it carries through a few last generation peccadilloes, but in they are in no way deal-breakers. It’s a majestic, brilliant jewel of a game and a must-have in any PS4 library – even if you don’t like Wander very much. And I don’t. I still don’t.
- Shadow Of The Colossus was reviewed on a PS4. A retail copy was provided by the publisher.