Shadow of the Colossus Still Holds Up, Even If It's Controls Don't

It's a bittersweet moment.

Sweet because once again I'm riding through the forbidden land on my trusty steed, Argo, racing to hunt down the colossi. The graphics have been lovingly redone to match current PlayStation 4 standards while retaining the mysterious language and music that helped propel the game to classic status.

It's bitter because I have to hunt down these majestic golems in the name of a girl who's supposedly cursed. But, honestly, if anything in this game is cursed, it's the unnecessarily clunky controls. Still, Shadow of the Colossus, a remake of the beloved PS2 classic, deserves another play-through.

Enjoy the Scenery

Don't get so caught up in tracking down colossi that you forget to look around. This isn't a remaster like the previous PS3 rerelease, but a full remake. That means that developer Bluepoint Games and Japan Studio rebuilt Shadow specifically for the PS4. To give that some perspective, Sony says that the PS4 rendering of the Shrine of Worship has twice as much detail as the entire PlayStation 2 game world.

And while the game looks stunning on a regular PS4, Shadow is at its best on a PS4 Pro running Cinematic Mode (4K at 30 frames per second in High Dynamic Range). However, gamers who want a higher frame rate can switch to Performance Mode, which bumps the rate up to 60 fps. 

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When I left the shrine in search of the third colossus, I traveled through a grassy knoll so detailed that I could see individual blades of grass and plants. Pushing forward over a rocky path, Argo kicked up small pebbles, some of which fell down into a placid body of water below. I continued on the path until I encountered a decaying spire, half-hidden in a sun-dappled fog. Once I climbed the spire, I got a close-up view of my target's blue-black fur blowing gently in the wind, before it rose to meet me in battle.

See a mind-blowing vista or want to capture a shot of yourself felling a pesky colossi? Once Photo Mode is activated, you can unleash your inner Annie Leibovitz. Photo Mode gives you near-complete control of the camera, from switching between Wander and Argo's perspective to flipping the shooter 90 degrees for smartphone wallpaper-friendly shots.

After you've snapped your shot, you have a number of filters at your disposal as well as control over depth of field and color balancing. I enjoyed creating a piece of the game in my image.

Plot: As mysterious as ever

The visuals might have been rebuilt, but the plot remains the same. Gamers play as Wander, who's on a mission to resurrect Mono, a young woman sacrificed because she was believed to have a cursed destiny. To restore Mono to life, Wander travels to the forbidden land to seek out the god Dormin, who is said to possess the power of resurrection. Dormin agrees to aid Wander, on the condition that the protagonist hunt down 16 fearsome colossi. The god further warns that Wander will have to pay a terrible price.

Shadow is at its best on the PS4 Pro

Even though I played through Shadow of the Colossus when it launched back in 2005, I still find myself conflicted about Team Ico's sparse plot. Did Mono deserve to be sacrificed, and should I in turn destroy these beautiful giants just to bring her back? The exhilaration I felt traversing the expanse of a colossus's body, making my way to its weak points was tempered by tinges of regret as I watched the life drain from these mysterious beings once I struck the final blow.

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What is Dormin, really? It's obvious that Dormin used Wander for its own ulterior purposes. After all these years, I'm still left wondering if the deity was benevolent or malevolent. And while there's a clear connection to Ico, Team Ico's first title, it's never truly spelled out whether Shadow of the Colossus is a true prequel or simply takes place in the same world. Either way, it's a haunting story of desire and sacrifice that holds up to this day.

New Visuals, Same Clunky Controls

I wish I could say that the game's controls are as pretty as the game world. However, this new version of Shadow holds fast to those unwieldy button placements from the original title. And yes, I know that Shadow isn't a traditional platformer, but I was hoping for some reprieve from clutching the R1 to grip and scale colossi limbs. Alas, it was not to be. Instead, I was holding down that button as if my life depended on it (because in many cases it did) as the beast in question did its best to shake me off like a bothersome tick.

Many times as I made my way toward my goal, I found myself plummeting to the ground midclimb due to a misplaced hand. I can't tell you how many times I attempted to make progress on a colossus, only to gnash my teeth when my hand, which a second ago had held a clump of fur, was now empty as I fell to the ground.

I traveled through a grassy knoll so detailed that I could see individual blades of grass and plants

I was also hoping for some more precision from the bow and arrow or at least a rudimentary auto lock. But no, those are the cushy accoutrements of a modern game. The Argo controls continue to be the worst of the bunch. Trying to use the left analog stick to steer the horse was an exercise of wills that I always lost. I pointed the stick left, and he veered right; sometimes, I thought Argo and I were going to walk straight off a cliff.

I soon learned that Argo can steer himself for the most part. All I had to do was hit X a few times to get him to a gallop, and I was free to look around. But nothing could improve the other mechanics like drawing the bow and arrow or using the sword to locate the next colossus. I never got comfortable performing other functions on Argo. I would just stop, do what I had to do and resume riding.

However, Bluepoint has made some improvements to the controls. When aiming the bow, Wander turns and faces where the camera is pointing, so you can get a better idea of where you're aiming and shooting. And you no longer have to line up precisely with Argo's saddle to mount; instead, you can jump on from nearly any angle. Bluepoint also cut down on the amount of cheap deaths by fixing the input detection between jumps. So, Wander will reach out and grab that ledge when you're platforming, instead of needlessly falling to his doom.

As clunky as Shadow's controls are, they're mapped that way for a reason. There's no auto aim in real life, and if you've ever tried to climb something, you know there's never a moment when you can just stop holding on. You're supposed to be white-knuckling the R1 button because you're literally holding on for your (character's) life while trying to climb and murder a huge golem. It's annoying, but realistic.

Bottom Line

So, should you play this version of Shadow of the Colossus? Absolutely. The remake is breathtaking at 4K and really has to been seen to be believed. Newbies will get lost in the story, while veterans can revisit and reflect on the seemingly impossible choices they made. It's also fun to see how quickly you can bring down the behemoths.

And if the gravity of the story ever weighs you down, Photo Mode is a fun diversion that can take your mind off the task at hand. But overall, the remake of Shadow of the Colossus is more than an old game with a new coat of paint, and it deserves your time and dollars.