When Sony first announced a PS4 version of Shadow of the Colossus at E3 2017, it came as a surprise. The game wasn't a re-release of the remaster that developer Bluepoint Games made for PS3. Instead, it was a new version with completely re-worked assets. But is a remake of designer Fumito Ueda's cult classic worth revisiting even after it was already remastered in 2011? After playing a recent demo, I've discovered the answer to be a resounding yes.
The major highlight of the PS4 version is its new visuals. Shadow of the Colossus' world has been given a major facelift and it’s stunning. You need only look at the lush forest in the footage from the Sony's Paris Games Week press conference to see just how much of a step forward this remake is visually from its previous remaster. As someone who has played the original several times throughout the years, exploring the world feels familiar. But with the new assets and graphical touches, it also feels strange and foreign. Added technical enhancements, like reactive foliage, realistic water physics, and dynamic lighting, did not exist in the original or its remaster. Yet their implementation greatly enhances Shadow of Colossus' sense of scale in ways that I had never imagined.
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As a result, the Forbidden Land feels more ominous and otherworldly. I often asked myself the same questions I did when I first charted its biomes 12 years ago: "Who paved these roads? How did these desert ruins collapse?" The higher graphical fidelity facilitates nostalgic musings, but it also inspires a desire to explore the world; a feeling I rarely had playing the original. Shadow of the Colossus was widely criticized over the years for how little there was to do in its world. While this criticism may remain true for the PS4 remake, the new level of beauty present in its visuals compels me to explore the Forbidden Land and make meaning of its secrets--even if I know there’s nothing out there to find but white-tailed lizards.
While the upgraded presentation of the PS4 version is impressive, it very much plays identically to the original--for better or worse. I managed to kill two major colossi, and in that brief time, it was apparent that many of original game's problems remain: Your horse Agro is a pain to control (even with the updated control scheme) and the camera is oftentimes unwieldy during inopportune moments. But in the face of these familiar issues, it's difficult not to be impressed by the scope of the game's colossus encounters, especially with the improved visuals and performance. My battle against the airborne Phalanx Colossus was riveting. The familiar tactic of jumping off Agro and onto its wings is still as tense and demanding, and the finality of taking it down yields the same rewarding sensation. The game seems to maintain the excitement of its set piece moments, even if it's at times couched in PS2-era deficiencies.
Shadow of the Colossus on PS4 stands in an odd middle ground between remaster and remake. The game plays exactly as you remember it, but its visuals are nearly up to par with some of this console generation's latest games. From the two colossi I defeated, I'm eager to play this new version: the game's renewed beauty makes it instantly compelling to explore and the remembrances I have for it as I fell colossi pull me in even more.