Hands On With Shadow Of The Colossus’ 4K HDR Stab In The Arm

Go ahead, remake my day

Don’t judge me, but it’s Paris Games Week and I’ve ignored behind-closed-doors access with the hottest unreleased games in favour of… well, going for a wander. More specifically: in a hands on session in front of a 4K, HDR-enabled TV, I’m reliving one of the greatest games ever put to disc, Fumito Ueda’s monster-climbing masterpiece, Shadow of the Colossus. Bluepoint Games (the outfit who handled this classic’s PS2 to PS3 conversion) is back to upscale us to even more dizzying highs, and then end result feels like a full dose nostalgia injection to mine eyeballs. 

The first thing that strikes me is how much the depth of field has been pushed back. As you may have guessed from its title, this game deals in colossal enemies – walking cities which sapped the strength of ye olde PS2, and this demanded a compromise with the background details. In its inaugural release, this meant the landscapes behind you and the colossus would be come blurry smears, a necessity that wasn’t massively improved upon in the PS3 update that followed. In 2017, you’re never robbed of the world around your climactic battles. In one particular boss fight (against Gaius, the third colossus) I found myself marvelling at the textural detail present on a clump of trees and a canyon wall far off in the distance. Foolish, really, because I was mid-climb, and my moment of graphics whore lusting ultimately got me knocked down and stomped into the dirt.

Not that this fall from grace taught me any lesson.“Ohh, look at the grass around my battered corpse,” I thought as I died, “it’s quite detailed, too.” 

And that’s just one instance of many. There were other climbs when I was distracted to my horrible, horrible death. Like that one time I whipped out my bow to pepper another colossus with arrows from afar, only to become enamoured with the individual stitching on Wander’s wristbands, and the little physics jiggle somebody spent way too much time coding for the bone charms decorating his belt. I got whack-a-moled for that stupidity as well, of course.

The textures on the colossi themselves, and the cracked stone ruins that seem to make up half of their bodies, pop with increased detail as well. The climbable hairy parts of these beast are thickly matted, rustle in the breeze, and subtly comb in your direction of ascent. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could spot individual fleas if you slammed your nose up against the 4K display. Likewise, the bizarre hieroglyphics chiseled onto almost every surface no longer look like somebody has smeared KY jelly on them; they shine like never before, and it feels like gaming secrets are being revealed from a golden era passed.

Better yet, if you like to tweak things to suit your own personal preferences, there are visual filters available (if for some reason you’re one of those weirdoes who wants to keep the motion blur effect). Then of course, there’s the benefit of being able to fight in 60fps. The sad fact is that every previous version of this game had an inconsistent frame-rate. Here, having that extra bit of fluidity to the fights makes a world of difference where the action feels far more grounded, a bit more “real-er”. (As grounded and real as things can be when you’re 20 stories up on the back of a pissed off statue). Downsides do exist with this remake, however. Though the Bluepoint rep insisted the team had “worked on” the controls, I wasn’t feeling it. I was armed with the old colossi strategies burned into my brain, but I though I was moving with economical purpose, Wander still felt a little skittish, here and there, during the climbing phases. I had one or two grumble moments when riding around on horseback, too; Agro wasn’t as responsive as I remembered. This could be nostalgia talking, however. I’ll have to go back to my PS3 copy later and compare from there, rather than beat this dead horse from Paris.

Beyond the (hopefully still being worked on) control scheme update and a new lick of paint, Bluepoint aren’t changing much else about this. I’m undecided on whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. Part of me wants to see one or two colossi scooped up from the cutting room floor (Ueda originally had a whopping 48 of them in mind, the ghosts of which still linger in the code). Another part of me thinks if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I also don’t see why a photo mode – ala the standard-setting one seen in Horizon Zero Dawn – can’t be transplanted in. Bluepoint was adventurous enough to include stereoscopic 3D support in the PS3 version – would a happy snap mode really be asking too much?Even if we don’t get that feature, and a bit of ye olde jankiness makes it back from 2005, I think Shadow of the Colossus on PS4 will still be well worth our time. It may be just one of those never-ending “more definitive-er edition” things that we’re all destined to rebuy – the gaming equivalent of how my old man had to keep getting the White album, all the way from LP through to itunes. I’m usually the first to rail against such cash-grabs, but when the experience is this timeless, it’s hard to get too angry about it. Shadow of the Colossus on PS4 is a safe bet that’s going to be well worth a stab.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Adam flew to Paris Games Week as a guest of PlayStation.