Shadow of the Colossus PS4 remake review | Haunting, beautiful and still one of the best games ever made

When does acting upon your love for someone become wrong? This is the most interesting of Shadow of the Colossus’ questions and the one that embeds this masterpiece with intrigue and continued relevance 13 years after its initial release.

The power in Fumito Ueda’s work comes from the questions it asks, not the answers it gives. Like its siblings, ICO and The Last Guardian, Shadow of the Colossus is at its best when it provides space where player speculation can take hold. This is a game that understands that the most powerful answers come from what is found within you, not what is explicitly told to you.

As such, even if you played Colossus when it emerged in 2005 this technically-tinkered PS4 edition is well worth your time and effort. The visuals have taken a massive leap forward and the sounds and animations are crisper than ever, but it is the questions that remain key. And the answers may come from the person you are today, meaning the answers might be different to those you offered over a decade ago.

We play as Wander, a warrior whose life  revolves around a young girl, Mono, who has been sacrificed after being labelled as cursed.

In a forbidden land there is rumoured to be power enough to reanimate Mono. So Wander travels there, breaking the rules of his society, as his last resort. He is clearly in love with Mono to the point that he is prepared to abandon his people and the culture that – presumably – nurtured him and his existence up until this point.

Here, a great power promises Wander that it will restore Mono’s life only if our hero kills the 16 Colossi roaming the plains.

Ostensibly, Shadow of the Colossus is an action game but, even after all these years, it serves up a formula that is uniquely and unfailingly engaging. Each Colossi could be described as a ‘level’ unto itself, the goal being to work out how to traverse, weaken and ultimately destroy these enormous, powerful and beautiful beasts.

Their visual design blends perfectly with the interactions they ask you to work out and perform in order to kill them. The hair on their backs, bangles around their wrists, weapons in their hands and wings connected to their torso are aesthetically appealing but also, almost without fail, serve a gameplay purpose.

This relationship between visuals and interactions is masterfully developed and helps us to understand and appreciate the design on show here more than we perhaps would otherwise. Our appreciation of them as a picture leads you to the answer in how to destroy them. Observe their beauty to unleash your destruction.

It is this beauty and our speculation as to the nature of their existence that crystallises the question of the moral and ethical limits of love. Is it right to kill in order to save those that we love when those we’re killing pose no perceptible danger to us?

If you were required to kill someone in order to save someone you love, would you do it? Would doing so make you evil? Would not doing so undermine your love? Is there a point at which unconditional love can be used against you and corrupt your own vision of who you and are and who you want to be?

Colossus is at its best when it leaves you to fill in the blanks, giving you cause to discuss your findings with friends and other loved ones, revealing something about how those around you interpret the world.

And perhaps because of my increased age since first playing through this adventure and my pre-knowledge of the narrative, playing Colossus in 2018 made me wish the game is more ambiguous than it already is.

At its finale this fairy tale does shed some light on Ueda’s answers to these questions. They are never enough to fully complete the circle and shut you off from inserting your own interpretation into it, but they are enough to tempt you into thinking that there might be a ‘right’ way to construe events.

Shadow of the Colossus PS4 remake

Still, as with conceptual art, Colossus embraces the notion that it’s the idea behind the game that’s more important than the game itself, doing enough to not force an answer onto you. Instead, Colossus is more concerned with tempting your own understanding out of you. Few games have the inclination or bravery to embrace this approach.

But even without these conceptual elements, this is a game that demonstrates superior design and execution to most and this particular edition is the finest yet. The fact that it can still be appreciated in so many ways, through both the mind and your fingers, almost a decade and a half after it first arrived stands as evidence of Ueda’s incredible talent as both a designer and cultivator of reaction from his players.

In 2005 Shadow of the Colossus was a masterpiece and that remains so in 2018. This is one of the greatest games ever made and is an accolade that shows no sign of being detached from its monumental presence.

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