Shadow of the Colossus Review

The spectral embrace of a pale moon’s glow illuminates the cloaked vigilance of night’s most solemn scout.  Splattered echoes of eternal transformation seep into the world below, serving as soothing reminders of inexorable truths.  A prodigious temple looms in the distance, luring broken souls towards the illusion of reclamation, while the fragile silhouette of destitution strides the hallowed path of desperate faith.  Night’s placid caress recedes to the radiance of dawn, breathing new life into an ancient world.  Twin spires pierce the heavens, highlighting the way forward thru cobbled halls of sand and stone.  The path is clear now, your destination lies beyond the distorted dissent of the howling winds, inside the tomb where all points intersect.  Descend into the pit of sorrow to relinquish your grief at any cost. Stride the path of the forbidden.   

From the moment the opening cinematic unfolds, Shadow of the Colossus begins luring you into a dreamworld of sorrow.  A world consumed by grief – preserved within the isolated realm of the long forgotten.  The mesmerizing beauty of its vast and deserted plains steals your attention, distracting you from its prophetic resonance.  The pure spectacle of each surreal landscape evokes a genuine sense of discovery, as you’re stolen deeper into the destructive nature of selfishness, amidst the violent pursuit of love eternal.  

Shadow of the Colossus is a highly conceptualized and profoundly reflective examination of the moral landscape, putting players into the role of Wander, a young man who must travel by horseback to a forbidden land in hopes of resurrecting the cursed soul of a deceased woman of vital significance.  Wander’s journey begins within a grand mausoleum containing sixteen idols and an elaborate altar bathed in the lucent warmth of the sun.  Placing the limp body atop the altar stirs the attention of several blurred shades bound within the confines of this opulent grave.  A celestial voice responds to Wander’s wistful pleading from a skylight overhead, intrigued by the ancient sword in his possession.  The voice fills the void with transforming masculine and feminine reverberations, alluding to the possibility of restoring the woman’s soul if you agree to slay sixteen Colossi which roam this cursed land.  Despite the questionable nature of this task and its direct contradiction to the laws of mortality, Wander swiftly commences the hunt for his first victim.  

Traversing each breathtaking environment on your way to the next colossus is an unparalleled – synergistic fusion of stunning visual design, ethereal tonality and self-reflection.  Lush flora highlights the stoic beauty of cryptic architecture.  Oppressive skies smother daylight’s jurisdiction.  Desert sands twirl with savage grace, surging rapids careen over callous boundaries, and austere cliffs conceal the gnawing heartache of isolation.  It becomes evident early on that you are very much alone in this world.  The peculiar emptiness lures you adrift within its melancholy themes, absolving players compulsions for freedom of choice and control by petitioning their faith in the linear experience laid out before them.  This uncompromising narrative approach cleverly positions the player in the role of the observer.  Leaving you to grapple with the emotional complexity of Wander’s actions.

Tracking, discovering and ultimately slaying each colossus, is a purposefully evocative design, which challenges the emotional range of the player.  Observing each beast’s behaviors feels as if you’re in the presence of inexplicable majesty.  A humbling sense of scale inspires awe, as you struggle to comprehend each ambling megalithic construct of earth, fur and masonry.  Each of their unique appearances is wrought with fearsome and imposing design.  From a distance, the colossi appear to straddle the line of autonomy and consciousness.  Their lifeless cerulean eyes portray a docile innocence prior to provocation.  As you charge towards your target, the sweeping gothic hymns associated with exploration transform into heart pounding symphonic movements of epic composition.  The vacant facade of your enemy mutates into vehement aggression, as the colossi recognize your murderous intentions and prepare to defend their life at all costs.  Mounting each colossus becomes a puzzle in and of itself, as players conceive the strategy to exposing each of their dynamic weaknesses before beginning their adrenaline fueled ascension.  

Making your way around on each colossus is made simple by the revamped control scheme and optimal camera adjustments, which are far more intuitive than their predecessors.  Unfortunately, the controls on horseback remain clunky and camera positioning remains more cinematic than functional.  The buckling frame rates from the original have also been fixed and the game performs just as well as it looks on the PS4 Pro at 60 frames per second (about half that on the original PS4).  Swiftly scaling each behemoth is an increasingly intense roller coaster ride, as winds coarse through rippling tufts of fur, violent convulsions attempt to tear away your grasp and anatomy morphs in self defense.  With your sword equipped, their vulnerabilities become illuminated for you to repeatedly impale once you’ve stabilized yourself in the proper position to do so.   

Delivering the killing blow provides a momentous, yet fleeting notion of triumph, as their eyes fade to black.  With viscous shadow pouring out of their wound, their commanding presence shrivels into a mournful contour of extinguished majesty.  The feeling of immense guilt washes over you as the reality of what began as terrifying brutality shifts to sobering empathy.  During several encounters, colossi will pause to examine their puny murderous aggressor with brilliantly animated curiosity.  These fading moments of respite effectively humanize your opposition just before the apathy between conflicted motives overrides any sense of compassion.  Witnessing each hulking shape dissolve into tendrils of pulsating shadow weaves an emotionally challenging and isolating layer into every encounter.

Upon completion, time attack and new game + modes are unlocked, providing ample replayability in conjunction with the additional secret weapons and hidden items to discover.  While the game is relatively easy on normal and hard difficulties, time attack demands a solid understanding of the games combat mechanics and the ability to efficiently execute them under pressure.  The six hours it took me to complete my initial playthrough felt like the perfect length in a market constantly under pressure to justify price tags.  The trend of incorporating shallow content for the sake of game length often results in games which fail to coherently tell their story or maintain a consistent experience that manages to avoid redundancy.  Shadow of the Colossus remains concise and compelling throughout its entirety.  

Thirteen years since the initial release of Shadow of the Colossus, it’s evident how many games have drawn inspiration from its innovative combat and unique approach to cinematic gameplay.  For those that haven’t played the original, they may find themselves surprised by just how inventive the game remains by modern standards.  Shadow of the Colossus is a testament to the belief that videogames are the most immersive form of entertainment.  Intensely cinematic and flawlessly conceptualized, Shadow of the Colossus is a living, breathing work of art.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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