How 'Shadow of the Colossus' On PS4 Can Perfect a Flawed Masterpiece

How 'Shadow of the Colossus' On PS4 Can Perfect a Flawed Masterpiece

The upcoming 'Shadow of the Colossus' remake for PS4 has a shot of being the definitive edition of the flawed classic Sony

Team Ico's 12-year-old monster marvel is already a classic, but the remake can make huge visual improvements and reintroduce cut Colossi

Team Ico's 12-year-old monster marvel is already a classic, but the remake can make huge visual improvements and reintroduce cut Colossi

An epic demo of Insomniac's upcoming Spider-Man may have spun a wondrous web of hype to close this year's PlayStation E3 press conference, but it wasn't the highlight of Sony's show. That honor undoubtedly goes to the most surprising announcement of the entire expo: PS2 masterpiece Shadow of The Colossus is being remade on PS4.

In case you're not familiar with the original – it came out over a decade ago, so there's a chance you might not be – Shadow of the Colossus is an enchanting, stripped-down sandbox, where all you do is hunt and slay 16 enormous bosses. It was one of the most intoxicatedly original games ever made when it launched back on PlayStation 2 in 2005, and over the years, its legacy has continued to grow. Whether it's Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Dragon's Dogma, God of War III or Titan Souls, dozens of games have been influenced by Team Ico's enchanting tale of lost love, redemption and big ass monster murder.

As beloved as Shadow is, its ambitious vision was hobbled by the PS2's limited power. That sweeping landscape and the grand boss fights (which essentially act as moving platform levels) outmatched the tech of the time. The entire game is one big battle between artistic brazenness and technical compromise, something director Fumito Ueda admitted during an interview with Eurogamer months after his title shipped in late 2005. "We made it within the limitation of the hardware, so just thought, 'how can we do it within the technology?"

With the remake now in the capable hands of Bluepoint Games, Shadow has a chance to shine like never before. The developer has a proven track record of bringing old games kicking and screaming onto new consoles, then turning them into superb, spruced-up HD remasters. The studio's work taking beloved PS2 greats – like Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3, plus the first two God of Wars – and porting them over to PS3 in lovingly lush fashion, made a clutch of ageing PlayStation classics freshly relevant and accessible to a whole new generation. Yet Shadow of the Colossus on PS4 takes thing to a whole new level.

This PS4 remake represents a chance to right past technical wrongs that really hurt the original experience. Metal Gear and God of War were always slick, but Shadow of the Colossus was so absurdly vast that it damn near broke the PS2. Try to replay certain sections today – like that horribly juddering fight against the water-loving 12th Colossus, Pelagia – and you're presented with an experience where the frame rate is often so bad, it's akin to watching a behemoth-bashing flipbook.

The PS3 remaster in 2011 smoothed out some of its most glaring technical shortcomings, true. Yet this PS4 remake has a chance to showcase the game with a level of polish that can finally match its undoubted artistic achievements. (If you're late to the party, Shadow has one of the most evocate endings in video game history.)

I've been using the term "remake" very deliberately. This looks to be a complete do-over, not some half-assed excuse to rake in another $60 from nostalgic PlayStation fans. Go back and watch that E3 trailer again. Bluepoint Games hasn't just slapped a few HD textures on Shadow's unmistakable, mournful world. No, it's seemingly ripped up every fiber of that barren PS2 environment, starting afresh with a vibrant landscape stuffed full of nuanced, incidental detail the hardware of 2005 simply wasn't capable of generating.

I won't pretend to have watched the E3 teaser like a normal human being. How could I? I'm a dude who's finished Team Ico's melancholy masterpiece nine times. (Yes, nine.) Of course I'm going to obsess over the small shit. (You're totally still judging me over that figure, aren't you?) I've spotted so many fresh little graphical flourishes in those 98 seconds of video that weren't present in the original game, it's making my titan-taming head spin.

Hell, I can pick out a bunch of new details in that opening shot alone:

Gently swaying grasslands, punctuated by shoots of what look to be purple catmint; a weary sun trying to break through harsh cloud cover; leaves dancing in the wind, as fog swirls around the base of the game's iconic Shrine of Worship. Bet you think I'm over egging this particular pudding with my pixel-counting Terminator vision, huh? Take a look at the following comparison shots of said PS4 trailer shot, followed by a screen of the desolate original.

A pretty striking evolution, isn't it?

And there are so many other exciting tweaks baked into that trailer. The way clouds of sand kick up and swirl around the mighty hooves of the second Colossus, Quadratus; clumps of moss gathering around the ample waist of Valus (that'd be Colossus the First); bursts of color popping up from bright orange petals in the creaking coliseum of the eighth Colossus, Kuromori, calls home. These are small details, sure, but they sure do get the imagination going. All that said, remaking SoTC 12 years on also provides Bluepoint with a terrific opportunity to deliver the true, definitive edition of an undisputed classic. Considering the amount of content Team Ico had to cut from the game to get it to fit onto a PS2 disc, there's a real chance to extend and enrich this brief sandbox adventure.

Here's an eye-opening fact: Shadow of the Colossus was originally meant to have 48 bosses, not the 16 seen in the final game. Ueda and co. quickly realised this was far too grand a number and eventually whittled the roster of Colossi down to a more manageable 24. It's these eight canned giants that really spark the imagination. Some of the ditched beasties were cut so far into production, there are actually deep-into-development screens of them doing the rounds. Take a gander at this handy compilation shot of the omitted giants.

Some of them look pretty familiar, right? That salty Sirius chap is a deadringer for the final game's 11th and 14th Colossi – Celosia and Cenobia. And how about Devil and Roc? These two winged monstrosities look like they would serve up a variation of the epic midair battle the fifth boss Avion offers. Still, there are a couple of cut contenders in there who look absolutely fascinating.

Take that Monkey fellow. How the hell would that fight have worked? According to the official Shadow of the Colossus artbook, excerpts of which have been posted on the Team Ico wiki, the battle would have revolved around shooting its stringy biceps as it hung from a cave ceiling. The epic arachnid, nicknamed Spider, sounds even more interesting. Apparently, the finished boss fight involved arrowing the creature's spindly legs, then luring it to a watery death in a nearby lake.

If Bluepoint could find a way to reintroduce these super intriguing encounters, the PS4 version of Shadow of the Colossus wouldn't just be the definitive version of a great game, it would be one of the most comprehensive remasters ever made.

Will those dropped monsters make it into the remake? Logistically, it would probably be a nightmare to pull off. Bluepoint would most likely have to get permission to do dive deep through what remains of Team Ico's old files – much of the team was rehoused under the Sony Japan umbrella during The Last Guardian's tortuous development. Ultimately, we're probably in pipedream territory, and it's much more likely PS4 gets a straight up remake with no added content that's merely incredibly pretty.

Even if Bluepoint just ports over the original game with the same 16 bosses, a more fluid frame rate, and hopefully less clunky controls, Sony has given Shadow of the Colossus a much deserved second chance to make an impact on PlayStation gamers. According to video game sales-tracking site VG Chartz, the PS2 original sold a mere 1.4 million copies worldwide. Yet in the current era, when even the most obscure indie experiences are often readily embraced by players, Shadow stands a much better chance of success. With over 60 million PS4s out in the wild, let's hope this giant of a game captures a lot of new admirers in its gargantuan grasp.