First, there was Uncharted: Lost Legacy. Second, Days Gone. These were known quantities. We were seeing more gameplay now but, truthfully, nothing beyond the expected. An expansion for Horizon Zero Dawn, thank you very much, we'll enjoy that before the year is through; followed by an entertaining romp through the jungle-covered landscapes of Capcom's Monster Hunter World, a multi-platform release due in 2018.
It wasn't until the fifth stop on Sony's E3 2017 tour of what it's got cooking right now that I had any cause to hold my breath and wonder, on seeing a second, two of them, three, of an unfolding trailer: Is this? Shit, it is this, isn't it? It really, really is this. Oh, shit. It's Shadow of the Colossus.
But not as we know it. This was no high-def reskin of Team Ico's (uh, I hate the word, but it earned it) seminal adventure of the PS2 era; no simple polishing up of the 2011 PS3 remaster that already possessed some pleasingly sharpened edges. This is, from the looks of things, a remake—one helmed by the same Bluepoint Games team that took SD into HD six years back, and more recently worked on The Nathan Drake Collection for PS4, but so much more than an aesthetic touch-up. It's expected out in 2018.
Update: yep, it's officially a remake.
And that… could be seen as worrying. A little. I have to side with some of the social media comments I've seen on this new Shadow, highlighting that the environmental fuzziness of the original, barely cleaned up for PS3, was of paramount importance to the experience of its world.
Above: The trailer for 2018's 'Shadow of the Colossus'
It's a game, as you probably know, of titanic creatures, "bosses" (though they're more puzzling than said term implies) that must be battled, and bettered, in a simple, quiet story of love losing its way and finishing up in a truly dark place. And these hulking great beasts looked wonderful on PS2, and PS3, contrasted against the blandness of what surrounded them. That was The Point: to pronounce the barrenness of the outside through rendering it in such hazy detail, while spotlighting the colossi through fantastic detailing and animation, giving them unforgettable character—something that was important, given the slow-emerging significance of each monster's demise.
There's a skittering twitchiness to controlling the player character, something that can initially feel off-putting; but before long, you're successfully navigating Wander through all manner of peculiar passages, some of which are carved of rock, others coated in fur. If that's tweaked, tightened or, worse, smoothed so that he's "easier" to push around, especially on horseback, I think the new Shadow will have lost something. An Agro that always goes where she's told is an Agro I won't recognize.
And the same applies to the visuals. Turn the sandy wastes and generic grasslands into anything more, what's expected of games today, and, yes, there'll be a warmness, a richness, to this world of giants. But the harshness of the circumstances will be lost, across the course of proceedings. The journeys from central shrine to distant territories won't be the straight-line gallops of the past, where attention is exclusively on the story. How can it be, when beautiful distractions cause us to stray from the path?
Article continues after the video below
It's not a surprise to see another classic from the past get a new chance to impress in the 4K age. But Shadow of the Colossus isn't Crash Bandicoot, or Ratchet and Clank, or DOOM. To some, those games will have meant more—they were certainly more popular, sales wise. But those to played Shadow the first time, and perhaps the second time too (hey, hi), will be looking at this third release with caution. With nervousness, and concern.
In the UK right now, as I type, the top two games in the sales chart are Wipeout (the Omega Collection) at one, and Tekken 7 at two. Both are years-old franchises, dating from the PS1 days—before Shadow was so much as a dream of Fumito Ueda's. We've seen, this year, Wonder Boy III get a terrific remake, Prey rebooted to moderate success, and Street Fighter II reappear on an all-new platform. Hell, one of the Biggest Deals of Microsoft's E3 presentation was the announcement that the Xbox One (including The Most Powerful Console In The World) will be able to play OG Xbox games, from the dawn of the millennium, from the discs. Nostalgia sells, evidently.
But like most consumables, nostalgia when applied to products—to entertainment—has a use-by date. Before Sony's conference, I thought the out-of-the-blue reveal of a new Bubsy game might represent the moment when we reach that time, that point where, actually, maybe, some fresh, imaginative IP (not Days Gone, then, burn) would be preferred over retreading the past and making a mess all over it. But as much as it pains me to write it, I fear it might be this new Shadow that pushes us over the edge.
It just feels… unnecessary. It's not so old that it can't have been experienced by younger players—that HD remaster is readily available today. And yes, I get that it's not on PS4 as it stands—but did many of the millions who've picked up a PS4 do so thinking, man, I can't wait to play a remake of Shadow of the Colossus. One where—look, I hope they don't balls this up, but come on, it's a possibility—the timeless atmosphere of the original has been marred by the inexorable march of graphical fidelity. Where the deep impact of slaughtering these magnificent beings is lessened by too much noise surrounding the occasions.
I don't want the next Shadow, the new Shadow, to be nothing more than a shadow of what came before it. Despite the above, I'm hoping it's a valuable revision. But at some point, the scaffolding that supports the games industry's obsession with digging into the past will collapse. 2013's Flashback was a warning—a special game, close to the hearts of those who enjoyed its first release, turned into something so much less than what it deserved. If Shadow goes the same way, all surface and no feeling, there'll be more tears from Sony fans, but for an entirely different, disastrous reason.