The Last Guardian is finally sitting proud on the shelves of our game stores. But should it be proud at all? After all it has ten years of game development to live up to. It’s slowly becoming a common story where a game under a big publisher will go through development hell and never die. In The Last Guardian’s case, it skipped an entire console generation and survived development limbo for a few years. Like Final Fantasy XV, this game does show a few scars from its development woes. Whether those scars are enough to not make the game worth your money is entirely up to you. Sadly for me, I was kind of glad I received it as a gift.
Featherbeast Pet Care Simulator
As the game begins, we the player, take control of the boy. Like him, we are disoriented and don’t really know what the heck is going on. That’s fine. That’s standard Fumito Ueda practice. We even expect some slightly jangly controls that, while unconventional, we can master with a little practice. But is that what we got this time around? We’ll get onto that later. For now, the boy wakes up and gets to work removing spears from a wounded Trico and feeding it barrels. These barrels are made of wood but are somehow still edible…
Eventually, the great feathered beast starts to have second thoughts about this sentient limbed pea that has been feeding it. Trico ceases his hostile snapping and clawing. His eyes change like that famous Puss in Boots scene inShrek and he’s now your trusty friend. That’s just one of many animal behaviours that’ll have you chatting to Trico as if he’s really a living animal. Even if that chatter consists of “no, over there you stupid animal…. OVER THERE, THAT WAY”.
Trico Is A Truly Believable Animal
Regardless of how I was speaking to the Trico, it was interesting to see that I was inspired to speak to him at all. We all love dogs and taking care of Trico, while he takes care of you in equal measure, is a little like owning a pet. He gets excited in wide open outdoor spaces, hopping about gleefully. Or perhaps he’ll have a hissy fit after fighting off foes, only to calm down after you climb on and stroke the back of his head. Perhaps he’ll see something he just doesn’t like the look of and growl and hiss at it. The many different noises and behaviours Trico makes, while not essential to understand, do reveal little clues about how to appease him.
Is he hungry, looking somewhere, afraid or excited? By extension, appeasing Trico is the solution to almost every puzzle you encounter. You’ll need him to get from one place to the next more often than not. So figuring that out is usually down to opening gates or removing things that freak him out. Some of these puzzles are satisfying to resolve. Some of them are a downright chore.
The Last Guardian Hauls Itself, Not So Elegantly, Onto PS4
Graphically, it is hard to gauge the graphical quality of The Last Guardian. After all, it began development with the intention of releasing on last generation consoles. Sometimes that shows. Character models are kind of weird to look at. Their skin textures are an odd orangey yellow, like Simpsons characters from the 90’s. And their clothes are always very bright, as if made from glowing materials. Thankfully all of that can be given a free pass, thanks to the overall artistic style of the game.
When lighting comes into play, however, be it shafts of light spilling through massive temple windows; or just the light of outdoors pouring over foliage and Trico’s feathers, the otherwise sub-par graphics are given life. Suddenly Trico and the boy look just a little more real. Speaking of foliage, the trees in this game are among the best I’ve ever seen. But we don’t buy games for juicy lighting effects or super detailed trees. So where else were developer resources spent?
Honestly, it’s hard to tell as, aside from the story and controls, I’ve just explained the entirety of the game to you. Seriously, any more details and I’d be spoilering HARD. It should be said, however, that there is one inherent problem with The Last Guardian that nobody seems to be discussing.
In Times Gone By
When Shadow of The Colossus released we had never seen anything like it. The size of your enemies was unprecedented in the history of gaming. Except perhaps Final Fantasy, but you couldn’t climb on Bahamut! Now we have The Last Guardian two generations later and the wow factor is dampened massively. Since Shadow of The Colossus, we’ve had epics like God of War 3 or even FFXV, releasing just a month before.
Ueda now faces an issue in that he can no longer rely on making everything massive to sell a game. He may have been ahead of his time back in the PS2 era. He now finds himself in the PS4 era where his contemporaries have caught up with him. The overall result is a game that has plenty of wow factor. They’re just wowing techniques that we’ve gotten used to over the course of the last two generations. The effect of jumping around with Trico is sadly dampened for it. Of course, allowing an A.I construct to lead the game instead of the player themselves is a heck of a gamble to implement. Especially when you want Trico to dive and there’s literally no “go down” command. What the hell do you press?!
Controlling A Straw Man In A Hurricane
So let’s get onto the controls. I’m perfectly aware that this review is fairly late. No doubt, if you’ve had any interest in the game, you will have heard about bad controls somewhere along the line. Let’s start by saying controls can be bad in two ways. On the one hand, they can be badly mapped and generally not very user friendly. On the other, they can be well mapped but simply don’t play out very well in animation. Sadly, The Last Guardian is the latter of the two.
Once the enemies are gone, you’ll need to climb onto Trico and calm him down. But when he’s jumping about madly, getting to a position that doesn’t fling you about like a straw man in a hurricane, it’s needlessly tricky. It’s made all the more infuriating by the controls that will usually see you stroking Trico’s butt hole to calm him down, after already giving up trying to get on top. Gently pushing the stick will also reveal the boy only has two speeds. Creep about at super slow ninja pace or run about like a pinball with broken ragdoll limb mechanics. Then, combine all of these moments with a camera that you are constantly fighting against to look where you want. Not good…
Must’ve Been A Real Windy Day For The Camera Crew
The camera in this game can’t decide what it wants to be. It doesn’t know if it wants to be fixed for maximum effect. Or organically follow through gameplay and cutscenes. In the end it tries to be all of these things. When it works, it works well. A particular struggle in a tower descent scene being one of them. Yet, when you are in a tight space the camera will slowly veer off into a wall or get stuck between Trico’s back and the ceiling.
What’s even more maddening is how the development team were blatantly aware of this issue and nothing was done. Their lack of effort on this part is given away when your screen turns black for, sometimes several seconds at a time, to reset itself. Frustrating indeed to massage the right stick gently throughout the entire game, fighting for the desired angle it doesn’t want to give you. It’s just something that sucks all immersion out of the experience.
Somehow, You Still Need To Play This At Some Point
Despite all my nay saying, The Last Guardian is oddly still a game that every owner of a PS4 should experience. The few cutscenes in the game are undeniably gripping due to the lack of explanation given to the player. Any juicy details are welcome. The mysterious eastern fairy tale universe that popped out of Ueda’s mind is clearly a distinctive and memorable one. A few scenes are undeniably poignant.
For that reason alone, you need to play The Last Guardian. It’s just so damn unique. I promise, you will have never played something like this before. Stand in front of Trico, do nothing and watch as he playfully nuzzles you with his extra fluffy and adorable face. Sadly the wow factor just doesn’t reach the lofty expectations of a modern gaming audience. It may be worth waiting for the price on this one to come down a little before parting with your hard earned cash.