- Format: PS4
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Sony
- Developer: Japan Studio
- Players: 1
- Site: https://www.playstation.com/en-gb/games/the-last-guardian-ps4/
- Game purchased by reviewer
With such a long and tortured development, the question was never “Can The Last Guardian live up to expectations?”; but rather, “How much does The Last Guardian fail to live up to expectations?”. There are moments of beauty in this game, and for that reason alone it’s worth playing. Nonetheless, this is the weakest Fumito Ueda game by a significant margin.
The giant cat-dog-eagle thing is identified as a ‘Trico’. Like its predecessors Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, The Last Guardian does very little in terms of explicit storytelling, and the origin of this strange creature, oddly, appears to be neglected entirely. Ueda fans will find familiar themes here; sacrifice, frustration, loss, faith. Perhaps keen to celebrate its heritage, The Last Guardian displays explicit references to Ico (the environment looks surprisingly familiar) and SotC (the way you clamber up, and cling onto, Trico is reminiscent of that game but without the grip meter).
You begin the game confused about your situation (covered in tattoos you didn’t have before waking in a cave somewhere next to a huge, chained, badly wounded beast) and then the game is, at a very basic level, about trying to find a way out of the huge ruined castle you find yourself in so that you can get back home.
What the game is really about, of course – to a large extent, at least – is the relationship between the boy and Trico. In the opening moments, Trico is aggressive toward the boy. Once you’ve helped the beast, though – removing spears from its body, feeding it, freeing it from the chain – it tolerates your presence, and follows you around. Then, as your journey continues, Trico becomes friendlier and more helpful. He/she/it will act unprompted to help you more regularly, in addition to a few more spoilery developments we won’t go into. Trico helps you, and you help Trico. It’s not long before you rely on one another completely in order to progress through the castle. The relationship’s development is well designed, but held back by the realities of implementation.
One not-insignificant problem is Trico’s AI. We didn’t experience the level of frustration that many people have, but it was still a far from flawless experience. While Trico will sometimes happily jump/climb to the right place by itself – acting as a big feathery ladder, or simply leaping across chasms you’d otherwise never be able to cross – other times you need to give instructions. This is a simple matter of holding R1 and pressing the right button, or simply pointing the stick in the right direction. Sometimes it works and sometimes… it doesn’t. More than once we told Trico to clamber somewhere but it refused, leading us to believe that wasn’t the way forward. Five minutes later, it’s decided to go up there by itself… out of our reach, meaning calling it back down again and hoping it follows the command correctly once we’re holding on again. Elsewhere, it will go backwards and forwards over a bottomless pit for no apparent reason until, after some coaxing, continuing to travel in the right direction.
There’s no combat as such, but there are ghostly animated suits of armour that will attack Trico and try to grab the boy in order to whisk him away through one of the many mysterious blue doors. The idea is that the boy, unable to defend himself, generally needs to rely on Trico to save him and, once the fight is over, soothe the now agitated Trico by petting it. Again, the implementation undermines the theory of developing the bonds between boy & Trico and player & game. If the boy does get caught, there’s absolutely no sense of danger – merely frustration. Escaping is a simple and very much unskilled matter of feverishly groping all the buttons. The main problem is that these mystical guards usually attack in groups, meaning that escape from one can often result in being immediately scooped up by another. Also, having to hold down the circle button to stroke Trico every single time it’s killed a load of guards rapidly generates resentment by repetition, and adds absolutely nothing to the experience.
It’s an impossible game to outright hate, though. The art design is typically wonderful, and Trico itself is a superb creation that comes across as a real creature (when the AI is behaving itself). There are several design and technical missteps, but there are also a whole load of successful moments which successfully evoke emotion to remind you that this is a Fumito Ueda game.
For a game like this to work, the atmosphere needs to be consistent and unbroken. The AI already ruins this on occasion, and dragging things down even more regularly is the camera. Initially fine, it almost seems as though the camera intentionally protests at the thought of the game ending the further you progress. The greatest danger of the camera playing up comes when you and Trico are in an enclosed space, where it tends to come in far too close and at completely the wrong angle. You can adjust it manually, but all too often not enough. Even when the camera is fixed for a theoretically clear view, the game sometimes suffers from a bad case of Residentevilitis whereby the director’s desire for a dramatic camera angle takes precedence over ease of use for the player.
The player is afforded, on a fairly regular basis, a clear window into the game this was supposed to be. The fact is though that these are islands of greatness in a tumultuous sea of frustration, the waves constantly licking the shore of each.