The Last Guardian Review
Fans of developer, Team Ico fondly remember the titles, Ico and Shadow of The Colossus, from the PlayStation 2 era. The quality of intimate storytelling, soundtracks, and 3D visuals, pushed expectations forward with each respective title. It can be understood then, that many fans were eager to experience the next installment from this prestigious team.
The Last Guardian began development in 2007, two years after Shadow of the Colossus had released. At the Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3) in 2009, Sony announced The Last Guardian with a planned release date in 2011 for the PlayStation 3 (PS3). Unfortunately, the game fell subject to multiple delays due to the difficulty of developing for the PS3 hardware.
Finally, after an almost eleven-year development cycle and a transition to a completely new team, Gen Design, the game released on PlayStation 4 (PS4) in December of 2016.
I bring this all up, because understanding the hardships that this game had to go through is important to the overall experience in The Last Guardian.
The game begins with you waking up in a cave as a young boy with strange tattoos all over his body. In the nearby vicinity, there lies a very large animal who isn’t all too fond of your presence. Without any other viable options for escape, you have to interact with this behemoth, whose name is later revealed to be Trico.
This interaction is the core element of gameplay throughout the entirety of The Last Guardian; you must platform and solve puzzles to escape the ruins with the help of your trusty cat-bird friend, Trico.
Unfortunately, that core element of gameplay is the one thing in the The Last Guardian that really misses the mark. In an attempt to make the artificial intelligence of Trico more like its real-world counterparts, a simple puzzle can quickly become a nightmare of frustration.
A perfect depiction of this type of scenario, is when I found myself in a puzzle where I had to command Trico to dive underwater to access the next area. The previous room had the same exact dive mechanic that worked fine on my first attempt, yet this time, it seemed that Trico wasn’t “feeling it.” (I know what you’re thinking, and yes, I had completed the according puzzle that would enable Trico to follow my prompt. Believe me, I had to look it up to make sure I wasn’t doing something wrong!)
After no-joke, twenty attempts to make the stubborn beast obey my command, he eventually decided to dive without any controller input of my own.
Couple the pesky A.I. of Trico with slightly questionable controls, (like the commands that never get fully explained) and you have, what many are saying, “the feel of a Playstation 2 game.”
"The Last Guardian suffers with many moments like this that break any sense of awe or emotion you were feeling minutes before."
I do have good news; The Last Guardian is also one of the most emotionally compelling games I've played in 2016. The connection you develop with Trico throughout the game strengthens with each moment, whether frustrating or endearing. I can only describe it as the same connection and emotion one could have towards their family pet; one minute you’re in love, the next minute you are fuming because he/she decided to chew up the ridiculously expensive throw pillows that your wife bought from Target.
The Last Guardian stuns in almost every visual aspect. From the gorgeous overlooks to the way Trico’s feathers individually flutter in the wind. Even more impressive is the fact that each room you progress through, interweaves with the ruins you had recently visited. It is clear that Gen Design spent a lot of time crafting this unique and interesting environment, and it paid off.
There is a noticeable difference between the graphical style of the young protagonist when compared to Trico. The boy sticks out in almost every environment, due to his cel-shaded and almost cartoony appearance. When compared to the much more realistic design and animations of your feathery companion, you might wonder why Gen Design made this odd, artistic decision. (I like to think that it was a processing resource issue).
Speaking of processing resources...
The high amount of processing power required to bring Trico to life caused some areas of the game in The Last Guardian to display a noticeable drop in framerate. This however, was not a major issue that held back the story or affected any instance of platforming during my playthrough.
The Last Guardian doesn’t offer much in regards to replayability. Hidden barrels strewn throughout the levels will appeal to the completionist in some, but that’s about all this game offers concerning extra content.
The Last Guardian delivers on an emotional experience but falls short on some important gameplay aspects. Once you’ve beaten the game, there’s no real reason to revisit this 12 to 15 hour story.