The Last Guardian
Game review on PS4
Kris Godwin / Tue 3rd Jan 2017
145 views / 1 bite
After its initial unveiling for PS3 in 2009, The Last Guardian has finally been freed from its belated seven year development, as fans of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus are now able to experience the final chapter of Fumito Ueda's acclaimed fantasy trilogy. Has the wait been worth it?
Much like its PS2 predecessors, the story of The Last Guardian is intriguingly minimalist, with vague symbolism and major events told mostly through gameplay. As such, it's hard to talk at length about the narrative, since it's so intrinsically tied to the core experience.
The game begins when a nameless boy awakens in a dank pit. Baffled by mysterious tattoos that cover his body, he also finds a large creature chained and wounded. Recognising it as a man-eating 'Trico', he nevertheless frees it, before they slowly form a friendship.
With barely a word spoken, the two warily work together to escape their confines, which turns out to be an ancient fortress known as the 'Nest'. Along the way, the bond between the boy and Trico gets stronger, as they discover the sinister background of their captors.
With a loose connection to the previous Team ICO games, the the 15 hour (or so) tale is laden with evocative imagery that raises a tonne of theories regarding their meaning, as well as truly emotional moments that bought a tear or two to my eye.
Of course, such an insular experience won't be for everyone, though some narrative context from an adult version of the main character helps in alleviating the vagueness of everything.
The Last Guardian plays like a combination of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, with the co-operative puzzle gameplay of the former, and the giant creatures of the latter.
Playing as the boy, you are accompanied by Trico, and together you must work your way through the Nest. The youngster himself can't do much, besides climb and pick up objects, but eventually he'll be able to issue simple commands to his feathery companion, as well as use a special shield that acts as a marker for energy projectiles.
Trico himself is key to progressing. Initially, the large creature is fairly independent, but soon the player will be able to tell him where to go and what to do; such as providing boosts to high places, jumping to new areas, and helping to bypass a wide array of obstacles. He is also your main method of offence, as strange terracotta soldiers will frequently appear to cause trouble for the duo. These foes will try and wisk the boy away (with button mashing used to escape their clutches), as Trico pummels them mercilessly. It's not exactly the most cerebral of combat systems - Trico cannot die, with most conflict scenarios boiling down to running in circles while the faux-griffon does his thing.
Unfortunately, this sloppy execution is a running theme throughout the game. Whilst the core ideas are solid, The Last Guardian is disappointingly rough time.
Whether this is due to the game's troubled development, I can't fully say. However, I can state that my playthrough was filled with equal parts joy and frustration. To put simply, Trico is an aggravating partner, who seemingly only listens to you half of the time. Whilst the developers have excused this as him acting like a real animal, I'm more inclined to believe that he is simply poorly programmed.
As such, the puzzles of this game mostly devolve to pressing R1 (the command button) and hoping Trico does something. There is no rhyme nor reason to the rules of the game world; no consistency between what Trico decides what it can and can't do - and this results in a truly frustrating time.
It's a shame, because there are some clever ideas (such as one puzzle the uses water physics), but they are few and far between.
The boy too, suffers from major problems. He stumbles and flops around way too much, as his gecko-like hands grab anything and everything, resulting in a jumble of flailing limbs - it's as if the game focused too much on the lavish animations and presentation, without taking the gameplay into account.
On the whole, the graphics are a mixed bag. The art style is simply beautiful, as it evokes the ancient crumbling aesthetic of its predecessors. Environments are lush; particularly the greenery and water effects, but the real star of the show is Trico himself.
Possibly the most impressive creature I've ever witnessed in a game, he really does seem like a living, breathing animal. As someone who has been surrounded by animals my entire life, I really marveled at the nuances in his behaviour - from the playful batting of his food, to the lip-quivering when he's scared - he really made the experience worthwhile, and I must applaud the programmers and artists for their undoubted talent.
Nevertheless, there are issues. The game's PS3 background is apparent, with blurry textures evident, and the boy himself looking like an HD PS2 character model. There was also much ballyhoo over the framerate on the original PS4 hardware (as opposed to the stable PS4 Pro version), though I personally didn't have much of an issue. Playing on a PS4 Slim, frame drops were frequent, but they weren't enough to ruin my time.
Sound is minimal, but effective. The majority of the game is framed by the silence of the Nest, with Trico's whines and hisses filling the digital air. Action scenes get suitably more loud, with a selective orchestrated soundtrack making them much more impactful. I was also very fond of the main theme, and the fact that characters didn't speak English (instead, they converse in a 'Romanised Japanese', according to Fumito Ueda).
Overall, The Last Guardian is a solid game, albeit one that is held back from greatness. Its seven-year gestation has clearly had an effect on the final product, with aged, unfocused gameplay mechanics and inconsistent graphics. However, it does have a tremendous amount of heart, and a wonderful narrative that evokes the specialised experiences of Ueda's previous games. Despite the aggravation I felt, the title is still a worthwhile play, if only so you can finally say "I played The Last Guardian!"
Review copy provided by Sony