The Last Guardian is the finale of director Fumito Ueda’s three piece gaming epic. Following on from the PS2’s ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, TLG has been one of the most eagerly anticipated games of the modern generation.
While The Last Guardian isn’t directly linked to the previous two games, it does carry many of the same themes and gameplay mechanics that make the trio so unique and instantly recognisable. Initially announced for PS3 way back in 2009, fans worried that constant setbacks and delays would force the game into limbo and for a while, it seemed lost amidst its never-ending stream of problems.
But Ueda dragged it up by the bootstraps, overseeing its transition from PlayStation 3 to PlayStation 4. In his note to journalists in the press kit, he says “Unfortunately, as you know, we ran into a few twists and turns along the way, and the title took longer than anyone expected. Still, just as ICO and Shadow of the Colossus are truly unique games, so too is The Last Guardian an experience unlike any other.”
In The Last Guardian, you play as a young boy who wakes in a mysterious dungeon with no knowledge of how he got there. In this cave, he finds Trico – a half-bird half-cat like creature chained up and near death with spears lodged in its body. After freeing Trico in the games’ opening moments, you set off together to find a way out of the towering castle you’ve been trapped in.
The narrative of the story is purposely sparse and is told through small pieces of dialogue spoken in a strange language by an adult version of the boy. He pops up to guide the story and occasionally offer help if you get particularly stuck. Fans of the series will know that Ueda’s stories are always ambiguous, and you’re left to fill in a lot of pieces yourself from the get-go. It’s a really refreshing change from the way modern games tend to hold your hand through a story, and keeps curiosity flowing as you explore the strange new world. It might not be something that gamers new to the premise will enjoy, but if you’re a fan of the series you’ll feel right at home.
The game is mostly a linear platforming adventure that focuses on creating and exploring the bond between the boy and Trico. As your relationship grows, you can begin to command Trico to help as you attempt to scale the massive world. What’s really interesting, is that Trico – by design or by accident – doesn’t always do what you want it to.
Initially, this really pissed me off because it’s frustrating. The game actively relies on your interactions with an AI character to progress, and having them wander off or flat our ignore you wears thin very quickly. But then I thought; Trico is a wild animal who is learning to develop trust with the character – this is how it would probably react. Maybe I’m giving the game’s creators too much credit, but in the end it helped draw me in to the world and invest in the characters more, when it could have easily spoiled the experience.
At its core, The Last Guardian is an adventure platformer. Its main gameplay loop involves solving small puzzles to progress to the next area, and then usually finding a way to get Trico to follow you. It’s mostly simple stuff that involves climbing or pulling levers, but it’s rewarding when you crack something you’ve been stuck on for a while. It’s never anything too taxing, but it should hold you up long enough to get your bearings and keep the game moving at a decent pace.
If the game does have a downfall, it’s definitely the twitchy controls. More than once I attempted to line up a jump only to have the boy fly aimlessly in the wrong direction to his doom, or forcing me to laboriously climb back up to my position. It’s a real shame because it does cause you unnecessary levels of frustration, and it’s in these moments you can tell the game has come from the PS3.
The camera, too, is a constant battle to place. It flies around, hugging in tight and then pinging away with the slightest encouragement. In a game so reliant on its stunning verticality, its a shame that you have to wrestle with the camera at literally every turn, and looking up is one of the hardest things to do in the game. The camera takes an age to pan and will often float away without reason.
I’m confident that Sony’s Japan Studios can fix this with future patches but at the moment it remains a big gripe with the game, and I think it does tarnish the experience noticeably.
One thing that definitely doesn’t disappoint though, is the graphics. This game is stunning to look at. It has a hint of Ghibli stylisation mixed with jaw dropping locales – helping to create a truly unique world to explore. The star of the show though, is undoubtedly Trico.
At times, I felt as though I could reach out and touch Trico, such is the beauty of its character model. Every feather rustles individually in the wind and the way it dips and bobs its head as it explores the surroundings never get old.
The Last Guardian banks heavily on you giving a damn about Trico, and unless you’ve got a steely heart of stone, you’ll be enamoured with the beast within the first couple of hours of play. Ueda has created a spectacular character that will stick with gamers for years to come.
After almost 10 years in development, fans were completely right to be sceptical about the release of The Last Guardian. But truth be told, the game is a revelation – a perfect final act for one of gaming’s most spectacular concertos. It may not hold its audience like Shadow of the Colossus has, or be as groundbreaking as ICO was, but it will hold a place in the heart of fans for its touching story and epic scale. The controls are far from perfect and the camera will leave you seething at points, but as a whole, The Last Guardian has been worth the wait.