The Last Guardian for PS4
I’m sure that the creators of The Last Guardian would prefer it if people just wrote about the game rather than the decade long development cycle, but it’s impossible to talk about this game without touching upon it. Originally planned for the PS3, The Last Guardian in many ways feels even more dated than that, playing more like a late PS2 game than anything else. It’s like playing a childhood classic and realising it’s not as good as you remember but without the lovely cloud of nostalgia. But, despite these admittedly damning flaws, The Last Guardian is genuinely one of the most moving and powerful experiences I’ve ever had in gaming and allowed me to feel something approaching genuine love for a virtual creature.
The Last Guardian opens with a young boy awakening covered in mysterious tattoos in a strange pit in an ancient, ruined castle. Chained with him is a massive creature, part cat, part dog and part bird, who is initially hostile and aggressive towards the boy. When the boy helps the creature to be freed from his chains, he names him Trico and they set forth to escape from the strange castle they are both trapped in. Across the course of the game a close bond forms between the two as they make their journey and begin to understand the strange events that led them both to the where they are.
Although there is narration from an older version of the protagonist retelling his story, the narrative is generally fairly light touch, with the exception of a couple of lengthy cut scenes towards the end. The story isn’t actually that important; what is here is fine, but the minimalistic approach works well and allows the focus to rest firmly in one place; Trico. Trico is the greatest videogame NPC of all time.
Where almost everything else looks dated, like an (admittedly very high quality) HD re-release of a PS2 game, Trico is a marvel. Emotionally, I responded to him just as I would a real animal. Some people see Trico as more like a dog, but to me he’s pure feline. Everything about his animations are perfect, from his little shuffle before he attempts a big jump to his focused gaze when he sees something he wants, to his flattened ears when he’s scared. He’s unbelievably lovable and every moment where he was in peril was unbearable; I found myself shouting encouragement at him at the slightest hint of upset. It’s difficult to put into words or even, really, in video. Not everyone forms the bond with Trico and I don’t know why, but I certainly did.
The problem lies in…well, everything else. Perhaps never having played Ico or Shadow of the Colossus set me back, but I found the controls and camera pretty much unbearable. From a mechanical standpoint, The Last Guardian is a pain in the arse to play from beginning to end. Platforming is clunky and awkward and the puzzles often follow bizarre ‘adventure game logic.’ The camera is constantly wrestling with the player. To traverse the castle you can climb on Trico and issue commands, although he takes these more as suggestions. Trico’s unpredictable AI has been the biggest problem for a lot of people, but it generally didn’t take too long to get him to do what I wanted and I’m one of those weirdos who found this more endearing than anything. The sad fact is that, at its core, The Last Guardian isn’t really fun to play. The level design doesn’t help and I found path finding very tricky. The Last Guardian is a linear game and there is usually only one path to follow, but finding that path is not clear in the slightest. An example of these issues are vines; sometimes they’re climbable and take you to the next area and sometimes they’re not, but they look the same either way. You have no way of knowing whether they’re decoration or not. That feeling of being lost is great in an open world game, but generally frustrating in linear ones and The Last Guardian feels trapped in this frustration.
The exquisitely animated and designed Trico aside, The Last Guardian generally shows its age from a technical standpoint. The environments are pretty enough, with a very strong overall design, but a lot of the textures look a bit muddied and fuzzy. I did quite like the animation for the boy himself, particularly his goofy ‘running down stairs’ animation. The frame rate, at least on a standard PS4, is not good. It didn’t hit anything close to a consistent 30 FPS. This didn’t necessarily ruin more exciting or dramatic moments, but it’s undeniable that they would have been much better at a consistent frame rate. I appreciate what a mammoth task Trico must have been, but it is clear than on a fundamental technical level, The Last Guardian just isn’t good enough.
As negative as the above review reads, I still really loved The Last Guardian. It’s a disastrous mess in many ways, but it’s a beautiful, unique and memorable mess. Trico is a character I will never forget and I’m happy I played The Last Guardian purely for him, but for those whose mileage may vary or who are easily frustrated by dodgy mechanics (which is more than fair enough), I really can’t recommend it.