The Last Guardian PS4 Review
What a year! With the long awaited releases of both Final Fantasy XV and now The Last Guardian it seems that only Half-Life 3 is left in the ‘for-God’s-sake-will-you-please-just-release-it-already’ category. And after such long waits the first question is always ‘was it worth it?’ – topical, but hardly fair. Could a game ever really be worth waiting 9 or more years for? I don’t believe we’ve had one so far, but is it at least good? Well, after spanning the lives of multiple console generations, requiring the efforts of 4 development teams to finally get out of the door, and considering the multitude of delays it had it certainly didn’t sound promising.
But yes, it’s good.
Thematically it instantly feels like it belongs to the ‘Ico trilogy’. The heart-tugging motifs of innocence, bravery, and companionship are back to sweep players off of their feet. This time it’s a tale of a boy and a beast, forced to work together and grow closer in order to escape or even just survive the predicament they find themselves in; lost at the bottom of what seems to be a cave containing the remnants of an ancient civilisation. The creature is what is known as a ‘Trico’ or a ‘TUHHH-RI-KURRRR’ as the boy likes to yell. Looking part cat, dog, eagle, and demon our Trico is devastatingly beautiful with deep, soulful, black eyes that even come with a disco-lights setting for whenever Trico looks upon something mystical. Much like the other Ico games, the story also begins rather subtly – finding oneself in a strange place and continually raising questions for the player through the design of the world and characters.
The gameplay is basic but fun. A simple platformer with some light puzzle elements. In each new area the catch is usually – is it something I (the boy) has to do, or do I need to get Trico to help me out? Due to its enormous size Trico needs help to get through closed off areas and sometimes won’t move forward without being fed or having peculiar stained-glass eye-patterns that it fears destroyed, but in return it can leap huge crevices and fight the ominous mechanical-looking people than try to take the boy away. Of course, in order to have Trico do anything at all is a task in itself. With simple commands for jump, go towards a certain direction, and attack etc it becomes a matter of positioning with trial and error. Some may find it annoying but I actually enjoyed the attempts at communicating with Trico – it feels almost like trying to train a real animal or pet and whilst it may be irritating to have Trico jump up multiple pillars only to hop all the way back down them due a miscommunication or just because it wants to, that feeling of a real barrier between species is only further cemented.
So, how did you end up here at the bottom of a crevasse? What is to become of the bond between a man-eating creature and man itself once freedom is achieved? or can it even be achieved at all? Sadly, the story-telling is not done half as well as the world-building and is basically spoon-fed to the player in just a few cutscenes – one about 2/3 of the way through the game and a few more at the end. Yup, just like that. Fortunately though, the bonding between the player and Trico is done entirely through gameplay. With every spear pulled from the yelping, helpless creature, to each jump where Trico has to catch you flailing through the air, a little bit more of a connection is forged. You rely on each other and get to actually feel that as you play, especially when comforting Trico after a stressful encounter. Annoyingly, though, this is also when all those technical issues everyone has been taking about rear their ugly head. Nothing breaks immersion quite like jumping towards Trico, waiting that extra second in slow-motion before he usually plucks you from the air…only this time he doesn’t. He just looks on, dumbfounded, as you plummet to your death.
The respawn time is short and the checkpoints are forgiving but nothing can save that moment. It has been lost. Instead of once again helping to develop the relationship between Trico and the boy it has now become a joke you can share online. Not only did it not accomplish what it should have but it actually damaged the emotional core the game has to offer. This happens every so often throughout the experience and is simply to be expected, begrudgingly. Every game created over such a long period of time seems to back up the case that these lengthy development cycles create a wobbly jenga-tower of an experience with each team having added more blocks on top, meaning every so often the tower falls gracelessly and the player pays for it. Thankfully I never experienced anything game-breaking, only some heavy fps drops during the more destructive sequences but the loose seams caused by the flakey development are very noticeable.
Despite all that, I still thoroughly enjoyed my time with The Last Guardian and in retrospect I believe a friend put it best – ‘it’s a flawed masterpiece’ he said and I truly believe that. The essence and meaning of the game is in tact but it’s presented in a cracked vessel. The graphics and music are nothing short of wondrous, as expected by Team Ico, but once again it is the little things that dampen the adventure. It’s unbelievable how well one can be totally sucked into a world and be interacting with this magnificent beast only to have the illusion completely shattered by a camera angle that forces you to jump blindly across a deadly gap, or missing your mark because Trico turned his head as you hit jump. Still, I would recommend it to anybody wanting to feel a connection to a game, or as an example of games being an art form, albeit it must be taken with a fistful of salt.