I stand before you as a man who has completed the computer game The Last Guardian.
OK, I'm not usually this grandiose with my review intros but this is a big deal. The Last Guardian
is a game that Team Ico fans have been waiting for since they saw that weird ending to Shadow of the Colossus
back in 2006. It's a game that was supposed to be released on the PS3. A game that was officially announced in 2009.
It's a game that I'd lost all hope of seeing and assumed had sunk into the folklore of gaming. A meme that could be applied to any game that game fans were excited about for nearly a decade. One that would join the likes of Half-Life 3
and Shenmue 3
But with one final push from Sony, it's on the shelves and I still can't quite believe it.
The Last Guardian
is part puzzle platformer, part pet simulator. Following similar themes to lead designer Ueda's previous games, you play a boy on an adventure with a companion. This time we're teamed up with a giant cat/bird/monster thing and to get to where you're going, you're going to have to learn to trust it as much as care for it.
It takes what Ico
did and attempts to turn it on its head. You're no longer a hero saving your travel partner from the perils of the fantasy world around you. For the most part you're the one who needs saving and you have to try to tell your giant buddy named Trico where to go next.
This might sound like a bad idea. Who wants to be sitting about waiting for some computer-controlled creature to do all the fun stuff? But The Last Guardian
asks you to perform many tasks of your own to progress through the game.
You'll be climbing, solving puzzles, destroying obstacles and opening paths but above all your main job is to look after your Trico. You need to heal him when he's hurt, feed him when he's hungry and calm him down when he's in distress. You're a carer, and you'll feel like it.
Trico isn't obedient. In fact he's a constant pain in the arse from the get-go. Nothing has simulated parenting as well as The Last Guardian
and the emotions you go through are pretty extreme. Of course there are the nicer moments when he moves his head towards you in the hope that you'll stroke it, or when he playfully rolls around in a nearby pond. But these are overshadowed the first time it looks at you like you're a complete dick when you're pointing up to a platform for the 50th time in a hope that he might make the jump he's supposed to in order to reach the next area.
It's easy to brush this off as design. Taming an animal shouldn't be easy. They have minds of their own and the less mechanical Trico feels the more you're likely to accept the beast as real. But there are too many moments throughout the game that don't make it clear that it's intentionally ignoring you for it to be calculated.
Sometimes after making a few jumps Trico will just turn around and jump back to the start again, other times he won't move at all. You're learning nothing here. You don't take the experience of a developing relationship away from these moments. You just get angry that what should be a five minute period of gameplay is taking over half an hour.
And the problems with The Last Guardian
don't stop there. Controlling the boy himself feels incredibly floaty for a game filled with platforming, meaning you'll helplessly fall to your death on a number of occasions when trying to climb some steps or walking across a small beam high up in a building.
Of course this isn't helped by the camera, which is one of the worst I've seen in games for a long time. It's slow to move even with the settings on max, unresponsive and sometimes has a mind of its own. It also seems to completely forget that it's dealing with two on-screen characters at once at times, one of those being insanely large. In tight corridors I found myself looking at a black screen on a number of occasions because the camera got stuck between a wall and Trico. At first I thought the game had crashed until my feathered friend decided to let the camera out from beneath it.
As for the gameplay, that's a little more hit and miss. Some of the puzzles work and can be solved by observing the environment or even what Trico is up to, but others will have you scratching your head even after reading a guide, not only because you're wondering how the developers thought you'd solve such a convoluted task but also because it's a case of 'easier said than done' while Trico looks blankly at a wall before pissing off to a previous area for a bit.
The Last Guardian
is full to the brim with things to dislike and it's a crying shame. These issues will put a lot of people off and I wouldn't blame them if they snapped the disc and moved on with their lives, but in spite of the cold sweats this game forced out of me at times I was still left with a smile on my face as the credits rolled.
Somehow Ueda manages to salvage enough from The Last Guardian
to carry his message across. He manages to make you fall in love with a computer game character and to want to look after them. I hated Trico at times but it didn't stop me from pulling out every spear that hit him or wiping away the blood from his wounds.
When he seemed unhappy I would jump on and scratch his neck even when it wasn't a requirement. And when he overcomes his own personal obstacles... well
. Those are the moments that stick out. I'd sit grinning from ear to ear knowing that these were moments that will stick with me in the same way Team Ico's previous game did.
By the end I was no longer frustrated with the game's flaws for my own personal struggles but more because there is a wonderful story full of emotional attachment that many will never have the patience to experience.
They'll never get to a point where they're genuinely worried about the safety of Trico or feel relief when he manages to break barriers and change rules.
It's an awkward one to sit back and evaluate. The narrative is so well thought-out and presented. The ending is one of the best I've experienced in a game, one that literally sent a shiver down my spine, and ultimately The Last Guardian
is a game I'm extremely happy I've played, not because of its legacy but because of how it made me feel at the end.
It's the darker sides of it that hold me back from proclaiming The Last Guardian
as a true classic. It's what stops me from considering it as Game of the Year or putting it ahead of Ico
and Shadow of the Colossus
in my weird Ueda list I have scribbled on my toilet door.
But it won't stop it from sticking out when I look back over my time with my favourite medium. It's truly unique and has moments that are simply unforgettable and it's easier to forget the bad times when the good ones shines so bright.
+ Excellent story, well told.
+ Completely Unique.
+ You'll love Trico.
- You'll Hate Trico.
- Terrible Camera.
SPOnG Score: 8/10