The Last Guardian is by-and-large accepted as one of the most interesting “delay” stories in gaming. It became a joke only beaten by the still-mythical Half Life 3. Some forgot about it, others kept hoping, and some gave up hope and forgot about it. But for those of us such as me who played and loved Shadow of the Colossus, all that matters now that this game actually happened is one thing: is it worth the wait?
To be blunt, in terms of how the game handles, it definitely isn’t. This is the perfect example of when development hell leaves core gameplay programming intact from nearly a decade ago. This means not only does the boy handle VERY clumsily, but the non-configurable controls using non-standard button presses only compounds the matter for the first few hours. Top that with a camera that disobeys you at random intervals and you will undoubtedly find yourself accidentally plummeting to your death. If you expect the platforming to feel in any way modern, you’re in for a big disappointment. Don’t expect enemy encounters to go any better, as fighting off enemies is best left to Trico. No seriously, don’t bother fighting them yourself, it’s clumsy. Trico is the big bird dog thing, you ask? Yes, and while his actual behavior and animations are best left to the presentation section, his AI is both impressive and… not. Sometimes he listens, sometimes he doesn’t, and while the overly defensive will say that’s all part of his charm as a “realistic” creature, it can be downright irritating. I laid my concerns aside by believing in my own excuse: that he IS a real creature that doesn’t always obey commands with computer perfect programming. That now leaves us with the puzzles, to which I simply say, “What puzzles?” I nary encountered anything that took any real thinking, but instead took the act of dragging the camera by the leash to look around the area. That led me to do very elementary platforming, have Trico help me, or even just do it for me. I will say, though: when Trico does the platforming, it is quite a respite from the frustrations.
Most people aren’t trophy hunters. Most people aren’t completionists. That means most people will only get a single playthrough of this game. This ranges from 8-10 hours, and it took me about 10 hours since I took my time. This included getting stuck several times or dealing with the delays of the randomly disobedient camera and the charmingly disobedient feathered friend. For the full price tag of $60, this is pretty offensive in 2016. Naturally, this would have been less so nine years ago, so I do give a partial pass understanding the development situation.
Let’s start with the bad: you won’t see much variation in the environment. I get that it all takes place in one location, but the color cycles can start to wear you thin visually. Being on the PS4 Pro DID afford me a fairly solid framerate sticking to 1080p, so I must say that if you want the game to at least disobey you smoothly, the PS4 Pro is the way to go. Now let’s move to the good. I don’t say this lightly: I absolutely SHOWER the developers with utter PRAISE as to how well they animated Trico. I can’t explain the level of detail they’ve put into his movements, not because I don’t have the words, but because it would be the length of this entire video. From his nostrils to the noises he makes to the animation work when he prepares for a jump is all so enamoring and so charming that you have no pulse if you DON’T find him charming. While the world itself and the engine that powers it is clearly way, wayyy behind the times in detail, geometry, graphical technology, etc. etc., you won’t even notice it because your attention will pretty much always be on the most lovingly crafted ones-and-zeroes to ever represent a fictional animal. The trials and tribulations you endure with Trico build a relationship that grows more on you than the boy himself.
Without even checking, I know many reviewers will cower in fear at the possibility of offending the Sony “fans” by laying out the reality of this game. I do reviews to put information out there to assist people with their buying choices, and thus, I don’t get to pander to anyone or anything except the truth. The truth is: this just isn’t a good game. I give boat loads of credit to the work these developers put into Trico, more than any other players will probably ever care to notice about him. But that’s this game’s saving grace, because not much else is. From clumsy controls to a disobedient camera to a severely lacking value proposition in 2016 to dated graphics, all the weight of what this game offers is on your feathered friend. It’s fitting, then, that this game relies on your relationship with Trico, because without him, the boy wouldn’t survive any more than this game would against the odds of today’s gaming landscape.
I give The Last Guardian…