The Last Guardian was so disappointing for me; it’s a decent enough game that feels like it could’ve been amazing. The gameplay had me controller throwing mad at points, but the storyline saved me from dropping out before it’s conclusion. It’s a game I can’t guarantee you’ll love or hate, but I can promise you’ll understand both sides of the argument. There’s no real reason to own it at this point, and at about 8 hours of gameplay, I would say it’s a solid rental if you’re interested. Sadly, this experience compromises far too much in the pursuit of blending two contrary premises when either by themselves would’ve been fine.
What We Liked;
+Trico is a charming monster that’ll wreck you physically and emotionally.
+The game is visually stunning and creative
+A thoughtful and emotional storyline
What we Disliked;
-Working with Trico is simply far too difficult and broken to be entertaining.
-Controls take a downgrade from previous games.
-Glitches and camera break the immersion constantly.
When Team Ico previewed The Last Guardian back in 2009, the hype train was immediate amongst arthouse gamers; and for good reason. The team behind Ico and Shadow of the Colossus spent 8 years working on what many anticipated to be their magnum opus, a symphony of their most praised notes into a more refined arrangement. Taking the dreamlike environments, the engaging co-operative gameplay and mysterious storylines of past entries, they’ve blended it all into a stunning experience that looks more immersive and fun than it is to actually play.
The game starts with you as a young child with a blank slate, waking in a mysterious dungeon next to a giant “mankiller.” This creature is called ‘Trico’ (harde he har), and is an adorable blend of familiar pets from around your neighborhood. This cuddly abomination is an absolute cutie, even though it could’ve easily felt exploitive as being ‘totes adorbs.’ Trico will stop to roll around in a pond or play around with a hanging chain, and it would take a stone heart not to release at least one genuinely verbal ‘awwww.’ His eyes change color depending on his mood; green when he’s happy, yellow when he’s afraid, and red when he drinks a little too much and gets angry.
The developers have once again told an effective minimalist story, albeit one that takes some time to build up. There’s a clear lack of direction in the beginning, and you feel like you’re walking in circles from one similar environment to another with no clear destination. It doesn’t get interesting until the second act when you start to learn about our heroes and all the secrets about this mysterious circular valley called “The Nest”. The protagonists emulate a playful adolescence throughout, and this lightly narrated story feels like a coming of age tale for both of them. Fantasy will always house a little mystery, and the game answers just enough to not feel like a hodgepodge of tropes. The third act is just as good and bizarre as Shadow, and does make up for some of the game’s many shortcomings, but you’ll most likely rush there to see the satisfying conclusion.
Being able to direct and co-operate with your giant new friend is an amazing prospect, but sadly the mechanics just aren’t there. Trico spends most of his time ignoring your requests, lumbering around in opposite directions and generally just wasting your time. I don’t know how many times I put my faith in Trico to do basic things, such as catching me when I jump to them, give me a lift when I need it, or not slap chopping me off of a platform to my death. This interaction, the bedrock of what the game needed, simply isn’t there, and because of that everything else feels far more mediocre and time consuming.
Again, that’s not to say that Trico isn’t an amazing character. There are moments where digital skeleton dudes try to grab you and take you away, and your bird/dog friend will show up like Eleven from Stranger Things. Trico is amazing when they knock around monsters, sending them flying across the room with a giant swipe. It’s exhilarating to ride on their back and is probably the closest feeling you’ll ever get to riding Falcor. When things work, man do they work.
But when they don’t, man, they really don’t. Nothing feels right about working with Trico. I had moments where things just went off the rails, it refusing to do an action for several minutes before finally deciding to do it. I waited in a basement for nearly 10 minutes until Trico decided to put his tail down to pull me up. It’ll decide to turn around and make the last 7 jumps back in the wrong direction, despite you begging it to turn back around. Just as I predict you don’t have a heart of stone, I don’t doubt you also lack nerves of steel; you will scream at this stupid mutt at least once during gameplay.
The rest of the experience is just as unrefined. Honestly, somehow the jumping and climbing they perfected in Shadow is somehow worse in this installment, and I can’t understand how. Your character is constantly tripping over their own feet and feels more like GTA freerunning rather than a spiritual successor to Ico. Platforming is very wonky, and you never really feel confident when making your jumps. The saddest part is, there’s some fantastic physics in this game, which is evident from this clip alone (show Trico jumping into water). You can feel the wind shear as you jump in the open valley air (show child jumping over platforms). Look at those particle effects for God’s sake! Honestly, this isn’t a lazy game- there’s some serious work here, but it’s in all the wrong places and the rest of the experience just comes across as a bit of a buggy mess.
There are quite a few technical issues with the visuals as well. Frame rate drops on occasion, and I will not excuse the developers because it runs on the PS4 Pro fine- us poor gamers can’t buy the same system twice. There’s also camera issues, which again is understandable given the scale of the two characters and the platforming. It’ll ignore your controls for no reason, and keeps Trico in the frame at all the most inopportune times. The camera also resets with a distracting black screen whenever the camera clips into a wall, which happens constantly when you’re climbing in tight corners. I willing to forgive the developers, considering how ambitious the idea was, but that was eight years ago, and now I feel the blossom is off the rose at this point. Still, it tries newer ideas and succeeds at some of them.