The Last Guardian Review (PlayStation 4)
I really wanted The Last Guardian to blow me away. I've always had a soft spot for the underdog, and a game that sat in development limbo for over 10 years certainly fit that status. I hoped this would be a complete and beautiful experience that I’d talk about for years to come. Sadly, the decade-long wait for the third feather in Team Ico’s cap did not meet that standard, as the emotional story was marred by technical issues of a bygone era.
The Last Guardian serves as a time capsule to the late PlayStation 2/early PlayStation 3, and that’s both a blessing and a curse. For starters, the game gave me little to no guidance, telling me only how to control my character and giving me vague clues via narration on what to do next. Exploring rooms, finding puzzle solutions, and advancing to the next part of the game was all on me, and that’s exactly how it should have been.
The bulk of the game’s puzzles centered around three things: finding barrels of Trico chow for him to eat (that chow being some kind of liquid that resembles Imulsion from Gears of War), destroying weird stained-glass eyes that Trico is petrified of for some reason, or avoiding enemies that will take me away but Trico can neutralize. All of them required some minor platforming, even using Trico himself to get to new areas or to break down barricades with his Force Lightning tail. Exploration and attention to detail was paramount in finding solutions, which worked well with the old-school “figure it out yourself” approach. If the game held my hand too much, I’d was more likely to feel stupid than accomplished.
Unfortunately the game’s old-world philosophy comes packaged with a core game engine also straight from the year 2005, all of the quirks and failings the industry had outgrown still fully intact. I haven’t used a camera this frustrating since Epic Mickey, as it never went where I wanted it to even when I turned it to the exact angle I needed. It was always moving in unnatural ways, one time placing me in a situation where all I could see was Trico’s backside.
Speaking of the dog-bird, his AI could be just as frustrating, forgetting where he was supposed to stand in order to advance or taking a full five minutes to see the barrel I just threw at him to eat. I'd be telling him where to go in order to advance but he wouldn’t do it, deciding to stay right where he was and hanging out. In a way, it was like training an animal in real life, but even then a real dog would have listened to my command the 10th or 11th time, where Trico’s stubbornness knew no bounds.
I don’t want to rag on Trico too much though, because he is awesome. While his AI may not always cooperate, his animations are very natural and impressive, as if he were a real animal from our world. He would shake and vocalize like a dog; he moved and pounced like a cat; and when he took off, his wings would flap like the most majestic of bald eagles. I wondered if I’d rather control Trico myself instead of just ordering him around, but I quickly realized that letting him do his own thing was the way to go, even if he didn’t always get where I need him to go. As the game progressed he grew from a frightened beast unsure of the human boy that found him into a pet more loyal and protective than I could have imagined. If only I could have done it without my point of view shifting erratically every 10 seconds.
It may sound like I can’t decide if I like The Last Guardian or not, because there was just as much to praise as there was to lament. While the wonderful narrative is worth experiencing, the frustration that comes with it is a tall price to pay. Every uplifting moment is weighed down with a weird control issue; every dumb camera angle improved by an awesome interaction with Trico. The Last Guardian is an interesting and frustrating game that can’t decide if it wants to be modern or retro, and that constant argument brings the entire experience down a notch. While I was willing to deal with the limits of the previous era to enjoy the perks of the current one, I can understand where others might grow weary of the experience.
This review was completed using a digital copy of The Last Guardian provided by the publisher for PlayStation 4.