Developer: SIE Japan Studio
Release Date: 6th December 2016
It’s been almost a decade since the TLG was originally announced. After skipping a whole console generation and having no news on its development for long periods of time or if it would ever go gold, suspicions started to arise on whether it would ever get released at all. Then, at E3 2016, Sony revealed a release date. As the on-screen text rolled at the end of a trailer with the date, an eruption of cheer burst from the crowd. After years of waiting and anticipation, we would finally get our hands on one of the most anticipated games of the decade.
The Last Guardian follows the journey of a young boy; protagonist in the TLG, who is introduced slumbering out of unconsciousness next to Trico; your companion throughout the game and a concoction of multiple different animal attributes. Trico’s clawed talons and feathery hide resembles a bird, whilst the way it scratches behind its ears relates to a canine. Trico’s most prominent characteristic however lies with the feline family. It will claw through doors that are too small to fit through, roll its shoulders before leaping itself to great heights and looks curiously around new environments.At first, Trico is reluctant to gain your trust. On your first encounter, Trico appears to be chained and wounded with multiple spears impaled into its body. Getting too close to it results in the beast lashing out, pushing the boy away. You must feed Trico barrels containing a blue mysterious substance to gain its trust, an activity that reoccurs at regular intervals throughout the game. It’s the type of monotonous activity that would and should become stale in most other games, but here, it’s strangely satisfying. Initially it’s quite a daunting task, as Trico snaps at your approach aggressively in eager anticipation for its next meal, you’re forced to throw the barrel from a safe distance. As time progresses however, and the bond between the boy and beast becomes ever closer, you’ll start having the ability to place the barrels straight into the jaws of Trico.
The Last Guardian features CGI cut scenes, a series first. They answer a lot of the initial questions surrounding the game, such as why the boy wakes up with the injured beast, and how the boy got in the current situation. Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, Ueda’s (the games lead developer) previous instalments, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, never revealed much on the topic of story. This invited the player to dig deeper into the environment to try and reveal the mysteries of the world. It’s always been a bold strategy, one that few developers deploy. Entrusting the player to use their own imagination and initiative.
It’s in the design that you can see just why Ueda decided to skip a whole generation of consoles. The realm in which TLG takes place is a truly vast area, the level design is not unlike that from what we see in Dark Souls in the respect that it’s as vertical as it is horizontal. In open areas, we can see future areas, or areas we have visited previously. The use of the PS4’s power has been used to full potential too. The Nest (the name given to the realm in which we find ourselves in) is reminiscent of Ico’s fortress. Every area is a large, isolated expanse with plenty of opportunities to explore. Sunbeams cast through the fortress’ crevices, picking out dust particles floating around the cavernous rooms. Trico’s feathers ruffle in the wind as it runs at freighting speed. Blades of grass move independently as you stroll through them (or flatten completely if Trico stands on them!). The framerate on occasions does suffer, particularly in the more open areas, although it rarely hinders gameplay. The protagonist shows a hint of a cell shaded texture, which is a subtle contrast to the rest of the games visuals. It’s a fitting way of portraying that the boy is from another place, and is an outsider amongst the world he finds himself in. It’s a shame, that TLG doesn’t feature a The Last of Us style photo mode. On multiple occasions, there’s been the perfect use for the Dualshock 4’s share button.The soundtrack is very impressive and it never over stays it welcome. It perfectly underlines the moments in the game leaving the rest to the audio to the incredibly realistic and often heart-warming sounds of Trico.
Trico may just be the most realistic AI companion in any video game to date. The creature’s animation is extremely realistic. When the player shouts out an order that isn’t entirely comprehensive, the beast will tilt its head in confusion, rather charmingly. Even if you do make a coherent order, Trico will not act spontaneously. Just like a feline cat, it is quite stubborn initially, and will take its time before finally obeying your wishes. It’s a bold strategy from Ueda. It’s a formula that feels like it could never work in video games, and on paper looks like it would be a disaster. However, the result is a truly charismatic, charming, and delightful experience. These attributes just wouldn’t have been possible if they were to use the now ancient PS3 hardware.
There are many puzzles to be solved in TLG. None of them are too taxing though, but feel just as much rewarding as the last. Most of the puzzles rely on the collaboration of the protagonist and beast. On occasion, we find ourselves wondering around the world on our own, searching to open a path for the oversize beast.
Combat is a simple task. Most of the time you’ll just hop onto Trico’s back and let it do most of the work for you. However, as the game progresses, things get a little more complicated. The enemies, who are animated suits of armour, start carrying shields with a symbol on them. It’s clear Trico is frightened of these symbols, as he backs away and becomes immobile and unable to fight, forcing the player to get involved in the fight, and rather comically roll into the animated statues so that they drop the shield. In ICO, it was your job to protect Yorda and stop her from being dragged through the portals. TLG however sees the roles reversed.Once you’ve been caught, to be released it’s a simple matter of pressing all the face buttons until all the rune symbols on screen disappear and you’re eventually dropped. It’s a process that doesn’t take much skill, and there’s no sense of timing involved. It’s just a button mash that feels very dissatisfying.
Just like the previous loosely connected instalments, there is some odd control choices. Triangle to jump is not used in many games, and you’ll find yourself for most of the opening hours pressing more conventional buttons. Otherwise, the controls are relatively straight forward. But that doesn’t stop TLG from feeling the need to remind you what the controls are by flashing control hints, even on the simplest of tasks on screen, throughout the entirety of the game.
The camera feels quite heavy at times, especially when Trico stands idle and the game insists that you should be watching. Increasing the camera sensitivity eliminates this problem somewhat, but not entirely. The slightly more claustrophobic areas of TLG causes slight issues with the camera. Turning the camera into the wall typically (in most other games) results in the view being auto corrected, however, here the camera goes into the wall, turning the screen completely blank.
There aren’t many references to the previous instalments in TLG. To the keen eye though, there’s subtle hints suggesting that TLG takes places in the same world, such as lizards crawling up the wall, comparable to the ones in SoTC.The Last Guardian doesn’t go without its mechanical and control issues, but it’s warm and charming experience is one of which we don’t see often in the modern-day video game industry. With AI that surpasses most games of this generation, and a style that we haven’t seen in a decade, it’s safe to say that TLG is certainly a unique experience that rivals the relevance of its predecessors a decade ago. TLG keeps you captivated and absorbed all the way until the games finale. ICO and SotC were worlds with unique character and a place of individuality and the TLG is no exception. It has certainly been worth the wait.
Final Verdict – 8.9