Title: The Last Guardian
Developer: Sony Interactive Entertainment, Team Ico, GenDesign, SIE Japan Studio
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release date: Out now.
tl;dr: It’s like owning a dog with all the fun parts taken out
Price: £50, but on sale right now for £30! $60 for the US.
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The Last Guardian had a hell of a hype train to ride. This game has been in development for approximately eleven years, conceived way back in 2005. It was a myth, a legend, along the lines of Alice: Madness Returns, Duke Nukem Forever, and Beyond Good and Evil 2. Only now we’ve got closure (and three out of four of those games, might I add), and is it the closure people want? I’m not so sure.
This game runs off the idea that less is more. We have two central characters, minimal dialogue, and not a whole lot of variation in the setting. The main character doesn’t even have a name (he’s simply known as “The Boy,”) and Trico is the name of the species rather than a given name. Trico obeys a handful of simple commands, and there’s only a few actions The Boy can really do in the world.
Because of its minimalist nature, making a game like this is a difficult task to pull off correctly. You have to be really good at storytelling to keep people hooked and engaged, though I will admit, this is a nice premise. It sort of reminded me of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons in its premise, and the world is certainly interesting. It’s a mix of ancient and modern, with weird devices and odd creatures popping up all over the place, contrasted neatly by the tribal designs and simplistic nature of the puzzles. You don’t know where you are, what you are, or what the hell the cat-dog-horse-bird thing is. And in most ways, you don’t need to.
For once, a luckluster plot isn’t a thing that’s letting this game down. The voice acting and music are okay, nothing that particularly stands out, and the graphics are an oddity. While Trico certainly looks realistic and has beautiful textures all over his or her feathery body, the rest of it doesn’t particularly up to scratch for a current gen game. It has a low res, blurry vibe to it that really isn’t doing the game any favours – it looks like it could have been on the PS3, in whole honesty. Combine that with the same boring scenery for hours on end, it doesn’t really look all that impressive. Not something that was really worth waiting so long for, at any rate.
Gameplay is what was really off putting, for me. Like I said before, it’s relatively simple. Run, push, pull, and jump. The Boy can’t attack the guards or lift certain things, so he has to call Trico over to do them. Stamp on this, smash that, jump up there, get up on your hind legs… sounds easy enough, right? There’s multiple problems with both sets of commands. First off, the actions are weirdly sticky. Clambering up Trico/various ledges is hampered by The Boy clinging to the wall like he’s made of glue, and sometimes flat out doesn’t work. You can jump and then cling to Trico by pressing triangle, but can’t leap off its head directly to the ground. Similarly, you’re supposed to press X to drop down off of Trico, but this often doesn’t work, or leaves you positioned at odd angles.
It also suffers from the last gen problem of not telling us what’s climbable and what isn’t, and similarly, where the goddamn objective is. The game apparently expects you to have tons of free time and just scramble about the same hallway or dingy dungeon for hours for what might be the solution to the puzzle. You can’t see your surroundings, most of the time, and any attempt to jump across a chasm or climb up something often ends up with The Boy unceremoniously having his brains splattered across the concrete, as that particular thing wasn’t climbable.
The puzzles themselves aren’t all that difficult, either, and normally, that’d be something that would get me singing this game’s praises, but I find it difficult to really tell what the point of the game is, in this case. Yes, there’s a bond you’re supposed to be watching develop between The Boy and Trico, but if the puzzles are little more than “move this lever, smash this pot, push this glass eye away,” when why was it not just a walking sim? In fact, I’d go so far to say the puzzles are “fake difficult.” The problems themselves are simple, but are hampered by the irritating design which makes it harder for players to work out what they’re meant to be doing, yet actually has a very quick and simple solution.
Trico, though, is definitely the worst part. The bulk of the dev time seems to have been spent making sure your feathery friend had a realistic enough AI that you thought of it as an actual animal rather than an avatar. Out of context, this has been done remarkably well. Trico’s behaviour and personality is a pretty interesting mix of feline and canine, and it’s cute watching it splash around in puddles or claw open boxes to get at treats. The wild stomping sprees and attacking the soldiers is also a nice reminder that this is a wild animal you’re dealing with, not a pet.
However, there’s no fun in a realistic AI if it doesn’t listen to you. I realise that pets don’t obey you 100% of the time, but when you’re trying to push forward and Trico flat out won’t respond, or you’re stuck standing atop his head, waiting for him to move so you can jump to a ledge, it becomes irritating fast. Trico doesn’t respond to commands when you ask him to, and once more working out which was the right one took far too much effort. I eventually gave up playing when, despite all my efforts, Trico wouldn’t jump down on to a ledge. I restarted the game, rebooted the console, moved The Boy around, consulted the walkthrough… nothing, so I gave up. Bugged? Maybe. Annoying? Absolutely.
It’s truly a shame, because the plot was supposed to be the defining factor for this game. I was supposed to be awed and blown away by the loving bond between boy and dog. Instead, I feel a lot of that was overridden by frustration. Following Trico around is pretty like owning a dog with all the fun bits stripped out, because no one likes a pet that doesn’t listen to you at all, ever. It’s only a cute for a while before it starts becoming intensely annoying. There were a few fragments of worldbuilding here and there, but a lot of that was lost through the sheer annoyance of trying to navigate a world with Trico as a companion. The intriguing mix of technology and archaic ruins were definitely a good idea, but it’s hard to focus on that when The Boy is hellbent on running into walls or stumbling about trying to figure out what to do next.
But hey, Trico’s being cute, right? And behaving itself for five minutes!
- Trico is a pretty bird-cat-horse
- It’s a good idea for a game
- As was that AI.
- Aforementioned AI is buggy and annoying
- “Sticky,” controls
- Not enough objective direction
It’s rated 12+ for occasional violence and Trico stomping soldiers into paste.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a retail copy for the PlayStation 4 purchased for the purpose of this review.