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After nearly a decade in development, we have collectively awoken from our hazy, fever dream to the realisation that the latest creation from now iconic game developer Fumito Ueda in our hands. And whilst it was a monumental task bringing The Last Guardian to life in the first place, you can rest assured the adventure contained within is just as grand and arduous.
Opening with the foreshadowing of various sketches akin Darwin's’ Origin of Species - but of both Earthly and mystical creatures alike - it’s clear the idea that developers Team Ico wish to instill within you, that the beast you're about to come face-to-face with - as you awaken within a dank cave - is no mere digital creation, but instead a living, breathing, fully realised feathered-monstrosity whose trust you must gain and behaviour come to fully understand if you are ever to escape your plight. If you had ever imagined what the combination of both Ueda’s previous titles (Ico and Shadow of the Colossus) would result in, then The Last Guardian is truly the manifestation of it; melding elements - like a yin and yang - from both those classic games to create an Ico for the next-generation of gamers, bringing with it the best of both worlds, but sadly all of its aged flaws too.
At its heart The Last Guardian is an environmental puzzle-platformer, that much like Ico tasks you with escaping from one dire situation to the next within a towering citadel. The puzzles themselves are fairly straightforward, but unlike Ico you’re no longer the brawn of this operation, that task is instead up to your towering companion Trico; whom you must attempt to communicate with via the R1 button in addition to a combination of the four face buttons if you so wish. It’s a slow going process at first, with the creature untrusting and completely emphatical to your plights, more concerned with various noises and plainly more interested in doing its own thing - which I could easily see causing frustration for many - but like training an actual pet, that bond quickly hastens and with it the communication barrier between man and beast shattered, with you slowly being able to navigate your surroundings with ease.
Likewise, combat in The Last Guardian is wholly defensive on your part - basically you’re the Yorda of this adventure - with your survival entirely dependent on Trico protecting you from the possessed statues attempting to abduct you in this merciless world; Trico does warn you though, with the beast's normally soulful eyes turning a harsh red to signal the activation of attack mode and presence of nearby enemies. With your newfound friend finished with the scuffle, it’s now up to you to calm the poor thing down by holding down circle next to its body for some heavy petting, whilst clambering upon its body to remove any implements - such as spears - which may currently be protruding from its exterior. And honestly this kinship is the best part of The Last Guardian, with those 10 years of development clearly spent tirelessly emulating all the natural reactions of dogs, cats and birds - the trifecta of pets - to create one cohesive new animal, that’s a true wonder to behold and easily the most realistic creature we have ever had in gaming. Boasting seemingly endless contextual animations, and a beautiful feathered texture adorning its body which bellow in the wind. You’ll quickly grow fond of Trico, which makes the trials and tribulations you will both suffer through all the more painful and poignant.
I have to admit, with the long and clearly troubled development of The Last Guardian, I was worried, wondering if that time would destroy the original vision Ueda excels at. Thankfully that is wholly intact, but with a far more in-depth and cinematic tale than his previous games, that even emulates set-pieces from modern games such as Uncharted which completely surprised me. But those legacy elements of an early PlayStation 3 title are still apparent; whilst Ueda is known for confusing gamers with some already convoluted control schemes (at least there’s no grip meter this time) it's the more simple technical aspects that we take for granted which set The Last Guardian back and show its roots. From a terrible camera that has obviously been an ongoing issue for the team - mainly caused whilst riding on Trico in cramped areas - that completely resets itself before it goes too crazy, causing a startling effect and taking you away from the experience; and a whole litany of in-game mishappenings from triggering points for cutscenes not being quite right to the more simple matters such as you not attaching to ladders upon contact - which had me at one particular puzzle believing the game was bugged - basically all the things modern games today present as a given are lacking within The Last Guardian.
This I believe is partly due to not only the systems themselves being legacy (copied from Ico and Shadow of the Colossus) but also of Ueda himself missing the opportunity to evolve with the industry in the technical field of game design. Gaming has evolved for the better in this area, and it’s clear The Last Guardian is a title that belongs on a PlayStation 2 from a player design aspect, and it will be interesting to see now that Ueda has moved on, whether he will seek out smaller projects to iterate upon those design sensibilities to fulfill his ideas. I truly hope The Last Guardian is not his swan-song and it won't be another decade until we see his next creation.
But as you reach the teary eyed conclusion of The Last Guardian, the technical mishappenings that frustrated you along the way will feel like the rough patch within the upwards of 15-20 hour relationship, one that is quickly forgotten when you come to understand what The Last Guardian has in spades is singular unique vision. Whilst its puzzles are nothing we haven’t seen before, Trico and the relationship you will both forge is something entirely new, that will have you completely enamoured with the creatures survival and bemused at its antics.
If The Last Guardian had released as scheduled in those early PlayStation 3 days, it would have been lauded as a masterpiece and one of the greatest games ever made. But alas gaming has evolved, and whilst its vision is still unmatched, the technical aspects are rough around the edges, likely causing frustration amongst many who play through it. But if you are able to look past those flaws, what's waiting for you both at the end of that white light is truly something special that will stay with you for many years to come.
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A very well balanced review. I can't see the few issues putting me off at all, but it's nice to know of them in advance.
I'm incredibly jealous of you getting to spend time with this already.
Nice review and write up.
I loved Ico and Shadow of the Colossus so I am really looking forward to playing this one and judging from what you mention I reckon I will enjoy it.
Interesting you say you now play rather defensive. can't wait to see what that will be like.
How hard are the puzzles?
I will be streaming this game today at some point I reckon, if anyone fancies watching me play the start of it. Only for like 40 mins mind you. I will be doing it around 4pm. Come join me: http://bit.ly/LordRoss
The puzzles are actually fairly straight forward, but the two barriers are;
Nice review. I'm off tomorrow so will be spending a bit of time playing with myself.
Maybe a game I will pick up a little later on once I clear through a few other great games first.
Never played the previous games mentioned so don't feel that need to play this just yet
Sounds awful. Thanks for saving me the £50.
Tbh as soon as I saw the file size I thought they hadn't put much effort into it.
Hey, thanks for the lovely review! I happen to be a huge fan of Fumito Ueda & his previous games, Ico & Shadow of the Colossus. So when the collector's edition for the Last Guardian became available, I made certain I got a hold of it. However, I've never played TLG as yet, as I still don't own a PS4 (I know I know! Please don't laugh ok! lol). But as soon as I get one (the Pro more like with a nice TV to back it up) then I wouldn't hesitate for a second to give the game a go. I can't wait, tbh.
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