The Last Guardian is a game we’ve been waiting ten years for now, and despite a beautiful aesthetic with some heart, time has not been kind.
I was never originally interested in The Last Guardian, partly because I had no means to play it for a long time, but also because it always seemed less likely to come out whenever news was released. The fact that I do now have the means to play it, goes to show that it skipped an entire console generation to arrive on my doorstep, and frankly it arrived far too late to the party.
Waking up in the massive abandoned fortress the game takes place in, The Last Guardian is a charming tale of a boy and his dog, or rather, a frustrating adventure with his giant griffon monster thing. The pair are together since the first scene of the game, and the story is really about their adventure and relationship, instead of any focused storytelling within the game world. On an emotional level it kind of works, people tend to care about animals more than actual humans, and the narrative of exploring with your new friend takes over from any clear cut objective driving the gameplay. On a mechanical level though, it’s hard to care about either of them as much as you should when they annoy the hell out of you.
As the child and Trico form a slow connection out of necessity, it quickly blossoms into a friendship and the narrative of that journey is one of the better aspects of the game. The game has two major beats on display, as you either explore this massive empty fortress with Trico as your only companion, or work together to solve puzzles to continue doing so. Getting to watch to two interact takes centre stage more often than not however, as you start out needing each other to tag along in order to progress, and end up becoming a fully functional team. The transition from which is actually quite organic, and when you do see just how attached the two become as a pair, it continues to open up how you interact with the world as whole constantly. While there is more going on in the world than walking around this lost city, it’s interesting enough to make you curious about the world, without ever holding your attention away from the story of the pair.
Sadly, this is where most of The Last Guardians charm ends however, as while the narrative of the boy and Trico’s journey together in this forgotten labyrinth make you care, the controls and gameplay make you stop. The controls feel at best clunky, and at worst, painful. A vast majority of the game is you hoping, praying, that Trico will do what you want. While you do eventually get a degree of command over his actions, it usually comes down to hoping and guessing, with the game often making you second guess yourself when the right action simply won’t happen or doesn’t trigger just right. I have actually had greater success telling my own cat what to do. This isn’t helped by the fact that you are often expected to know what to do when the expected action is a completely new move on Trico’s behalf, expecting you to guess about one off situations or adapt to something neither of them has done before. None of the puzzles in the game are truly difficult, but they can feel poorly executed, or simply dated and tedious. So very tedious.
In case you thought Trico was dragging the duo down however, don’t worry, the boy isn’t much better. Running around like a human a few bones short of a full skeleton, our jello based protagonist flops around the world fighting off the games primary antagonist, the camera and controls. The general control scheme is very simple, but manages to feel more awkward than it needs to be, making it feel much closer to a title on the PS2 than PS4. To its credit though, the game is decent when it comes to interacting with Trico, but it’s a small victory in a long fight. It never feels truly unplayable, but when the whole game is a puzzle platformer crossed with an escort mission, these short comings tend to come up all the time. The floaty controls aren’t helped by some impressive framerate tanks in some parts, and while the game doesn’t run too poorly overall, it certainly has trouble at times keeping a solid pace throughout.
Despite the mess of the controls, the game world is nice enough to explore when you are doing so. It really does feel like you’re exploring a place forgotten by time long ago, and there’s some interesting glimpses of a story that shine through given by the environment itself. Sadly, you do spend almost of the time indoors or in tighter spaces, often hiding from the frame dips when you do wander outside, and while there is a forgotten beauty to the fortress, it rarely hits any higher than looking kind of nice here and there. Music doesn’t far much better, as it only really becomes noticeable in more intense situations, and is otherwise quiet or nonexistence. This is often done for effect in the desolate citadel, but on the whole it doesn’t give you much to go off, and what is there tends to fade into the background, failing to become anything more memorable. The general atmosphere does do a lot for the games tone, but it never really becomes much more than a backdrop sadly, which is shame seeing how close it comes to being much more.
In short, The Last Guardian is not what I had expected it to be. It’s almost frustrating to see it fall so short with so much potential lying in wait, somewhere in its world. While your journey with Trico can be a charming little adventure at times, everything good about the game and its world are constantly dragged down by tedious puzzles, awkward controls and irritating shortcomings. Most disappointing of all however, is the letdown in what it could have been. I wanted to like this game much more than I did, and that’s the worst part.
Worth a Go?