For context, The Last Guardian‘s development team, Team ICO 1, and its designer, Fumito Ueda, previously created games that are largely considered artistic masterpieces of gaming. For those of you who haven’t played ICO or Shadow of the Colossus, I’m just gonna leave this here. I played both of these when they came out, and I will wholeheartedly say that I cannot recommend them enough. What the studio was able to do with minimal dialogue, a creative art style, and relatively small casts is mind blowing.
When they first announced that they were making a new game for the PS3, I was ecstatic. Then the game was hampered by delay after delay, a console generation change, and the departure of most of Ueda’s team when he left (although he was contracted to finish directing the game.) Finally, the game was set to release in late 2016. We were given a date. Then it got delayed again…but as of December 6, 2016, The Last Guardian finally saw its release. I bought a copy, thinking that the reviews for it were decent, and as much as I loved the other two games, it was worth a shot.
The Last Guardian is a game nine years in the making, and boy, does it show. Spoilers behind the cut.
At first, I was enthralled with the atmosphere of the game. It wasn’t the prettiest, graphically, but that does not bother me as much as it does some gamers. The first few hours of the game felt fun and intuitive, and I informed my friend that I was willing to give it a 7/10. You could feel the bond forming between The Boy and Trico (the big feathered cat dog bird). Some of the puzzles were clever, and I felt immersed in the world, much like I did with the other Team ICO games previously.
Then the game quickly went down hill. At probably the half way point of the game2, you’re given the ability to “command” Trico. These commands are more like suggestions. Trico also completely ignores about 90% of them. While they designed the AI of Trico to act like a real animal, the issue is that it is not good for gameplay to have a partner that refuses to listen to you. What’s worse is that sometimes when you’re directing him to jump or go a certain direction, he will actually undo all of the previous work you did to get where you were.
The whole concept of the game is working together with Trico to get through to a tower after you have both been imprisoned, although the reasons for this are not explained until much further into the game. However, Trico becomes more of a frustration and annoyance than a cute animal companion that is supposed to work along with you. What’s worse is that sometimes you have to have the perfect placement, as well as dealing annoying game play glitches. The following movie was a result of me sitting for 10 minutes at least looking for that perfect placement, as well as noticing multiple times that the tail that was meant to rescue me was stuck in the rafters.
While looking for that perfect placement, fighting Trico on commands, and in general dealing with strange bugs of The Boy wigging out when he was on Trico sometimes, I grew more and more frustrated with the game. I was hoping that there would be an amazing pay off, as there usually is with Team ICO games. The final act was actually somewhat disappointing in comparison to the other two games. You do find out what happens to the duo, and why their adventure even started in the first place. However, there is very little satisfaction after fighting with this creature that is supposed to be your companion for several hours. Even with two cats of my own and fully understanding that animals can be hardheaded, I began to dread gameplay elements where I had to travel with Trico. I liked walking next to him, I liked feeding him, 3 and I sat and petted him longer than I am probably proud of.
The fact of the matter with The Last Guardian for me is that it is just marred with bad gameplay elements, and it makes it extremely hard to recommend to anyone. That 7 I had initially offered up for the game quickly became a 4 or a 5. I came into this game wanting to love it because of the history of the development team, and my love of the previous two games of the spiritual series. I came out of it wishing that instead I had just played ICO again.