REVIEW: The Last Guardian
…enraging, furniture-abusing frustration only occasionally leavened by moments of magical whimsy.
“Fuck you, you stupid fucking feathered fuckwit!” That’s me screaming at the telly and punching my couch while playing The Last Guardian. I’m not proud of myself.
“Oh how enchanting and lyrical. It’s lovely.” That’s me again, still playing The Last Guardian, mesmerised by the visual poetry unfolding.
“JUMP! Jump, you fucker, JUMP! I’m pressing JUMP! WHY WON’T YOU JUMP, YOU BAFFLE-WITTED PRICK? JUMP!” That’s also me, a few minutes later, hating The Last Guardian with every hairy fibre of my being.
Welcome to The Last Guardian review. Truly it was the extremely brief best of times and the frequent, enraging worst of times.
The Last Guardian is a game with baggage. Team Ico – the renowned developers responsible for Ico (2001) and absolute masterpiece, Shadow of the Colossus (2005) – began work on the title way back in 2007.
The game was delayed so frequently it became a running joke, like Half-Life 3 and Final Fantasy XV. Well, FFXV arrived and so has The Last Guardian and although this sounds strange to say about a game that has appeared almost a decade after its inception: it really needed further development.
The Last Guardian’s story, like all Team Ico efforts, is basic and told through visuals and actions, rather than extended cutscenes. You play as a young boy who wakes up in a gloomy pit, covered with strange tattoos and no memory of how he got there. You’ll soon find a huge winged bird/dog/cat hybrid, Trico, next to you chained up and injured. After pulling spears from the great beast’s hide, and giving him some glowing barrels to eat, you and Trico begin to form an unlikely alliance and try to understand the situation you’re both in.
The concept of a boy and his monster on an epic adventure is a good one, and Trico is an impressive creation. Beautifully animated and featuring an AI that makes him seem like a living creature, one can’t help but be impressed by the work of director, Fumito Ueda and his dedicated team.
That sense of respect dwindles, however, when you actually start playing the game in earnest. Put simply The Last Guardian’s controls are absolutely woeful. The little boy wanders around and staggers over objects just like a real little boy, but his imprecise movements, while visually impressive, soon become annoying when exacting jumps and fiddly climbing are required. Worse than the boy’s controls, however, is Trico. A few hours into the game you’ll be able to give Trico commands, to jump, stop, follow and so on. Trico actually heeding those commands, however, seems to be up to the mysterious whims of chance.
Now it’s true in real life one wouldn’t expect a wild beast to behave obediently but a game needs to have a sense of consistency. I lost count of the number of times I knew how to solve a puzzle but Trico simply wouldn’t obey and I was unable to progress. I’d punch the couch a few times, hurl obscenities and rage quit. Later on, I’d load up the game and Trico would do it on the first go. Needing to reset the entire game to get past a puzzle isn’t good game design, it’s a bug and a fiercely annoying one at that.
That’s not to say The Last Guardian is without its charms. When everything’s working properly there is a deep and abiding sense of satisfaction to be gained from solving a tough puzzle, or getting Trico out of a sticky situation. The problem is the game is so inconsistent it’s hard to tell whether you’re stuck because you haven’t found the solution or the game’s AI has just popped out the back for a smoke, and will return when it’s good and bloody ready.
It’s hard to be swept away by visual poetry when you’re rage grinding your teeth into a fine powder.
Ultimately The Last Guardian is an acquired taste. If you can handle inconsistent, buggy AI and awkward, cumbersome controls you may find something to love here – other people certainly have.
However, for me, The Last Guardian was mostly an exercise in enraging, furniture-abusing frustration only occasionally leavened by moments of magical whimsy.