The Last Guardian – Review

While 2016 will go down in history for horrifying election results and distressing celebrity purges, it’s also been home to two games the world was sure it would never see.

The first – Final Fantasy XV – finally made its way to store shelves after a decade of development hell last month.

The other? A spiritual successor to cult classics ICO and Shadow of the Colossus. The long revered, highly anticipated platform exclusive, The Last Guardian. A game that was first conceptualised way back in 2007.

 

Immediately their release begs the question: How can either possibly live up to expectation? And the answer is, realistically, they can’t. Nothing could. At this point, people have their own established idea of what the games should be through the trailers, artwork, inspired mechanics, and snippets of story. They’ve played the games out a thousand times in their mind. The finished result will not compare, for better or worse.

And that’s ok, because these games should be judged on what they are, not what they’ve been conceptualised to be. Development has twisted and contorted both for so long that developers have been forced to make changes to suit the rapid growth of the industry. Mechanics that would have first been dreamt up as part of the original concept became so dated that they’ve been left on the chopping block. Same goes for story, animation, music, effects, environment, characters. It’s been a process, and a long one at that.

What has remained consistent, however, is the relationship between Trico, the swan-like, dog/bird creature, and a young boy. This creature has instilled fear and inspired legend, yet shows a softer, sentimental side in wake of an unexpected kindness when at its most vulnerable. The pair bring out the best in one another, and their strength soars as their unity grows.

The Last Guardian is recounted in autobiographical form by the boy when he becomes a man, comparable to the stuff of legend he had grown up around. During the adventure, players will leap between crumbling pillars, skirt along craggy rock-faces, and shoot lightning bolts out of Trico’s ass while feeding barrels to the beast. Presumably because he prefers the sealing wood to its contents. For real.

Thing is, Trico is the most adorable klutz you’ll ever meet. And while you’ve probably heard many stories about The Last Guardian’s ropey presentation, the bumbling baffoon’s japes beautifully compliment the overall package. On one occassion, I’d just completed a relatively tough climbing section. I’d died a few times – partly because I didn’t know the way to go and partly because I messed up the controls. Slight frustration aside, I eventually made it to a safe haven and was able to progress the story. But by the time the sweet feeling of relief came over me, Trico came outta nowhere – not unlike an RKO (Or, in this case, TKO) – and knocked me flat on my face just so he could squeeze into the same space. I hadn’t seen him for ages and the shock made me belly laugh so much that I fell off the sofa and had to stop playing for a few minutes. Just another of the game’s unintended glitches that add a layer of unpredictability and make it that much easier to fall in love with the beast – even when you’re trying to be mad at it.

All that said, the frame rate is quite awful at times. The game regularly slows down during busy sections and camera panning quite often becomes sluggish. There are times in The Last Guardian where it’s clear to see development didn’t start on Playstation 4 and this game has been chopped up and tossed around a lot. Close up visuals can seem quite pixelated, control responsiveness harkens back to PS2 levels of annoyance, and surprisingly, for a game that’s been in development this long, you can see certain sections lack a desired level of polish.

That said, sometimes you’ll find yourself openly gawping at the vividness and vibrancy of the scenery, enthralled by this enchanting world which is both unexplainable and familiar. You’ll hunt for every subtle clue, and desperately explore every nook and cranny to truly enlighten yourself on context.

I can recall several occassions when Trico needed to do something to push things forward, but he would either get stuck on a specific path forcing a restart, or completely ignore instructions until I either repeated them several times or was stood in the exact spot. About that love / hate relationship…

What The Last Guardian has over so many other games, though, is charm. It has style. Finesse. Quality. There’s substance, feeling, it harmonises, synergises, and resonates with you on an emotional level many AAA development studios wish they could reach. And in its ability to connect with a player, the game has its unique, unrivalled selling point.

No doubt we’ve all waited a long time for this, and while it may not achieve the lofty heights we’d set for it, there’s an appropriateness about The Last Guardian finally rearing its head in 2016. For this is a game which weighs the value of friendship so heavily, and toys with the concept of not judging someone – or something – by their outward appearance and attributes. More than ever, at a time when these basic qualities appear to have been taken for granted on a global scale, we need this game in our lives. In the case of The Last Guardian, I like to believe that these lengthy, arduous delays served a greater purpose. One I’m incredibly grateful for.

 


Pros
+ Infectious charm 
+ Trico is the most adorable klutz
+ Lovely narrative presentation
+ Difficult to put down

Cons
– Frustrating controls and unresponsive AI
– Several technical hitches 
– Sluggish frame rate and camera panning 


The Last Guardian 

8.5 out of 10

Platform review on :- Playstation 4

About the author

Ray Willmott

Ray is the founder and editor of Expansive. He is also a former Community Manager for Steel Media, and has written for a variety of gaming websites over the years. His work can be seen on Pocket Gamer, PG.biz, Gfinity, and the Red Bull Gaming Column. He has also written for VG247, Videogamer, GamesTM, PLAY, and MyM Magazine,