Review: The Last Guardian
Not so much worth the wait.
The Last Guardian is a game that many had long forgotten. First announced as a PlayStation 3 title and spiritual successor to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, it’s gone through a long development cycle. Despite a current-generation release on PlayStation 4, a lot of its mechanics feel archaic and ultimately hold it back.
The Last Guardian’s narrative, driven by the relationship between boy and beast, suffers from pacing issues. It all begins with the pair meeting for the first time, waking up in a cave, stricken by amnesia. While clichéd, it sets up the emotional tone well; the setup allows for their relationship to grow over time. The plot is at times emotional, despite being quite minimalistic in tone and exposition; this will no doubt be appreciated by fans of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. That said, the first few hours are horrendously slow and a majority of character development and narrative reveals are held back until its final hours. In fact, early hours of the game are at times painstakingly boring and I often struggled to find a reason to continue the game.
The world of The Last Guardian is visually stunning. There’s a lot of detail to environments and lighting and particle effects are rich and dynamic. Close-ups of foliage and crumbling buildings are impressive, though vistas in the distance look janky and unfinished. Frame rate is often consistently average except spiking in large-scaled environments. Trico is also well animated and feels like a real animal, with feathers that are vibrant and flow in the wind. It’s a very expressive creature as well, as animations of it panicking after fighting enemies, splashing in a pool of water and dancing cheerfully after being fed all help bring it to life.
An unclear sense of direction in level design left me lost. Interacting with the world requires a great deal of patience. Although you experience events as the child, a lot of environments require you to co-operate with Trico — you’re to command it to jump to a nearby ledge or attack enemies as examples. While this a unique mechanic influenced by the pair’s relationship, the commands are fairly limited; Trico is often quite unresponsive, so puzzles take far too much time than need be. Early moments require you to command the beast multiple times before it performs an action, and even then it may not be where you want it to go. Trico eventually becomes more responsive to your commands as the relationship between the pair grows, but this isn’t until the story’s final hours.
There are times where you’re separated from the beast, too. These involve more basic puzzles, such as moving imposing eye-shaped mirrors out of the way so Trico can pass. These moments are refreshing if not very simplistic. A lot of tedious backtracking created by moments in the story serves very little purpose besides making the game longer.
Basic mechanics are also quite broken and lead to an incredibly frustrating experience. Controls are often unresponsive and slightly delayed, resulting in awkward character movement. Climbing environments (as well as Trico) is clunky as well, which is especially odd given it’s a driving force of both narrative and design. The well-detailed locales also make it unclear what parts of it are interactive or climbable, and that results in a lot of frustrating trial and error. This not only makes things feel rushed but creates an unsatisfying experience; I took too long in simple platforming areas simply because I was constantly fighting against controls. In fact, it’s at times soul-crushing and exhausting when it doesn’t need to be.
The camera is also awkward and poorly optimised. A lot of angles are buggy and make your view unclear, and makes platforming (again) more difficult. It’s even more surprising that the camera isn’t very well optimised with Trico; the creature would often block my entire view, leaving me lost underneath him. At times, the screen randomly cuts to black when objects interfere with your view, and that’s quite disorienting.
While some parts of its narrative had me emotionally invested in the relationship between boy and beast, constantly fighting against the game’s broken mechanics left me unimpressed. My frustrations with Trico often ignoring my commands made interacting with the world more difficult and time-consuming than I wanted it to be. There are moments in The Last Guardian with potential, but ultimately, it’s more flawed than the authentic experience I was hoping for.
The Last Guardian was reviewed using a promotional copy on PS4, as provided by the publisher. We have corrected this article to indicate that The Last Guardian was announced for PlayStation 3, not PlayStation 2 (even though it feels like a PS2 game now on PS4). We apologize for the error. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.