The Last Guardian has been in development so long that many gamers smirked when it finally got a release date. It would have shocked no one had yet another delay sent it back to development hell, which it had called home for the past nine years. But somehow in spite of itself, the team that created the brilliant PlayStation 2 titles Ico and Shadow of the Colossus managed to focus enough and stop second-guessing itself in order to get down to business and finally release the game that had long tantalized players in the form of screenshots and trailers. The sentimental tale of a boy who befriends a gigantic supernatural beast is finally here, and somehow worth the ridiculously long wait.
Games: The Last Guardian
Consoles: PS4 (reviewed)
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Japan Studio
Release Date: December 6
Narrated in retrospective by a man recalling the adventure you are making unfold, the monologue is a haunting subtitled performance in Japanese. The laconic, wistful remembrances act as gentle nudging to coax you along the path. For instance, the narrator will recall the way he searched out a smoky tunnel, urging you on to search for a tunnel to advance the story. But hanging behind every word is the laconic assurance that things did not end well for the boy and the beast. It seems all but inevitable that you are setting yourself up for a heartbreaking separation, most likely due to the noble creature’s eventual sacrifice to ensure your survival.
The deep, intense connection helps keep things grounded when the stubborn giant, who you come to know as Trico, acts like a lumbering doofus who refuses to do your bidding. It may well be that the game’s poor command and response structure is simply the result of buggy design. But whether intended or not, Trico’s ornery streak helps drive home the point that as much as you try to guide him along, you’re really just a tiny little twerp who is mercy to his whims. Sometimes he’ll trample you or topple you over, and others he’ll shake you off when you’re on his back. The frustrations magnify the sense of pride you feel in yourself and your huge sidekick when you manage to get him to clear the way past an obstacle that only he’s strong and powerful enough to smash through.
At its heart, The Last Guardian is a point-and-click puzzle adventure. Many of its environments are cramped enough to have Trico fill out much of the screen, as you scamper around while shifting a wonky camera in order to find a weak spot to strategically break through with the help of your pal. Solo aspects to missions have you squeezing through small spaces in order to track down an item or pull a switch that will help Trico move along. The mission design is where the game tends to show its mid-2000s origins, with backtracking and frustrating bottlenecks making you feel as though you’re stuck on a treadmill. Thankfully, the visuals — which take full advantage of the PS4’s guts — and solemn, emotionally resonant moments make up for the struggles you endure, making the overall product feel like more of a modern creation than a relic.
In a year that was depressingly slim on exclusives for PS4 owners, The Last Guardian comes as not only a welcome send-off for a slow year, but a reason for holdouts to finally take the plunge and buy the system they’ve been eying. In a marketplaces strewn with shooters-of-the-week and zombie-slaying clones, this game emerges from vaporware status as a methodical, charming and breathlessly beautiful creature that stands out from the pack. There is no game remotely like this in this generation, and despite some lingering flaws that managed to stick with it through the years, the game largely manages to live up to the crushing expectations that gamers have been heaping on it since the George W. Bush administration. The Last Guardian is just right in pretty much every way that matters, and is a game that must be played to be believed.
The Last Guardian Reviews Around The Web:
“When the journey comes to an end, you’ll find yourself in shock, emotionally-drained, and appreciative.” –PlayStation LifeStyle
“I think anyone who loved Team Ico’s previous games will appreciate what they find here.” –GamesBeat
“Pulls off feats that could only be done on modern hardware.” –Polygon
The Last Guardian Screenshots
The publisher provided a review copy.
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