Review – The Last Guardian

Let’s Hope it’s not the Last Guardian of Ingenuity

It’s no exaggeration to say that I’ve been excited for the next game off of Fumito Ueda’s production line since waaay back in 2009 (yes, almost 8 years ago!) and it’s also not unfair to say that I’ve followed the ups and downs of this title’s rather extraordinary development roller-coaster more closely than most. I genuinely thought that the day The Last Guardian was released into the wild would never come. I watched E3 year after year hoping for some positive stories, instead hearing only news about why it was delayed, and how the studio had run headlong into yet more problems. But after all the tantalizing trailers and the “just a few more weeks” agony that was the 2016 release calendar, this month it was finally time for a copy of The Last Guardian to curl up inside my PS3. Oh, no, the PS4 has been released since, hasn’t it.

Now’s not the time for a power nap Trico.

Now I can see why you would think that my eagerness to get my hands on a copy of this one might lend itself to impartiality on my part, and in many ways, you would be right to have such reservations, but what I’d wager is this: almost everyone who gets the chance to play this will fall into one of two categories. “Waited for this for an age”, or “Not sure what this bird/cat thing is all about.” A part of me is uneasy about Sony pushing so hard for this game to get out there to the masses. Sure, they want to recoup what must have been an insane development investment; yes, unusual games like this definitely deserve to be spread further and wider than the cult market that they often seem to find; but at the same time, people are not going to like this, people are not going to “get” this, Metacritic isn’t going to be troubling the Richter scale over The Last Guardian, and I fear that Sony’s approach could even force people yet more firmly into their corners.

Breaking down the walls

Yet for those of us who have long-awaited Trico’s arrival, and hopefully a proportion of those who took a risk and tried something new, the game is going to go down rather differently. That’s not to say that fandom will lead devoted players to overlook huge flaws either, or that your average gamer will be immune to the charm of this title. It’s just that it seems to me that these days people don’t like to step outside their comfort zones, and it becomes ‘trendier’ to say that the slight imperfections of the game’s camera outweigh what the game does to you emotionally, or that the somewhere between PS3 and PS4 look of the game buries the fact that the environment is still Ueda’s most beautifully realized landscape to date, that very occasional frame rate issues are unforgivable whilst a whopping great creature stumbles around a cliff side lair, sending rock formations tumbling, smashing down 100-foot walls with bombast and a breathtakingly impressive sense of scale.

If you’re genuinely more bothered by the game’s technical issues (which were to me no more intrusive than getting acquainted with the quirks of any new game) than the relationship that you are invited to develop with Trico, then unless you only ever play Nintendo’s first-party Wii U titles that are Digital Foundry certified and smooth as a baby’s bottom, you really have no grounds for grievance.

The iconic Ico game cover art was done by Fumito Ueda himself…
…Ueda’s games have drawn influence from the works of surrealist artist Giorgio di Chirico.














If you can honestly say that you’ll go into this one with an open mind, if you want to like this title, you’ll find so much heart, so deep a connection between player and character, such a stunningly crafted landscape in which that can unfold, that Trico will get his claws into you (literally) from the very introduction, in which the camera pans slowly over sketches of odd beasts of the earth, finishing on a hand-drawn image of the game’s oversized star – and make no mistake, he is the star.

Following in the footsteps of greatness

So logical a progression is this game from Ueda’s prior portfolio, that if you had any fondness for those two games, this one will likely have everything you want. It borrows straight from the Giorgio di Chirico-inspired world of Ico (yes you did notice those last 3 letters), the earthy green and yellow colour palette married with vast, towering arches and sheer drops juxtaposed against your tiny, vulnerable player. It combines that game’s heart-rending character bonding with Shadow of the Colossus’…well, colossal beasts, and rolls it all into the natural third step in Ueda’s journey.

The Health & Safety Executive is going to have to have a word about these new climbing frames.

Ultimately, it’s the fact that you can now experience your own personal journey through this world that makes JAPANStudio’s achievement worthwhile. This is a game which spanned multiple generations, and it’s easy to see what a huge task the developers were up against over the years. That the studio persevered and presented the game in a technically proficient manner after so much time is not only worth celebrating, it’s worth climbing onto and grabbing by the scruff of the neck and petting until you’re thrown off it. You’ll see what I mean, and you might just fall in love with it from the word go.

9/10 – By no means perfect, but what a relief for gaming as a whole that people like Fumito Ueda can fuse art and gaming in such an enjoyable and spectacular fashion.

Reviewed on: PS4

Released: December 2016

By: Sony JAPANStudio

Available on: PS4

Try it if you like: Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Uncharted

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