Let me start by saying I adored Ico and Shadow of the Colossus and that The Last Guardian has been a game that I have looked forward to for the longest time. I was that adamant that I wanted to play it that I went out and bought it from a high street store for a staggering £48 at 9am today just so I could have it on day one. I've spent all day on it. Here are my honest opinions as a massive fan of the company's previous games for anyone considering buying The Last Guardian.
The game is typical of Team Ico - or genDESIGN as some of the developers are now known. You are thrown straight into the game's story with no pottering about, awakening at the bottom of a giant pit next to a winged dog beast known as a Trico. It is injured and you help it and thus begins a bond that is slowly strengthened throughout the game. Again, like Ico and SotC before it, characters speak a fictional gobbledegook language and narrative is sparse from the off, leaving the player to craft their own tale from the small scraps of story thrown to them. The sprawling locales are noticeable as well, taking heavy inspiration from the designers' previous releases, with impossibly high towers, ruined citadels and crumbling oubliettes all in evidence once again. The areas are often largely barren with food barrels to feed to Trico the only real missable items – this does not detract from the world, however, as the surroundings are mythical and fantastical enough so that they do not need to be filled with junk to make them interesting. Fans of the aforementioned Team Ico games will find themselves right at home in the familiar, beautifully stylised world Fumito Ueda and his team have created. Graphically and musically the game cannot be faulted and the friendship orientated story is engaging despite its scarcity. There are some lovely moments later on in the game when you must make ludicrous leaps of faith (which occur in slow motion) and look like they will lead to certain death only for your pal Trico to pluck you out of the air at the very last and then drag your to safety as the surrounding structures collapse in dramatic fashion.
So, the atmosphere of the game is top notch and reminiscent of the classic titles that inspired it. However, the moment you take control of the boy and Trico in the world proper is the moment the game's problems rear their head. From the off the controls are horribly lacking and the further you get into the game, the more their terrible implementation becomes obvious. When in control of the boy, easy things like disengaging from a chain are infuriatingly hard to do with any precision. Descending from a ledge with the X button often has you missing the handhold below and falling either to your death (the broken eye puzzle when climbing the large tower, for example) or a lower area meaning lots of backtracking through no fault of your own. The puzzles in the game (some of which are ingenious in their construction) revolve mainly around breaking glass eye patterns which frighten Trico and pulling levers or pulleys to open up the next area. They should be mostly straightforward but are made inexplicably difficult owing to the poor controls. One such puzzle, which involves throwing a barrel onto higher platforms in order to feed to Trico, should take a matter of moments yet I was on it for almost ten owing to the fact that the boy will seemingly throw items in random directions and once or twice weird physics has the barrel bouncing some twenty feet or so into the air. People might tell me I need to 'git gud'. However, I am 32 now and have been gaming since I was 8 and never in my life have I struggled with such rudimentary tasks in games in the manner I have with this one today.
Trico is another problem entirely. He, for the most part, is extremely unresponsive. I'm not sure if this is intentional, down to poorly programmed AI or because the player must be positioned in a very, very specific location for instructions to be carried out but his lack of action quickly becomes frustrating. One such area was when Trico was required to push down a drawbridge. I was certain this was what needed to be done but after a literal 10 minute period where I tried all action commands available to me (using the R1 and face buttons) nothing had occurred. I ran about a bit, was going to backtrack to see if I had missed anything when, totally of his own accord, my companion finally pushed the drawbridge into position. 10 minutes I spent at that spot, 10 long minutes. R1 and triangle makes Trico leap from one spot to another but, again, these commands must sometimes be input three, four, even ten times before they are undertaken. In The Last Guardian even the most rudimentary task can be rendered a chore.
These unresponsive and awkward control issues will also have an impact on any gamer going for the platinum trophy as some achievements require you to complete the game in less than five hours or finish a playthrough without dying. I usually like to try and get as many trophies from my games as possible but I'm not going to put myself through the frustration I will evidently encounter when facing these tasks.
As well as control issues I have encountered a few other problems that are worth mentioning. Trico is massive. Sometimes you will find yourself tangled beneath his feet which will send the camera absolutely crackers (which is not the greatest at the best of times) and – this has happened to me twice, on the bridge during the first encounter with the armoured soldiers – he will force you through solid barriers to your death. Speaking of these armoured soldiers, when you encounter them in great numbers, they will grab you and fireman's carry you towards a blue door that leads to a game over. You must button mash your way to freedom. Often you will be released near a wall or the door itself and the boy's awkward standing animation will have you bouncing off the obstruction (which renders directional inputs moot for a brief period) straight back into your enemy's arms and you'll have to button mash all over again. This happens with alarming regularity and quickly grates.
I am playing the game on a regular PS4 and have read reports that performance can be impacted if you are not using a PS4Pro. I have encountered rare incidents of slowdown, which other reviewers have mentioned, but these input issues I am having lead me to wonder if they are also a result of my older, less powerful console. I sincerely hope so, and that anyone who plays this game on a Pro console does not encounter the sheer levels of frustration I have.
Overall, I'm massively disappointed by my time with The Last Guardian. Perhaps too much time was poured into world building (which is great) and not enough into tightening up the controls (which are abysmal). Perhaps the devs were rushed through final optimisation to make sure the game made its eventual release date. Perhaps the QA team were lacking or frightened to mention issues as they were working towards a strict deadline. Perhaps the fact the game was conceived almost ten years ago means the formula that once made it a winner is showing its age. Whichever it is (if any), I found the game hard to enjoy. The controls meant I died innumerable times through no fault of my own. My game time was increased exponentially because Trico refused to perform the actions I knew he had to undertake in order for me to progress – I pray he is broken and not actually meant to be like this so maybe a future patch can put him right.
More forgiving people might be able to look past these issues but, having paid almost £50 for this game, I cannot. There are things here to love but they are absolutely buried by the problems that I have listed above. A game as highly anticipated as this one should not be so rough around the edges, even considering its protracted and massively troubled development. I so, so, so wanted to love this game but, if I'm being brutally honest, I have never felt so gutted by a title that I have awaited so eagerly for such a long period of time.
If you have any questions please ask below and I'll try my best to answer them.