Never have I seen a game so close to being a masterpiece but fundamentally flawed.
The Last Guardian is a deeply divisive experience. Trico is among the highest of highs, while the antiquated camera and control scheme are among the lowest lows.
Trico is a marvel. His character creation and animations must be experienced to be believed. When you first meet, he is hurt and you must help him recover. Every movement and sound is believable. When Trico hurt, I hurt. All I wanted to do was to make him feel better.
Throughout the game (no spoilers), when the camera allows you to watch him fully, you can catch Trico in many very real creature-like behaviors. If he sees something potentially dangerous, his hackles will go up. If he can’t see you while you are searching for the next path, he mournfully orates until he can find you again. If you are separated by an obstacle, he paws at it until you are able to clear the way. If he has to make his way through tight quarters, he crouches and slinks, and if he has to back up, he convincingly does so.
Trico is nothing short of remarkable.
All that being said, I did not enjoy playing the game. In point of fact, it was one of the most frustrating games I’ve played in recent years.
The constant battle with the camera and controls brought the experience down in a fundamental way. The Last Guardian was in development for the better part of a decade, and both the camera and control scheme show their age. When trying to search the environment, I often couldn’t get the camera to look where I intended it to look. It would often get hung up on walls and rocks, to the point where I could not only not see Trico, but I couldn’t see myself. In several segments while walking across narrow things like ropes, the camera would change drastically midway through traversal, causing far more issues than it was worth.
I don’t often use the word broken, and certainly not liberally, but the camera and control scheme were as close to broken as I’ve seen in a modern AAA game.
As much as I fought with the camera from the get-go, I tried several adjustments, and little made any difference. On top of that, the frame rate tended to drop in the most dramatic moments which only brought the experience further down.
My frustrations with the gameplay led me to do something I’ve only done a handful of times, and only ever with older titles: I used a walkthrough for the latter half of the game. I had no desire to explore or spend any more time fighting the game than necessary to complete the experience. I wanted to see the story through to the end, I just didn’t want to spend any more time than necessary doing so.
To have those juxtaposed experiences, the wonderful moments with Trico and the frustratingly bad controls, made for an odd go. I knew I would be glad to have had played the game; I just wanted it to be over.
The Last Guardian is a peculiar experience. I can’t recommend it, and I can’t quite not recommend it. To see Trico, a beautifully realized character, interact with both you and the world is an experience I will never forget. Days later I am still playing over moments in my head and both smiling and crying (incidentally, I have never cried more during and after a game than I have with The Last Guardian) at random. The developers behind the game created a character I was (and remain) entirely invested in, even after the credits rolled. I can’t often say that.
I wish everyone could know Trico. But a healthy dose of patience is required to make the trip.
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There is a song I came across in the last few months, and it makes me think of Trico in the extreme. Please give it a listen. I can’t hear it and not think of him.