Review: The Last Guardian

the guardian

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.

*** *** ***

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.

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12 replies »

  1. The camera and controls remind me of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus in all of the worst ways. Then, Trico reminds me of just about every pet I have ever had (Dog, Cat, Rabbit), as well as a few other animals. The development team painstakingly recreated the habits and movements of so many animals, it was really remarkable. If they had put in more time to develop a decent camera and control scheme, the game could have gone down as one of the best.

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    • I have so much respect and admiration for the team behind Trico. If I could, I’d go and hug them all and say thank you.

      I absolutely agree. Had the controls and camera been updated, the game would have been a masterpiece.

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  2. You go into detail on the camera, but you also said the control scheme was broken. Can you expand upon that? You don’t really give examples in the piece specifically about the controls, and I’d like to better understand why you feel that way.

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    • In my original draft there was more on the controls. Basically the game consists of a lot of (sometimes finicky) platforming. There was no finesse on the controls. You could be creeping along a ledge and suddenly you are trying to run for no reason. You could be creeping towards an edge and your character would spaz out and just bolt and sometimes you could save him and sometimes not.

      There are aiming mechanics with a particular item (a mirror) and it was (no pun intended) hit or miss. You could be standing on Trico and trying to aim at something and the game would just not recognize what you were trying to do.

      Often I knew exactly where I needed to go and how, but the controls would get in the way and sometimes I spent upwards of 15 minutes just trying to get the game to recognize what I was doing. This included climbing up a ledge and trying to get a chain to swing. I became convinced I was somehow doing it wrong so I looked it up online and it turned out I was doing it right the whole time. The controls were like a suggestion. I’ve never wasted so much time in a game when I knew exactly what I needed to do, but the game wouldn’t comply.

      Also, the basic activity of jumping was flawed. Often when I knew where I needed to jump from and to, the character wouldn’t separate from the starting point and instead would just fall. Or sometimes when I was trying to let go of something to fall on purpose, he just wouldn’t let go. Or times when I tried to do a specific move, I’d somehow get trapped in a weird recovery animation and it would often cause even more problems.

      It was terribly frustrating.

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  3. Without a Playstation 4, The Last Guardian isn’t a game I’ll experience but I’m comfortable with missing the game. Controller and camera frustrations are definitely a problem. I was impressed with Inside in how well the camera angle changed throughout the game in a way that reframed the game in a helpful way.

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    • Inside, aside from being an amazing game, period, had some of the smoothest gameplay in recent memory. That’s like the polar opposite of what I experienced in The Last Guardian. It was really a shame. Especially with Trico being as amazing as he was.

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  4. I’m glad you got to finish The Last Guardian. I was worried that the controls were going to be an issue with this game. My recent time with Ico and what I’ve played of Shadow of the Colossus make me think that no matter what game they develop controls will always be an issue. The games always seem to go for the most cinematic angle regardless of whether or not it’s helpful for the task the player is doing at the time. The stories are great but the controls and camera ruin the experience in my opinion. I’ll get to Last Guardian eventually, but I’m sure I’ll be enduring the same frustrations. Nice review.

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    • I think you may very likely be right.

      I’m so glad I finished, and that I got to see the entire story, but I can’t recall a time in recent memory where I was quite so frustrated playing a game. The controls and camera really were terrible. But then I think about Trico and am still amazed at what they accomplished.

      I hope when you play it that you have an easier time of it than I did. Trico makes the journey worth the time.

      Thank you. :)

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