E3 2016 – We played The Last Guardian

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The Last Guardian was first unveiled what now feels like a million years ago. The short trailer wowed gamers worldwide back then, not with gameplay, but with a short cinematic showing what appeared to be a very tight relationship between a small boy and very large (cuddly looking) feathered pet. It was an intriguing looking title, being developed by the very same people who gave us ICO and Shadow of the Colossus. Naturally, everyone wanted it.

But then Inexplicably, after that first showing, The Last Guardian disappeared. It became a bit of a running joke in the industry, almost of Half-Life 3 proportions. At every E3 in the coming years, people expected it to show up again. It never did. Hope from even the most dedicated fans seemed to fizzle out.

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And then out of nowhere, at last year’s E3, The Last Guardian popped up again. it was revealed that the game was still very much in development. Gamers rejoiced, but those few years of hiatus had made many sceptical. Would it be any good when it finally launched later this year? I wasn’t so sure. Still, I was dying to get a closer look at it myself, and this year’s conference gave me that opportunity.

I got to play the opening act of The Last Guardian – the prologue if you will. It kicked off with the protagonist, the boy, waking up alone in a huge open chamber. He looks around and finds that he is not alone. In the very same room lies a huge beast, who we are told goes by the name Trico.

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I say told because everything taking place in-game is narrated as it happens. The voice speaking belongs to the boy as an adult. He is obviously telling us his childhood tale, and we are playing through it. Though he is sharing a story, the narrator serves as a guide too – he leads the gamer from task to task. There are no explicit objectives, and what needs to be done is seldom in plain sight.

So for example, when I woke up in the chamber, Trico was chained up, injured, and in distress. This made him very hostile. Each time I approached him, he reacted aggressively toward me. I knew I had to help somehow, I just wasn’t sure how to exactly. It wasn’t until the narrator threw an off hand comment that drew my attention to the spear in the beast’s side that I clicked. I followed the hint and pulled it out, thinking that was all that needed to be done to earn Trico’s trust.

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It wasn’t. Trico was still hungry, which again, was something the narrator speculated on. I got the message and found food nearby. I placed it in front of the creature, who flat out refused to devour it. “Trico didn’t trust me. He wouldn’t eat until I had moved away,” the narrator said. I did just that, and lo and behold, Trico ate.

The rest of my hands on time with The Last Guardian played out very much in this manner. I listened to the voice and moved through the network of ruins, eliminating inexplicit puzzles as they appeared, sometimes within moments, and others, only after running around aimlessly for a few minutes.

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This sort of gameplay will likely annoy some. Wandering about without an explicit objective can get really old, really fast. Figuring out and making it through each obstacle though provides a great sense of “aha”, which is incredibly satisfying.

Not only that, solving puzzles perfectly illustrates the budding relationship between the boy and Trico. At the beginning of my hands on time, they had nothing to do with each other. By the end of it however, after just 30 minutes or so, I was already riding atop his back. The two clearly need each other, and in working together, they are forming a very unbreakable bond.

TLG_Screen_PS4_005_1465878488This here is where the true appeal of The Last Guardian lies I feel. There’s a heartfelt story there, just waiting to be experienced. I may have only had a small taste of what is to come, but I was already attached to both characters by the end of it. I love me a good narrative, and I’m confident The Last Guardian will deliver a memorable one.

What I’m not confident in though, are the horrible controls it possesses. The Last Guardian really struggles in this department, which is disappointing, as it will hamper the overall experience.

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Let me put it in perspective. In a game like Tomb Raider for example, it’s easy to jump from one platform to another. Move forward, push a button, and Lara Croft will leap and snap to a ledge. In The Last Guardian, that same action is far more complicated. Instead of pushing X, I had to push Triangle to jump, which did not feel natural at all. On top of that, when I reached a ledge, I needed to keep another button pressed (R1 if memory serves) just to keep hanging.

With the game out in just a few months, I really don’t know if that issue will be sorted out. I only hope such cumbersome control scheme exists for a specific reason. Maybe there’s some mechanic or other that only appears later on, where it’ll all makes sense. Then there’s the camera, which can be a real headache to manage. it doesn’t feel fluid at all, and tends to jitter about unnecessarily. This really shouldn’t be a problem in 2016. Or rather, it shouldn’t be a problem for a game that’s been in development this many years.

Other than those criticisms, I really enjoyed my hands on time with The Last Guardian. I’m not entirely sure it’ll live up to the mad hype it’s built over the last decade mind you, but I do think that it’ll prove to be a compelling game nonetheless.

Last Updated: June 20, 2016

Matthew Figueira

Defence of the Ancients? More like Defence of the cabbages! Have you seen my head? I look like a Merino Sheep on pole. NO SHANGE only SHAPPIES! :D

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