From what we've played of The Last Guardian we can tell that it's going to be something special. We've played a short demo - around 45 minutes - and it seemed a blend of some of the best indie classics of the last few years and the most beautiful expressions of Japanese game design from the previous two hardware generations. In fact, Fumito Ueda and Team Ico's project was meant to be for PS3, but now it's (almost) ready for PS4 and we're sure it'll fascinate fans of all kinds.
The Last Guardian is about fantasy and friendship and it's an atmospheric adventure based on the relationship between the two main characters, the control system not only being a means to manoeuvre them, but also to transmit signals.
The opening is both gorgeous and disconcerting at the same time, showing a relic buried in the beach and a selection of technical drawings from some bestiary alongside enchanting music. You also fly around in dark dreams listening to a voice too penetrating and deep to be that of a boy (who, by the way, speaks no Japanese, as we had confirmed), although there is certainly a child present.
Both the child, who doesn't know what happened, and the magnificent haired/feathered creature Trico, are trapped in a cave, the latter bound and wounded. From here they must learn how to progress together and from this point the control system is presented as an essential connection between the two. R1 is used to grab something and you're asked to hold the button all the time. With square you can throw objects that have been picked up. With triangle you can jump and climb. With circle you can call Trico.
The first fifteen minutes of The Last Guardian felt clumsy and slow but this is a deliberate move. Ueda wants you to feel the physical connection to the characters through the controller and that's why you have to firmly grab sticks and press the buttons at the right moment. This will scare some players off, but given the importance of this relationship you end up understanding the reasoning behind the systems, and it almost feels refreshing in a world full of overly-scripted contextual actions. This is certainly no Uncharted or Call of Duty.
As Trico is hurt it takes a while to gain its trust, but it's a matter of feeding it and pulling out those painful spears, even if this means the occasional head-bump. Trico is shown on screen full of life, though, and soon overshadows the boy. Those with pets will feel plenty of emotions with this game and will notice the nods to the sense of affection and protection. Even if Trico is imposing and a bit scary, you love him immediately (or her, the studio rep biting his tongue on the matter of gender with a grin).
From the start the adventure invites you to explore every room in search of clues on how to proceed, how to solve every puzzle. Sometimes the platforms aren't spotted as clearly as we'd hoped, and you can overlook the obvious solution that's right before your eyes. Soon enough the co-op action enters the game, with the creature demolishing a stone wall or the child using some sort of shield to aim a beam of light telling the beast where it has to work. With the d-pad you can equip or put this shield away, and we noticed that Trico's broken horns react to this power and that every now and then the creature curiously looks in the direction of the next point of interest.
After leaving the first levels behind we reached a room with a deep pool, once again involving some mechanics that were a bit confusing. After that there was more rope and wall climbing, item throwing and some platforming. The icy white space holding the mirror shield is beautiful, but the true artistic expression of the environment comes when you leave the caves and play under the open sky. After the starting section both the Den of the Beasts and the distant windmills are waiting for you, but unfortunately here our demo ended.
We felt something special while playing The Last Guardian, mainly through that physical connection between the controller, the playable character and, above all, the amazing co-protagonist, Trico. It's an interesting feeling when you hold onto its feathers and firmly press the buttons trying not to fall off. We were left thinking about what happened to the broken wings, where the other half of the horns were, and how he or she ended up captive. We were also touched by the game's beauty, in the environments and in Trico and its hypnotic presence.
That said, the title is still unable to leave its obvious PS3 origins behind, something you'll notice in several of the environments and the lighting, and it's more blatantly obvious in the child and how he looks: flat and not very well integrated. Also, while the puzzles are fine, we're worried about the potentially confusing environments, and we wonder how much or for how long the designers can push the cooperative link between the two characters. Finally, it's weird they're showing the first portion of the game once again (ok, now as a hands-on, but still), after all the back and forth and so close to launch. For now we're looking forward to playing what will hopefully be a beautiful, special adventure, one to remember. We'll see in October.