We can get so caught up in the news that surrounds a game sometimes that we fail to judge the game on its own merits. There is no doubt that The Last Guardian is a game that could be the victim of its tormented development. A game that has gotten delayed over and over, where the chief creative strikes out on his own mid-development, and a development cycle that draws near to a full decade and spans two radically different generations of PlayStation hardware, there are many stories that have dominated the news on The Last Guardian.
It's easy to forget about the game behind the headlines, and as we visited Sony Studios Japan in Shinagawa we tried our best to shed all of this and focus on the gameplay itself as we sat down for an extended demo, a section taken from somewhere towards the middle of the game.
But there are certainly issues that have us worried. Perhaps the biggest issue we found was the camera, particularly in the indoor environments. You can move it around manually and you're really going to have to if you want to catch all the subtleties in the relationship between boy and beast. Perhaps this struggle to allow the camera to move with the player while also trying to maintain a good view of Trico is a puzzle that simply cannot be solved satisfyingly in close quarters. And as The Last Guardian relies heavily on puzzles where the player can slip though small cracks and guide Trico onwards it just seems that camera, gameplay and emotional storytelling are at odds with each other. That's true for the sections inside the temple.
The puzzles are fairly easy to grasp for the most part, and there doesn't seem to be a lack of variation as you pull, drag, throw, and destroy objects as well as jumping and climbing on Trico. Some moments require urgency, while the pace is more measured in other sections. The beauty here doesn't necessarily lie in the complexity of the puzzles or the sense of accomplishment that comes with progression, as instead the most rewarding part of progressing is how it grows the relationship between the two. One thing we noticed was how the relationship was chronicled by the voice of what we presume is the young boy at a much older age.
Some of the organic nature of The Last Guardian is an illusion. This was expected. There aren't, at least not from what we could see, a lot of multiple paths or puzzles to solve that involve more than a fail and success state. If you remember the situation where the boy has to jump from a pillar that's about to tumble towards the abyss, for instance, Trico reaches out with his head, but you can't reach it as you jump and at the last second you manage to grip the tail. You can fail here, or you succeed and manage to press triangle to grab the tail. And Trico is very patient in helping you with the puzzles, as he never grows restless, but stays or repeats what he needs to do in order to help you progress. A necessity to avoid player frustration, but it also breaks the illusion of an independent animal that you need to befriend. This isn't really a complaint, we're not sure we'd want to play The Last Guardian had Trico behaved like an untrained dog. But at the end of the day, The Last Guardian comes across as a far more traditional and linear puzzle adventure than what we'd expected.
The Last Guardian was recently delayed from October to December to allow for more polish. And while simple polish won't necessarily fix what may be more fundamental problems, such as the camera, there is certainly plenty of issues in terms of animations, clipping, and similar niggling things that take away from what is aesthetically a very appealing game. In parts TLG's past as a PS3 title shines through, as it's simply not designed to take full advantage of what the PS4 is capable of. But that's not to say it can't still be a great game.
While there are certainly a lot of rough edges. Far more than you'd expect to see in what is presumably a relatively polished section of the game (the most polished section is generally what journalists get to sample prior to release), one thing that has impressed us from the start and still blows us away is Trico. The work that has gone into its behaviour and movement is simply inspired. This is something that you won't see or experience in any other game.
Three quarters of an hour or thereabouts with The Last Guardian leaves us worried that the end product won't bring out the full potential of this utterly beautiful and brilliant concept. That said, there is no game that lets you befriend a wonderful beast like Trico in quite the same way. How well the story of this relationship is told is what will make or break this game come December. Fingers crossed.
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