The Last Guardian isn’t the worst game I’ve ever played, but it’s quite possibly the most disappointing. I love ICO and I love animals—OMFG The Last Guardian is going to be Amazeballs! Or so I thought. It’s a great concept, but the execution is broken on so many levels that I just couldn’t enjoy the game.
The first problem the game suffers from is clunky controls. The camera seems to have a preferred position. When you move the right stick, the camera is slow to respond and immediately starts drifting back to where it wants to be. In tight spaces, it will often clip inside of Trico and there’s no way to swing it out. You simply have to blindly move the left stick around until you create some distance between you and your companion. This is highly distracting and kills any sense of immersion.
Camera aside, controlling the boy’s movements isn’t so great either. Climbing around on Trico is always a hassle as the boy will get stuck on an elbow or knee or simply refuse to go in the direction you press the stick despite there being no obvious obstruction. I also found it nearly impossible to get him to hang down from a ledge. Often times this meant jumping from a greater than necessary height—resulting in thirty seconds of broken ankle. A game mechanic that serves no purpose except to waste the player’s time.
The last thing I’ll mention specifically is getting off of Trico. You can’t jump off unless you’re standing; you can’t drop down unless you’re hanging. This means lots of crawling around just to get into a position from which you can then attempt to get down. If you’re standing on his head, there’s a good chance he’ll move before you can jump, in which case you’ll go back to a kneeling position. If you jump from his back, there’s a good chance that you’ll stick to his side and still have to drop down. If you’re on his side, you can drop down, but will immediately regrab his feathers, so you’ll have to drop two or three times before your feet are actually on the ground.
Bad as the controls are, the broader gameplay elements are even worse. The Last Guardain, like ICO, is basically a series of puzzles that must be solved in order to progress from one area to the next. It might involve the boy finding a way around and then opening the way for Trico, or it may simply involve getting Trico to make the right series of jumps. The problem with all of this is Trico’s AI.
When you give Trico a command, sometimes he does it, sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he acknowledges you, sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he has to be in exactly the right place before he’ll do what you want. Sometimes he doesn’t need to do anything, and therein lies the problem. Many times, you’ll be trying to figure out if you’re supposed to do something, or get Trico to do something. You run around, explore, can’t find anything, so hop onto Trico. Now you look around and see a way maybe Trico can go, but you can’t get him to go. So… is it because that’s not the solution? Is it because Trico just isn’t in the mood? You don’t know. At this point your options are to go explore some more or keep trying to get Trico to do something.
This scenario happens time and time again. It’s enormously frustrating. You spend more time fighting with the game’s mechanics than actually trying to solve the puzzles. What’s worse, is that often times Trico will do the wrong thing. You’ll think you’re telling him to jump up and he hops back down the way you just came from. It all adds up to wasted time, and if there’s one thing that puts me off, it’s when developers don’t respect the player’s time.
Unfortunately, because of all the gameplay issues, I couldn’t get into the story. It was impossible to form a bond with Trico while constantly being aggravated with his AI. There was no immersion, because the camera and control issues were so distracting. And the story itself just wasn’t nearly as compelling as ICO. Honestly, the only thing I enjoyed were Trico’s flappy ears and lifelike movements.
With ICO, you immediately felt the sting of being ostracized and left to die by your own village. You feel alone and without hope. But then you find Yorda. You learn to communicate with her, you learn to help her, you learn how to protect her. There were many more elements that had to be discovered, and figuring them out was very rewarding. ICO has a clear villain, who is both frightening and somehow tied to your one and only friend in he world. With Yorda, unlike Trico, you feel a huge sense of responsibility for her, and the weight of that adds a lot to the emotional impact of the game.
Even if The Last Guardian played flawlessly, I don’t think the impact would be nearly as powerful as ICO, simply because of the reversal of roles and the circumstances. On the positive side, the music is excellent; the grand vertical environments are striking; and Trico is wonderfully animated. The ingredients for a great game are there, but the end result simply isn’t to my taste. ymmv