THE LAST GUARDIAN + THE BEST OF E3 2015
Fumito Ueda’s long-absent creature feature emerges from hibernation
S ix years is a long time to wait for a game, even one as apparently immune to the ravages of age as The Last Guardian. First shown at E3 2009 for PS3, development of the follow-up to Team Ico’s Shadow Of The
Colossus has been so protracted that it’s long been rumoured the game was cancelled. But if the roar of excitement from the audience at its reappearance during Sony’s E3 conference this year – which opened with a single white feather floating down the main screen – is any indication, years of dashed hopes have done little to quash the enthusiasm of those awaiting Fumito Ueda’s next epic.
It’s telling that of all the possible choices in Sony’s vaults, the company chose to kick things off with The Last Guardian. Until now, the world had seen little more of the game than a handful of screenshots and some brief footage, yet its re-announcement inspired the same unchecked fervour as the Final Fantasy
VII remake and Shenmue III. And we can expect to play it next year, assuming the difficult transition to PS4 is well and truly behind it, as we are assured it is.
The visual upgrades brought about by PS4’s extra processing headroom aren’t as apparent as you might imagine, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the debut trailer wasn’t representative of what the game looked like on PS3 – the framerate, Ueda has revealed, was far lower. The latest version looks to be running at a solid 30fps, unshaken by soaring draw distances and ornate architecture. It’s a world that looks at once familiar and foreign, evocative of both Ico and Shadow Of The
Colossus and yet achingly enigmatic. In a behind-closed-doors presentation, Ueda stresses that he wants to combine the best of both games – the emotional bond and co-operation between two characters that Ico captured, and the sense of awe that
Shadow brought about through clambering around the body of something that’s considerably bigger than you. In that sense, at least, The Last Guardian feels like a fitting culmination for an experimental trilogy.
Our demo begins roughly halfway through the game, the young boy that you control finding the creature, Trico, lying injured in a large room. The boy’s footsteps echo off the stone walls as the wind whips through the glassless windows, and after clambering on top of Trico and insensitively jumping on its head to wake the hybrid up, he drags two spears of wood from the stricken beast’s back. Once on its feet, Trico is a remarkably convincing animal, the influence of bird, cat and dog evident not only in the way it looks, but also its behaviours. Its ears twitch and it occasionally lets out a sharp
breath; it looks around the room, evidently intrigued by butterflies dancing in and out of the rays of light; and it displays a haughty lack of interest in the boy’s initial efforts to point its wet nose towards a high-up ledge.
Ueda reveals that Trico’s behaviours are governed by a mix of scripting and AI, with greater emphasis on the latter. At this midway point, the relationship between boy and beast is such that Trico will generally do as it is told, but when the pair first meet, it will be much harder to convince it to help you out. The further the game progresses, the further the bond will grow, allowing for faster, more purposeful communication, and establishing a reactive relationship between the odd couple.
This gradual development of trust appears to be supported by positive reinforcement, and when the boy reaches that high ledge by pulling himself up Trico’s lustrous hybrid of fur and feathers, he tosses it some barrels. Given that the creature consumes them in a couple of bites, these seem to go down a treat.
There’s more evidence of Trico learning directly from the boy a little later on when, after escaping from the room together, an external stone walkway they’re travelling across abruptly ends. A rickety scaffold extends out beyond the edge. The boy delivers some words in a language that will sound familiar to anyone who’s played Ico or SOTC, and then jumps up and down on the spot once or twice, pointing at the platform beyond. Eventually, Trico takes the hint and nervously moves to the edge, stretching and reaching a paw out in preparation, hesitating like a cat calculating a dismount from a high wall. All of sudden, Trico is in the air, crashing down on the construction a second later, which sags under its not-inconsiderable weight. In turn, the creature waits for the boy to jump, calling out with little squawks until its companion builds up the courage to leap, using its mouth to snatch him out of the air by the scruff of his smock when the vault comes up short.
Despite Trico’s disconcerting size and power, the interplay between the pair is genuinely charming, both characters coming across as earnest children caught up in an adventure neither was necessarily prepared for. By combining their strengths, however – Trico’s reach and power, and the boy’s shrewd intelligence – they’re able to triumph in situations that either on their own would have found insurmountable. And, of course, their differences also provide the game’s designers with lots of puzzle opportunities.
As Trico and the boy continue along their rickety path, they encounter a large wooden construction on wheels, painted with an eye and festooned with wind chimes, mounted on a parallel platform. While we’re not told the significance of the device, Trico hisses and backs off, refusing to continue. The boy tries to call it onward, but the stubborn, and clearly fearful, creature refuses. The boy pushes the cart along its track until it starts to roll down an incline towards the edge. When it topples over, the ropes that anchored it violently yank their mountings out of the platform and trigger the start of a gradual collapse. The environment crumbles as the boy runs back along the platform, his route to Trico now cut off. He makes another clumsy jump, but this time Trico misses the catch. As the boy plummets downwards, however, the creature swings its tail under the bridge into the child’s trajectory. Now he can clamber up Trico’s back as the creature makes its own bolt for safety from the splintering walkway, and the human’s just in time to help his companion gain purchase on the castle wall by freeing up a large log and rolling it towards the beast. The player remains in control for the entirety of the sequence, which seems to perfectly encapsulate the blending of ideas from Ueda’s previous games.
It’s a short demo, but a highly convincing one nonetheless. Ueda’s vision is clearly beginning to coalesce, and the game’s complex interplay of free-spirited AI, treacherous platforming and physical puzzles appears to be functioning as intended. It might have been a long old while since we previously saw what The Last Guardian team was up to, but it appears that time has been well spent.
Trico’s behaviour is governed by a mix of scripting and AI, with emphasis on the latter
Fumito Ueda was once The Last Guardian’s director but is now a consultant on the project. His new outfit is GenDesign, which is also contributing
Although switching to PS4 slowed progress on the project considerably, Ueda says the upgrade has meant he can realise his game as originally envisioned