One of The Last Guardian’s devel­op­ment team is watching us play, and laugh­ing ner­vously. “He’s a fickle beast,” he says, re­fer­ring to Trico, the cat-faced, bird­winged com­pan­ion to your san­dal-wear­ing boy in Fu­mito Ueda’s third game. The boy needs Trico to grip a chain with its teeth and pull on it to hoist the gate open so he can push a bar­rel into place. Trico, how­ever, is staying put, and no amount of ca­jol­ing or hop­ping madly on the spot can make it budge. Never work with chil­dren or an­i­mals, so the maxim goes. Af­ter nine years in devel­op­ment and now a fur­ther de­lay that pushes the game’s re­lease back an­other few months, it’s one that Ueda and his team may wish they’d heeded. While Trico’s be­hav­ing, it’s a lov­able portable plat­form. While Trico’s mis­be­hav­ing, it’s a bug given form.

The main prob­lem that’s plagued the dev team is clearly that ev­er­green is­sue of com­pan­ion AI, scourge of so many games, from Levine’s BioShock In­fi­nite to Spiel­berg’s

LMNO. Trico sim­ply doesn’t al­ways do the things you need it to, and while you’re able to point and beckon in a fran­tic ef­fort to make it un­der­stand what you need it to do, it has its own agenda. Then, more im­me­di­ate con­trol is­sues re­main as you try to steer the boy up chains and across ledges against the cam­era’s dis­ori­ent­ing tugs and lurches.

In the con­text of a care­fully staged trailer, make no mis­take: The Last Guardian mes­merises. But in the hands, the out­come of those dra­matic leaps into thin air, when Trico cin­e­mat­i­cally swoops in to catch you on a lolling tail, is far less cer­tain. Too of­ten you need to stand in ex­actly the right spot to trig­ger the nec­es­sary se­quence. In this way the flex­i­ble, dy­namic feel of the game’s pre­de­ces­sors is lost. Ueda bor­rows The Sands

Of Time’s trick of hav­ing the pro­tag­o­nist lightly nar­rate the ac­tion from the rem­i­nisc­ing stance of old age. But there’s no equiv­a­lent of that game’s in­ge­nious “No, no, no, that’s not what hap­pened” – per­haps be­cause it would need to be ut­tered too fre­quently.

Not that the boy is a weak­ling. He can sur­vive a crunchy 30ft fall onto cob­ble­stones and still limp away. The penalty for such an er­ror (re­gard­less of whether it was yours or one forced by the rogueish cam­era) is a minute or so’s slug­gish­ness. Lean a hand on Trico’s leg to take a few deep breaths and, as in The Get­away, you’ll more quickly re­turn to full health. It’s a con­ces­sion that helps soften the con­sid­er­able blows to your pa­tience, but still, con­trol­ling your char­ac­ter shouldn’t be this dif­fi­cult. While The Last

Guardian is ar­guably tack­ling a num­ber of new chal­lenges in game de­sign and devel­op­ment, ma­noeu­vring a char­ac­ter through 3D space is not one of them. It shouldn’t be this hard. The man­nerly, washed-out art style that de­fined Ico and Shadow Of The Colos­sus is con­tin­ued here, but ob­jects’ jagged edges be­tray the game’s ori­gins in an­other era. Shades of those ear­lier games can be seen, not only in the en­vi­ron­ment, which shares their sense of ru­ined his­toric grandeur, but also in the feel. You can clam­ber up Trico’s back with great fist­fuls of fur as if climb­ing one of

Shadow’s gi­ants. And, just as you col­lab­o­rated with Yorda to make your way along Ico’s craggy ram­parts, so Trico proves an es­sen­tial key to un­lock many of the game’s doors. As well as lift­ing gates, you’ll need it to stand in pre­cise po­si­tions while dan­gling its tail down to pro­vide an im­promptu rope, or to leap onto the rafters as you cling to its back. Yorda was more of a pas­sive com­pan­ion, one who could, cru­cially, be led by the hand. Trico’s in­volve­ment is, by con­trast, crit­i­cal, an ad­jec­tive that mixes poorly with fick­le­ness.

Still, when it’s not dis­obey­ing or­ders, Trico can be a tremen­dous as­set, even in its pas­sive state, of­ten paw­ing at key items to of­fer a clue as to what to do next. There is so much here to love, and yet so much of that am­bi­ence and char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion is be­ing un­der­mined by the game’s trou­bling is­sues. Lit­tle won­der that the team asked for just a few more months. Like the boy toe­ing a cliff ledge, weigh­ing up whether he’s go­ing to make the jump, at this stage even fall­ing slightly short might prove ter­mi­nal.

Trico’s in­volve­ment is crit­i­cal, an ad­jec­tive that mixes poorly with fick­le­ness

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