THE LAST GUARDIAN
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