It is only recently that video games have started to be viewed as art. Paintings, the written word and, more recently, movies are what most people will think of when using the term art. Video games, on the other hand, have had a difficult time breaking free from the perception that they are just for kids or underdeveloped man-children locked in their stuffy basements. However, as with all things, perception changes over time and there are certain creators/auteurs whose work is so unique that it causes the current perception to be re-evaluated immediately.
One such auteur is Fumito Ueda. Ueda burst onto the scene in 2001 with the now legendary Ico and followed it up 4 years later with the equally legendary Shadow of the Colossus. Ueda’s style of minimalist storytelling combined with a desaturated visual style and accompanied by haunting melancholic soundtracks separated his games from the pack. The motivations of characters and the back-story to these worlds he created were left very much open to interpretation by the player and for the first time the conversation to re-evaluate video games as art began. Finally, after ten years, numerous delays, and switching platforms from the Playstation 3 to the Playstation 4, Ueda’s latest offering, The Last Guardian, has finally arrived.
The journey begins as a small tattoo covered boy awakes in a cave. Uncertain as to how he got there the boy discovers a large bird-dog-rat hybrid beast, named Trico, is also in the cave. The large beast is initially hostile and appears to be injured, after surveying the scene, the boy discovers some luminous barrels and feeds them to Trico. After munching on some barrels Trico allows the boy to approach and remove the spears and collar that are causing him distress. From this moment on, the bond between the player, the boy, and Trico evolves into one of the most interesting and emotional relationships ever seen in a video game. What follows is an emotional and frustrating journey as the boy and Trico help each other to escape their captivity and solve the mystery surrounding their incarceration.
The gameplay is very much a fusion of the mechanics from Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. The boy will guide and issue commands to Trico in a similar vein to Ico but will also be required to climb and scale Trico in a similar fashion to Shadow of the Colossus. Initially, navigating the labyrinthine world and solving the puzzles is very simple. Puzzles such as opening a door or getting Trico to push a block are very simple to navigate, to begin with, but as the puzzles increase in complexity, the main issue with the game reveals itself. Trico does not always respond to your commands, even when the solution to the problem is very obvious. This does play into the narrative that both Trico and the boy speak different languages and are trying to communicate to solve problems. It can often feel very frustrating. Trico’s AI is very impressive for the most part, and he genuinely behaves like a living creature, but the scripting is just not polished enough to make the whole experience seamless. The problems with the AI certainly show the age of the game and why it had to be moved to a more advanced platform. The game also shows its age in how the boy controls, movement feels muddy and performing simple jumps can be a lottery at times causing unnecessary deaths. The controls do feel like a relic from the Playstation 2 and certainly needed more refining.
Visually the game is very impressive. While this is not a technical tour de force like Uncharted 4, The Last Guardian retains the look and feel of a game created by Ueda. The desaturated visuals contrast with beautiful lush landscapes, filled with waterfalls and lush verdant flora and fauna. Both Trico and the little boy are exceptionally well animated and ooze charm and personality. Trico bounds around the world with an exuberance and weight rarely seen in a video game. The sense of scale and weight of the creature is very impressive and feels like something straight out of a Pixar movie. There are some incredible set pieces that really get the pulse racing, putting both Trico and the boy in mortal peril, building the connection between the player and Trico. As the game progresses, the bond between you and Trico increases, and you are genuinely concerned for his well-being both emotionally and physically. There are times when Trico is afraid and you have to coax him over rickety platforms and destroyed columns. These moments of fear can be followed by tender moments where you pet, feed, and frolic with Trico in the water. Trico is certainly the most well-realised companion creature ever created in a video game and will surely melt even the most hardened of gamer hearts. It is worth noting that there are some noticeable frame rate drops at times but these do not appear to be due to too much action on-screen. Rather, the frame drops seem to be related to Trico’s AI scripts becoming muddled.
The soundtrack, composed by Takeshi Furukawa, also deserves high praise indeed. The score is both bombastic and deeply melancholic at times and really adds emotional depth and weight to the experience. It really is a joy to listen to and invokes deep emotional responses at times. The tale told is captivating and is certainly the most thorough tale that Ueda has told in a game yet. The cut scenes slowly reveal the story and the ending packs real emotional punch. While the story is not overly complicated, like all good tales, simplicity works in The Last Guardian’s favour.
The Last Guardian is to some degree the last of its kind. The long development cycle has brought some archaic design philosophies and control issues from a bygone age. However, the amazing relationship you develop between the boy and Trico is certainly something from the future. The emotional bond and excellent story combine to deliver a powerful experience that is unlike any other game available on the market today. I encourage you to persist with the archaic controls because the tale of a boy and his bird-dog will remain with you for days after completing the game.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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