2016 has been a year of well told stories in the gaming landscape, from the emotional farewell to the Uncharted series to the lonely exploration in Firewatch, this year has solidly delivered hit after emotional hit in gaming and the end of the year shows no sign of letting up with the release of The Last Guardian. Pairing up the small sandal wearing child Ishikawa with a giant creature Trico, the focus on trust, respect and building a relationship is one of the most beautiful journeys taken this year and is a satisfying result for fans who have been waiting years to play this game.
Players awaken as Ishikawa covered in tribal tattoos next to the gargantuan creature Trico who is tied down and covered in blood. As you work your way around the creature pulling out spears and trying to coax it into not completely destroying you. As you build the trust with Trico through a series of commands and treats together you can scale the tall buildings and destroy the creepy patrolling knights to escape the city that is somehow even larger than Trico.
Trico is nothing short of an animated miracle, most games struggle to get AI characters right and they end up being buggy and irritating. Fortunately with this character the simple attention to detail with the pet like moves help forge the connection between the player and the AI. From jumping in muddy puddles of water and shaking them off, to the painful welps when he takes damage from an entry and there is nothing like seeing the gloriously detailed animated feathers ruffling in the wind. It is truly a step up in animation for video games and was a major cause for me to keep pressing that “Share” button on my controller (apologies to my Facebook feed for the constant onslaught of pics!)
The very nature of Ishikawa being small and able to squeeze in small gaps and Trico by comparison able to barge through large locked doors and leap buildings in a few moves syncopates together to create the perfect blend between treat coaxing and taking commands. Impatient fast food gamers will find this taxing and give up on the game calling it “buggy” and “hard to control” but by simply taking your time and learning to work with Trico and the controls you will eventually find your groove and this is incredibly gratifying.
A lot of the cut scenes are visually impressive with a few exceptions suffering obvious frame rate issues. It is hard to believe that this game was ever in development for Playstation 3. We can hope that a patch may be released further down the line to fix this, that aside even if it is not something that is ever fixed, it never distracts you enough to pull you out of the world. The game doesn’t suffer because of this and that is something that very few games can achieve, this is a game where I struggled as a reviewer with no attachment at all to the previous games, trying to find negatives. Oh did I mention the score? Simply superb, tear inducing orchestral soundtrack that supports the animation perfectly.
By the time you are finished the story and the sun sets on Ishikawa and Trico you feel perfectly paired with the characters and bursting to jump into another adventure together. There is a lot in the distance in this game that help make the game feel large and real and would warrant a sequel to continue the explanation of this fantastical world (maybe another 10 years?)
The Last Guardian is not only a massive achievement in animation, it also showcases a different type of gameplay that players have to work at to master, combined with a compelling story, hauntingly beautiful enemies and an incredible score Fumito Ueda and his team have delivered another unforgettable Playstation experience with this game. This was the first game I have played and reviewed on the PS4 Pro and the noticeable different in graphics and loading times have improved considerably, putting that technical info aside, this game really does deliver in every way and is the perfect way to finish an intense year of gaming.
The Last Guardian is available now exclusively on Playstation 4
Review by Alaisdair Leith