There exists a phenomenon in gaming where people wait several years for a game to release. This can be an effect of a number of causes, such as budget cutbacks, key people leaving the project, or one studio handing development off to another. But mostly, developing a game is an incredibly painstaking process that requires an insane amount of hours and absurd attention to detail, which is why I try to not be too harsh with my criticisms, even with games I’ve anxiously awaited years for.
Throughout my 20+ years of gaming, there isn’t a game I’ve waited longer for, or been more excited for, than The Last Guardian. Ever since having my mind blown by the magnificent Shadow of the Colossus in 2005, I longed for Fumito Ueda to create another astonishing experience that would leave me equally awestruck. When the official announcement of The Last Guardian dropped in 2009, I nearly jumped out of my skin with joy. Little did I know nearly a decade would pass before I would get my hands on it.
Although it released just over one year ago, I finally found time to play The Last Guardian the past few weeks, and I’m sad to say that I have mixed feelings about it. Never have I waited so long for a game to release, only to be gut punched by disappointment. I did have the benefit of knowing its shortcomings going into it after reading numerous reviews, but part of me hoped I wouldn’t experience the same issues (or at least to the same extent) during my playthrough. I was foolish to get my hopes up.
Now, I’m not saying it’s a bad game; that would be ridiculous. In fact, there is a lot to love about The Last Guardian – from the beautiful bond forged between The Boy and Trico to its masterfully crafted cinematic sequences. Leaping from a crumbling structure and being saved in the nick of time by Trico’s swinging tail, or clinging onto the beasts feathers for dear life while it jumps from platform to platform are exhilarating moments that leave you longing for more.
Additionally, like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, the visuals and soundtrack of The Last Guardian are absolutely stunning. Trico’s feathers and The Boy’s garment graciously sway with the wind, and clouds of dust puff from falling buildings. Additionally, radiant lighting illuminates the dilapidated castle ruins, transforming the environment from bleak to bewitching. To add to this beauty is an original score so captivating that it was nominated for several prestigious awards, including the BAFTA Games Award for Music and the D.I.C.E Award for Outstanding Musical Composition. As you can see, there is so much that the game does right, but unfortunately most of the good is counteracted by the bad.
For starters, Trico’s AI frustrated me to the point of near insanity. I would need more fingers and toes to count the amount of times the beast completely ignored me after I gave it a command. I understand that his insubordination is supposed to be intentional, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s bad game design. It would be one thing if it occurred only a few times, but it seemingly happened with every puzzle. Worst of all, it sometimes took several minutes until Trico finally gave in and did what I wanted it to do. Because I hardly have time to game as is, this was especially annoying. I’d rather not spend my limited gaming time watching some bird-dog-cat thing ignore me for minutes and stifle my progression.
To accompany the maddening AI is an equally horrible camera that fights you throughout the course of the game. On multiple occasions, I had to completely stop what I was doing just so I could reset to a playable view. Whether I was climbing on Trico’s back in a cramped environment or luring a group of hostile armored knights into the beast’s attacks, it felt like the camera was playing against me; like it was another obstacle I had to conquer. If that’s not bad enough, it also got in the way when I tried to capture the game’s beauty through screenshots. Why make a game so pretty if the camera is going to obstruct my views?
Lastly, the controls are as clunky as a rusty station wagon with an old transmission. Dying because of poor controls should never happen in a game, but unfortunately it happened to me multiple times in The Last Guardian. Whether I was missing a jump, rolling off a cliff, or falling off Trico’s back, I plummeted to my death too many times because I didn’t seem to have full control of The Boy. There were times I would involuntarily climb down Trico’s back when trying to climb towards its head, and sometimes it would take a few attempts and serious camera adjustments to jump from a ledge while shimmying. In basics, the controls are a mess and make the game longer and more frustrating than it should be.
Perhaps if I didn’t wait so long for The Last Guardian, I wouldn’t be so upset with its poor execution. However, as disappointed as I am, I have to say that I admire its ambition. There aren’t many games like it, nor are there many developers these days willing to take a risk on an unorthodox idea. As he did with Ico, Fumito Ueda took one of the most hated concepts in gaming, the dreaded escort mission, put his own spin on it, and gave the world a heartwarming, yet flawed, game. At the end of the day, that alone is enough for me to make me love The Last Guardian, even with all the things I hate about it. I’d rather see a developer come up short trying something new and exciting than excel in doing the same thing over and over again.
Did you play The Last Guardian? What do you think of it? Are there any games that you have a love-hate relationship with? Share in the comment section below!