While I thought that The Last Guardian would be recognised by all critics as a great game, there are a few naysayers who are disappointed about the product after its nine years of development.
Everyone’s obviously entitled to their own opinion, but I feel some criticism misses the aim of the game completely.
The game, which tells the story of a boy who finds himself trapped in a mysterious ancient city with an equally mysterious creature (a Trico), was panned by some for its clunky controls and some of the vague elements of the gameplay.
But these criticisms aren’t looking at the game through the right lens.
Let me explain…
More art than game?
We’ve often heard of video games being referred to as a form of art, but it’s games like The Last Guardian which truly embody this concept.
Games often lie on a spectrum, one end being entertainment, and the other being art. Games with little substance but which are fun to play would fall more on the entertainment side. Think beat-em-ups with no plot and the only goal being to kill off enemies.
On the other end of the spectrum are games which aim to make players feel something, think critically or primarily tell a story. Indie games have increasingly taken this route, with ‘walking simulators’ being mostly a narrative rather than a completely interactive experience.
The Last Guardian, a PlayStation 4 exclusive, is very much on the art side of the spectrum. Don’t get me wrong, The Last Guardian is fun to play – but it’s primary purpose is to tell a story which makes the player feel something.
In terms of this element, The Last Guardian was a resounding success – with careful narrative and gameplay which cements your relationship with Trico, the mythical beast your character discovers at the beginning of the game. It wasn’t uncommon to see reviewers reduced to tears in certain scenes.
It has all the marks of a great tale – a level of mystery, along with a deep bond which forms between your character and Trico.
But this is still a game, so what do I have to say about the gameplay criticisms?
When it comes to the criticisms of the controls, the points outlined by gamers are valid.
Controlling your character can be incredibly difficult at times, and I myself took many accidental dives down cliff faces. In fact, I often found myself crying out in frustration as the boy just wasn’t moving the way I wanted him to. His name soon became “Little Shit” – don’t judge me, I fell down a lot of cliffs.
Regardless, the puzzles and cutscenes were essential to the main purpose of the game. Through struggling through the ruins of the lost city which you found yourself in, your form a formidable bond with your companion.
Trico moves from being a wounded animal you take pity on, to an essential partner in your quest to escape The Nest.
As your bond deepens, you get more control over Trico, including issuing commands to the endearing beast. Sometimes Trico doesn’t listen – but if you’ve ever had a dog or a cat, this behaviour perfectly represents their attitudes. In fact, this occasional nonchalance was an intentional trait incorporated into Trico’s personality.
Trico is what the nine years were for
Trico is the saving grace of the game – in fact, they are the entire reason the game is a success in my eyes.
From needy whines, to licking their butt instead of listening to you, Trico’s AI is sophisticated in it perfect imitation of our relationships with our own pets.
It’s not only the cutscenes and the obvious behaviours which cultivate your relationship with the animal, but the subtle ways your interactions deepen your bond. Trico requires your comfort in times of distress, and should you stray too far they become anxious and try find ways to reunite.
I call the AI sophisticated, because through completely non-verbal cues and communication, you start caring about a completely fictional character.
To put it into perspective, I became so attached to Trico that I went on to buy a Collector’s Edition just so that I could have the gorgeous figurine of Trico which comes with it.
The game also has moments of genuine anguish and angst over Trico’s injuries and concerns over whether the beast will meet a tragic end.
While The Last Guardian is an excellent game, it might not be for those who cherish fluid controls and hack n slash action over an in-depth tale and narrative experience.
The game is a gorgeous work of art which will always resonate with me. While its controls could’ve had more work put into them, I am willing to sacrifice an easier experience in favour of the amazing work which made Trico.
What do you think about the game? Let me know in the comments below?