Developed by: Gen Designs and Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
The Last Guardian is the latest game to come of Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan and Gen Design’s studios, anticipated on airs by those who have ever played any of Gen Designs prior games, like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. The game’s development began on PlayStation 2, shifted to PlayStation 3, and finally ended up being released on the PlayStation 4. After such a trouble troubled development time, The Last Guardian is finally out.
The Last Guardian is the story of Trico, the dog-bird-with-horns, and his companion, the small playable child you guide. Most of the story is not that of words, but of actions, the back and forth efforts of the two characters working their way through pitfalls, treacherous hallways as well as wide chasms, and mesmerizing eyes installed in glass fixtures. In most interpretations of the word, the story is singularly the story you would tell of your actions.
Visually, The Last Guardian is another attempt to make regular gameplay look and feel like a prerendered cutscene of yore; hyper surreal in its detail and motion, The Last Guardian feels cinematic in every interpretation of the word. From water rippling at your feet, to rocks and massive stone structures crumbling and tumbling away, to feathers ruffling askew as you pet your massive companion’s flanks, it all give this very earthy, realistic feeling. Every situation I’ve found myself in, whether it be poorly lit ancient temple ruins to sparsely vegetative land newly growing trees and flowers, every frame rendered is beautifully composed, collecting together many many moving parts to make a fantastic setpiece. Nearly every form of technical jargon describing lighting techniques is at play as well, from subsurface scattering light to ambient occlusion, this game has nearly all of it operating in turn to add detail and luminosity to this world.
Audibly, The Last Guardian is a treat to the senses. The best efforts of the London Symphonic Orchestra are clear and present, cooperating and contributing to the experiences you take part of in your journey. Just as your journey destroys a small pillar, or causes a small cascade of dirt and dust to slide off a ledge, the audio accompanying it feels very well presented, fulfilling the fantasy that you are actually in the scene itself, just as the visuals make you feel neck deep in Trico’s feathers.
For all the praise I can give the game, The Last Guardian is not without its faults. Visually there are some artifacts inherited in its journey from the PlayStation 2 engine on to the PlayStation 3 hardware to its eventual landing on PlayStation 4. Sluggishness is apparent. Due to environments and characters full of moving minutia, you will encounter framerate slowdowns; even with the day one patch shoring up many of the frame rate gaps, there will be entire scenes where I can feel the game engine really struggle to keep operating. The camera’s attempt to unstick from locations where it is jammed against walls or corners involves a very unsettling black “blink” which feels jarring every time it happens. Finally, some of the puzzles aren’t there for you to solve, or even have input, and are more there for you to sit atop your steed and let him slowly puzzle out what he’s supposed to do, and then do it. This leaves you guessing what your role is during these moments. Other times you’re provided the solution but is left wondering how you were supposed to know to perform that action.