When Sony unveiled yet another trailer for Team Ico’s The Last Guardian at E3 this year, my expectations were low. We had seen several trailers before, each time teasing a game that I thought would never come out. The Last Guardian had become myth. Like Half Life 3 and Beyond Good & Evil 2, there was a genuine pessimism around the prospect of The Guardian ever seeing the light of day. Even if they game did come out, would it be any good?
Earlier this week, I actually got my hands on The Last Guardian itself and I can now say, without a doubt, this game is real and it’s time to renew your optimism.
The E3 demo I played began with, strangely, a voice over narration. Both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus feel like fairytale stories in a way, but The Last Guardian is doubling down on that aesthetic. The young protagonist of The Last Guardian has become an old man, recounting his first meeting with Trico, the dragon-dog beast. Puzzle hints are even delivered as though it’s a tale shared around a campfire by the adventurer grown wise with age.
As you might expect from Team Ico, the sense of scale is The Last Guardian's strong suit. Each time Trico stands up, jumps, or roars, the world vibrates and the protagonist stumbles around. Climbing Trico's back feels like climbing one of the immense bosses in Shadow of the Colossus, but one that is thankfully on your side. The puzzles, which require you to platform around areas alone before using Trico's size to your advantage, beautifully transition from small to large environments. The entirety of the E3 demo took place in a confined cave system, but you can tell the game will eventually open up into gorgeous ruins that can better showcase Trico's size.
Not all the similarities between The Last Guardian and Shadow of the Colossus are positive. For one, jumping and climbing feel imprecise, as though suffering from a brief lag. Environmental interactions suffer from similar inconsistencies and delays. For example, Trico's lightning attack is needed to blast away some rubble early in the demo, but the rubble collapses only when hit in a very specific spot and after a brief delay. This caused me to doubt the solution, so I abandoned it for a few minutes, looking into other dead ends. It is deeply unsatisfying for a puzzle solution to allude you because of fidgety interactions.
Even so, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus weren't always tight experiences, but they remain some of my favorite games of all time. Team Ico is making a world, not an action game. The joy of The Last Guardian will be found in exploring the mystical remains of a fallen city and creating a bond between our protagonist and his massive animal friend.
The Last Guardian releases on the PS4 on October 25. I'm optimistic and you should be too.