Review by JDPeters

Reviewed: 02/10/17

The Least Fake Game I've Ever Played

The Last Guardian is a video game that makes me realize how fake most video games are. In most video games, health and ammunition are strewn everywhere for no believable reason (not to mention that the idea of consuming “health” is absurd). In most video games, my screen tells me how much stamina my character has, or shows me a digital map that has no reason for existing. In most video games, puzzles make absolutely no sense, as though my enemy would hire a construction crew for a week to build a puzzle to slow my progress. In most video games, characters move through the world and react to me with a predictable set of animations. In most video games, characters and the world twist and bend to make my progression effortless, and as we all know this is not how life works.

And you know what? It’s forgivable that video games do these things, because unlike movies or other storytelling media when you hand the controls to the audience you have some serious problems on your hands. How much realistic control do you give them? Too little and they’re running on rails, and too much and they’re falling to their deaths every minute. How do you create living characters that feel real, but aren’t boring because they get tired, don’t listen to you, or need to go to the bathroom like any living character actually would? How do you prevent the player from getting stuck without breaking the fourth wall and ruining the realism? The answers to these questions are very hard, perhaps 10-years-of-development hard, and The Last Guardian attempts to answer them and does so very well.

The screen has no UI, save for rare reminders of what button you use to pick things up or pull on levers. The game’s narrator is an old version of the protagonist, allowing the game to guide the character in a realistic way (the narrator can tell you what to do in the past tense, because he’s already done it). It’s genius and flawless.

And Trico. Trico is a triumph. I’m not sure how they did it but I never saw him repeat the same animation twice. He moves like a living being, reasons like a living being and reacts like a living being. Early in the game he doesn’t trust you and it’s hard to get him to follow your commands. It’s frustrating, but that frustration makes it so compelling when you finally earn his trust and notice in subtle ways that he has learned to like you. [It’s kinda like how Dark Souls pummels you into the ground, and that’s OK because if you could slay a demon from hell on your first try, that wouldn’t be realistic. And it feels that much better when you do.] It feels like a real relationship and it’s five million years ahead of any relationship I’ve ever experienced in a game. Mass Effect is cool because it kind-almost-slightly simulates relationships, if only for the fact that I’m picking from 4 pre-written answers and can see the dialogue tree in the background.

Now here’s the catch. Do we want games to perfectly simulate life? No, that would be boring and frustrating. So it’s a question of balance and the talent of the developer. Can they make the elements of the world feel real but also fun? The Last Guardian toes the line between boredom and fun, realistic frustration and fake ease. Early in the game it steps more to the real/boring/frustrating side of the line, and I suspect it loses many players here. Which is a damn shame, because like any Souls fan will tell you, the early frustration that comes from a realistic world (LG) or enemy (Dark Souls) is a necessary element of the final payoff. The Last Guardian’s frustrations lessen significantly as time goes on, just as this journey would in real life. You just have to trust it, or you’re going to ruin it for yourself and lose the ability to appreciate what’s happening.

I could go on forever (they should do game design classes on this game). But I’ll just leave by saying that The Last Guardian is the most real experience I’ve ever had in games, and I don’t see anything reaching those heights for another decade.

I can't guarantee you'll love it, but I think every PS4 owner should play this game and give it an honest shot with an open mind.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Product Release: The Last Guardian (US, 12/06/16)

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