Review by Cablevision2
An enjoyable, heartening, and frustrating adventure.
The Last Guardian has been on my radar ever since it was announce at e3 a couple years ago. I have always been a fan of similar games, like Shadow of the Colossus and Ico. When I found that a game with an art style, gameplay, and stunning visuals akin to some of my favorite games, I was sold. This review comes a bit late because I didn't buy until the price dropped to $40. Was it worth the money? You bet your sweet derriere. Was it worth the scalp tearing, teeth gnashing, roommate awakening bout of screaming, and deep sighs of heated anger? I will let you know once the skin on my knuckles grows back after having punched the wall... several times.
Let's start with graphics, shall we?
I shouldn't mince words, but the game is beautiful. They really outdid themselves this time. Story aside, building a world like this is incredibly difficult. They did their absolute best to keep us interested, especially when the scale of it all was increased significantly. The textures blended well, and I never noticed any tearing or discrepancies in area transitions. A lot of time and effort went into this game's appearance, and it shows. The game only loses half a point in this category for the same reason, there isn't much difference between non-traversible textures and the intended path I am supposed to take through the game. It resulted in several frustrating moments trying to look for somewhere to land when the main character is about to make a leap of faith. All in all, I was rarely disappointed with the visuals.
The main character's companion, the beast Trico, some sort of feathered cat-dog that shoots lightning out of its tail, is one of the most detailed characters I have ever seen. His individual feathers react to the main character's ministrations as well as the wind. His multi-color eyes shimmer in the darkness, even illuminating certain dark sections of your playthrough. His motion and animal-like tendencies make him so endearing that you wouldn't mind keeping a digital pet of your own. Trico is most definitely an animation to remember.
If there is anything that the team that brought us Ico knows how to do, it is build a deep story and lovable characters with little to no understandable dialogue. The game is fully voiced... but in a language that doesn't exist and only remotely resembles Japanese. Some dialogue that is spoken is subtitled; Lucky You! In what little story is written down, a majority of the story is told via visuals and your own imagination. Whatever questions I had were answered by the end, leaving few to no loose ends untied. It's quite an impressive feat, given how restrictive this form of storytelling is.
There is really only one character you need to get to know in this game. It only took a few minutes at the beginning, but I immediately became emotionally invested in Trico. The developers did a fantastic job taking us through the process of building trust with the creature. Although Trico only requires a few feedings and the plucking of a few spears embedded in its hide to become a reliable ally, the sorry state the creature is in makes you want to help it. You are put into situations where you make minor moves to establishing that bond, but the rest is your own mind convincing itself that Trico is your friend. Also, there were a few sequences where you are shown flashbacks and the origin of Trico, and how it and the main character came to be trapped together. By the end of the game, I felt I understood the fictional monster despite never actually having any contact with it.
This is where the game takes its blow to the score. There are several aspects to the gameplay that I find frustrating, and even unnecessary. Let's start with the environments, a positive point to the game. As previously stated, the game is much larger spatially compared to previous games by these developers. Because of the aspect of a large animal in the form of Trico that can leap great distances and reach heights no normal person could possibly reach, rooms and structures needed to be bigger while keeping the connectivity between the different sections of the game, as well as keeping the aspects of a puzzle/platformer intact. This game relatively succeeds in doing so. In fact, the environment's grandness in scale is one of the highlights of the game. Just knowing that Trico can traverse between them, albeit in a linear fashion, with tricky hops, skips, and jumps makes it feel even more expansive. That is unless...
Trico's controls... I wish I were dead. For a while, all you were capable of doing was calling Trico over to your location. The only problem with this is that you are essentially at his mercy as youo both try to figure out what to do next. However, as soon as you get comfortable with Trico and his abilities, the game tosses you a lifeline.
"Hey! What if you could tell Trico what to do? Would you like that?!"
"Hell yeah, I would!"
Never was there a bigger mistake. Getting Trico to do what you want it to do is by far one of the most frustrating things I have come across. Holding down the button to call Trico in tandem with the triangle, square, X, or circle button with give Trico a certain command. What those commands are, I have no clue. You are merely told that things happen when you press them, so it's all up to you to discover. To save you the suspense, triangle tells Trico to jump, square tells him to attack, X tells him to stop/sit, and circle tells him to, "do the thing." What is "the thing?" If you have to ask, you'll never know (and if anyone has figured it out, please tell me).
You would think that a creature that knows what it's capable of would, quite literally, jump at the opportunity. Instead, I found myself trying to lead it to a wall that had a small alcove that held some food for the lovable beast, only to have Trico wander away while I was climbing its back. This happens many times. Many of the biggest issues can be explained by the fact that Trico ceases his actions too often. This has led me to trying to have him repeat actions, which requires a bit of coaxing. It also resulted in some funny/infuriating mistakes that caused me to fall into demented, rage fueled hysteria. I have found myself falling off of Trico and clipping through walls, getting stuck in objects, even falling through a locked door and bypassing part of the game. Or, my personal favorite, slipping off of his back, because there is no Grab mechanic, and then bouncing off of his elbow and into the abyss below in a spectacular example of rag doll physics. That was at the end game. I wanted blood. Finally, the analog stick will direct Trico where you want him to go (ha-ha, funny joke). Let's go through each command, okay?
TRIANGLE: Trico will not jump when you tell him to jump. When he finally does jump, it will likely be back the way you came. A common situation this game puts you in is a row of pillars for Trico to traverse by jumping from foothold to foothold. Many times, you must initiate this process. Most of the time, you will be screaming at Trico like that guy from the "Yelling at cats" video, telling Trico to effing jump. Imagine my vengeful anger when I tell that dopey animal to jump to the next pillar, when there is nowhere else to go, and having him look back at me incredulously, like I'm asking him to do something that's impossible. Just JUMP dammit!
SQUARE: The attack command is USELESS. I never used it. Trico attacks on his own. He doesn't need your stupid input.
X: Your saving grace. Is Trico not doing what you want him to do? Tell him to sit. This will stop all action and give you a moment to quiet your bubbling wrath. This tends to work quite well, but sometimes it just isn't enough.
CIRCLE: When in doubt, press Circle. Is Trico as confused as you are? Press Circle. Are you out of eggs? Press Circle. Are you about to descend into a spiraling pit of madness? For the love of God, press Circle. I still have no idea what it does. All I know is that it "does the thing." Most of the time, Circle gets the job done, regardless of what Trico needs to do.
ANALOG STICK: As far as Trico is concerned, this is a suggestion. He will never follow it. He won't even look in that direction. He will look at you... he will see you slowly raise your middle fingers. He will turn away in defiance.
There are too many useless buttons. This game only needed three commands:
R1+O: DO THE THING!
As far as I'm concerned, they over-complicated a simple system.
Let's move on from Trico and go to the Main Character. Ironically, this system was oversimplified, rather than complicated. His controls are inconsistent. He can either be overly sensitive or it could be a chore to nudge him just inches in the right direction.
He has somewhat different control layout. Circle is the grab/pickup/interact button, Triangle is the all-purpose jump button, X is the place button, and Square is the throw button. When the MC is empty-handed, Square becomes the shove button, and X becomes the... er... just hit the floor button. Not sure what use it actually has, considering I never used it when he wasn't holding anything. The only problem with these controls is that grabbing is beyond irritating. The radius from which you can press the grab button and be pulled to the object is affected by several variables: facing the object, other items that can be grabbed are nearby, and how evil your game is feeling at that point in time. Getting too close to the object you want to grab is a good way to just stand on top of the object while the main character is swarmed by enemies who want to subject you to a wholly unnecessary button mashing mini-game. Seriously, what is that? What genius came up with that? It's even on the continue screen after you die. Just go crazy on ALL of the controller's buttons. You'll get through it just fine... you'll want to end your own life, but you'll be fine.
Climbing isn't terrible. The X button actually gains a use as the drop down command. You will be using this a lot; not so much for climbing obstacles, but for climbing Trico. Since there is no grab mechanic in this game, you do not choose whether or not the MC will grab onto an object in order not to fall to his untimely death. Instead, he will always grab hold of what is nearby, even if the drop is only a few feet. Getting down from Trico is also a chore in itself. You want to get down to the ground for some puzzle solving, so you jump away, but he's always moving, so he just runs right into you. You embark on a grabbing quest and swing around on Trico's poor, damaged feathers. I have somewhere to be, Trico. Just stop moving...
Combat is practically nonexistent. You have your first sense of real peril when the guardian statues come to life and try to take you to their dungeon. The MC does very little in the way of dispatching enemies. Early in the game, he can only pull the heads off them when Trico knocks them unconscious (wish someone told me that before I figured it out on my own in literally the last room in the game with these enemies). Other than that, you need to do your best to avoid being caught, lest you be subjected to multiple button mashing sequences that are pointlessly tedious. Later in the game, you get a disc that allows you to aim at targets. This forces Trico to use his lightning attack and blast everything to bits. It is slow and takes some time to charge, but it is effective so long as Trico is distracting the enemies for you.
Trico just attacks. He hates the guardian statues and will do anything to kill them, even charging into an insane number of them. He stomps, swipes, and bites them to pieces, but he doesn't stop there. Like a really animal, he doesn't stop attacking, even if they are in pieces. Trico will continue this frenzied behavior until you pet him to calm him down. It's okay, Trico. Your game really isn't bad. I promise.
Despite my gripes, I found traversing the huge temple to be very satisfying. Figuring out the puzzles and how to make it to the next area was enjoyable and rewarding.
Suggestions for a better game:
A game with a lot of somewhat free-climbing should have a grab mechanic. I wouldn't leave the grabbing to the AI because it becomes too temperamental. As it happened many times, Trico's AI and the climbing AI just clashed way too much to work fluidly.
There was a section of the game where you had to avoid spotlight-like statues and not be detected. That was a great change of pace, but it was never used again. A shame...
MC controls need fixing. It is way too janky and stuttering.
One of two things must happen to Trico's controls: Ensure Trico listens to them unquestioningly or get rid of them entirely. Calling Trico over to a proximity trigger would probably make it much easier.
A prompt to feed Trico directly. Throwing barrels onto the ground and waiting a minute for him to decide to eat it just wastes my time.
Please get rid of that button mashing mini-game. Why is it the continue screen? All it did was piss me off.
Final Score: 3.7/5
I found a lot of stuff that made me angry, eh? But I swear, I really did enjoy this game. Despite how infuriating controlling Trico was, I still felt a load of emotion at the end of the game. I cared for him even though I had only spent 10 hours with him. That speaks volumes to a game when it can build a lasting memory in such short time. Will I play it again? Probably not, but I am glad to have played it.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: The Last Guardian (US, 12/06/16)
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