In the same way The Last Guardian had every intention of releasing sooner, I had every intention of playing it sooner. It's been three months since the game released, and for one reason or another I've delayed playing it until now. You know, right after completing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
It was a surreal experience playing The Last Guardian for my first time. It was in 2009 that I joined the staff on PlayStation LifeStyle and began covering this third game from Team ICO. At the time I was under the impression, alongside most gamers, that it would be out within the next couple years. Little did we know that it'd be nearly a decade before it'd see the light of day.
During those years we would speculate wildly about why the game wasn't showing up for gaming conventions like E3, and occasionally rush to cover statements from Sony CEO Kaz Kirai about how it was still in development. It would take years of repeating these patterns before we'd learn that it was in-fact making a generational leap to PS4. In hindsight we probably should have pretended it didn't exist until 2016.
Nonetheless, this week I was finally playing The Last Guardian for my first time. Admittedly, my first few moments with it I didn't know what to think. I might have come in expecting something glorious and profound. What I was playing instead was definitely a video game, and certainly one that wasn't necessarily unlike the thousands I played before.
Trico (the bird beast) looks great, he really does. In a lot of ways he reminds me of my sister's cat (Vash) who similarly prances around like a crazy hooligan and likes being pet behind the ears. The way he moves around the game world and communicates is one of a kind; he feels real in the best ways possible. Despite looking like his eyes were gouged out and having bloody scars left on his back from being impaled by spears, he's an adorable creature that won my heart within the first few moments of the journey. I would go as far as to say that he's the most meticulously crafted animal in any video game, and that's an incredible accomplishment.
However, I did spend several minutes fumbling with the controls before realizing that it wasn't getting any better. For whatever reason, The Last Guardian controls terribly. During most of my journey the main character has acted as if he doesn't understand what I'm trying to tell him to do, regularly jumping in the wrong direction or bumping into objects before rolling on the ground like a klutz.
This is particularly surprising when you consider the game took roughly a decade to make. Were there not internal testers that had something to say about this? The Last Guardian's puzzles are often obtuse leading to frustration as it is. Having the main character move like he's an out of control drunkard and tripping over everything in his path makes the game a chore to play.
At first it was kind of comical. However, several hours into the journey it's no longer funny. Interacting with the world is cumbersome in a way I haven't experienced since the PlayStation 2 days. And when it comes down to it, The Last Guardian presents itself like a PlayStation 2 game, with framerate issues and all.
For all its incredible beauty and captivating story elements, The Last Guardian really feels like it belongs in the same era as Shadow of the Colossus. It's as if Team ICO settled for continuing to make game of the year 2005 caliber titles while the entire gaming industry moved on. And it's so sad because every time the game takes control away from me, I remember why I like the game so much. The world is absolutely magical, and the storytelling is subtle yet captivating. It's halfway toward being a masterpiece as far as I'm concerned.
I love The Last Guardian. I really do. But this game needed far better gameplay and control design to live in the current era of gaming, where expectations are much stricter than the days of Shadow of the Colossus.
As I head toward the final chapter of the game, I feel elated that the game made it to store shelves. A story as beautiful as this deserved to see its development cycle through. However, I also feel saddened that the game came so close yet so far from being yet another magical Team ICO experience. And with that, I'll always remember The Last Guardian as being one of my favorite PlayStation 2 games.