|Dev: Sony JAPAN Studio|
|Release: December 6, 2016|
|Players: 1 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Fantasy Violence|
It's the combination of the control scheme, the frequently-misbehaving camera, and the game's setup that make it all very difficult to enjoy. With no map and no good way to tell where to go next in the nonsensical pile of architecture in which you're trapped, you're reliant on your companion and your own ability to pixel hunt in order to make it through the game. Sometimes Trico is quite helpful, while at other times the creature acts as a red herring, lingering in a spot that is completely useless to you. With the wonky controls, it can be very difficult to tell if your execution is off or if you're just in the wrong place.
These moments are frustrating, but not in the way of puzzle games in which the frustration is worth it when you have a breakthrough and feel clever. I hesitate to call most of the obstacles in the games puzzles at all. They're just areas with light platforming challenges and hidden corridors, so gameplay wavers between feeling like an absolute breeze and becoming stuck until you convince the beast to help you find the path or manage to spot the teensy hole that you can crawl through to get to an all-important lever. There's not a lot of satisfaction, just a vague sense of relief upon becoming un-stuck.
My patience started wearing thin when The Last Guardian committed one of the cardinal sins of gaming: the exact same puzzle twice in a row, only with more enemies the second time around. It wasn't even particularly far into the game, but weariness began setting in, and wasn't alleviated by further segments full of guesswork and the growing sense that my controller and I were in the midst of a particularly painful breakup. It's especially bad when the boy is grabbed by a foe, because you're prompted to mash all the buttons and triggers at once to simulate him kicking his arms and legs wildly in order to escape. While once again I get the concept, it's not an entertaining activity, and it's rather disrespectful to both one's hands and the future health of the controller.
It's all enough to make me ponder some existential video game questions. Certainly all games are art, but should all art be a game? The Last Guardian feels like it could have worked better as a series of short videos telling the story of the boy and beast's growing relationship as they work to escape and solve the game's central mystery. Certainly, the developers had an experiential portion of this story planned out, with the floppy controls and the push-and-pull relationship with Trico that they created. However, the weak execution of these elements led me to wish I could have simply watched the cool parts of the game (the relationship and mystery) instead.
I found it interesting that after this title's Odyssean development cycle, the biggest problems I had were with its essential gameplay design, something that I imagine has been present for quite some time. Some players will doubtlessly get lost in its atmosphere and meditative pace, finding the subtle differences in the boy's unfolding relationship with Trico to be the important part of the journey. For me, that simply wasn't enough. There is artistry behind The Last Guardian's concept, but in stumbles in execution, creating a journey that is far less fascinating than the relationship that lies at its story's core.
Date: December 5, 2016