Skip to main content

Hands-on with The Last Guardian: this is not the game you thought it would be


The Last Guardian PS4

The Last Guardian is likely to be one of the most discussed games of 2016, and hopefully it'll be for the right reasons.

The closed doors (of behind-closed-doors fame) at the back of the SCEE media lounge at E3 last week contained a playable demo of The Last Guardian. I couldn't believe it. ("We're really going to play?" "Apparently, yeah.") Only four members of the press were allowed into these hour-long sessions at once. Sony gave us hands-on with the first 40 minutes, and I need to say something now: this is not the game I thought it would be.

"It's like a PS3 remake" was heard many times later that day, and no one had to ask as to the topic of discussion. I mean, it looks old. Given the difficult history associated with this project it's hardly surprising the tech may not live up to initial reveals - Final Fantasy XV shared this problem at E3 - but given the levels of anticipation surrounding Fumito Ueda’s third Sony game, it seemed immediately obviously to me that many are going to be shocked. The textures seemed flat and, considering we're talking about a single-player game in an enclosed environment here, the lighting and particle effects appeared positively prehistoric.

This is not any old video game, however. Most of the legions of PlayStation gamers who've been hanging onto their seats with every bump of The Last Guardian's development will likely forgive a great deal. From what I played, they may have to.

I started as the boy in a stone room with the creature, Trico, chained to the floor by its neck. Injured by two spears sticking from its side, the grumpy monster knocked the child unconscious after the removal of the first weapon. The second could only be pulled out after feeding the cat-dog-bird. And herein lay the first problem.

The control prompt to the boy's climbing action was wrong, meaning I couldn't climb up onto a shelf to get a barrel of food for my feathery friend. Configuring the controller with the triangle button as jump is fine provided that's what you're told, but there's a second part to the motion, a grab performed with R1, and if you don't press it the boy's hand releases the ledge. The prompt itself showed only triangle and the left stick, meaning I was forced to ask the producer how to progress. He told me the prompt was "work in progress". I mean, this was less than five minutes into the demo. Later on, I came across two more occasions where I became stuck and seriously couldn't figure out what to do. Both were related to physical mechanics, not narrative.

It may mean nothing. The code may have been old. But the prompts themselves were surprisingly rough, just overlaid boxes dropping from the corner of the screen showing the controller with the relevant controls highlighted in yellow. If I walked backwards and forwards to a prompt point a cascade of boxes greeted me, one overlapping the last. It seemed messy. Considering how long Ueda's been working on this, ructions or no, I would have at least expected it to be ready. Because what I saw probably wasn't.

It wasn't all bad. Ueda has injected this latest work with an intransigent wistfulness. This is his story, and he will tell it. Trico blinked and its eyes reflected multicolours like a hunting cat. Its movements were uncannily realistic, regardless of their coating, and it made noises I wanted to stroke. The puzzles, too, seemed satisfying and contained (once I'd started to get to grips with The Last Guardian's world rules), and a sense of wonder met me in every room. Calling Trico along so you can either climb up onto its back or use it to smash objects feels like whistling for a pet. Once I was over the initial surprise of the code's general raggedness, I soon started having fun. It begs you to explore, to progress. Its tech may be spotty, and at times the camera will leave you exasperated, but the overall vision is undeniably strong.

That's all I can give up, really. I don't want to tell you exactly what happened in play because I know so many of you have waited so long for this. The Last Guardian is likely to be one of the most discussed games of 2016, and hopefully it'll be for the right reasons. Given this started as a PS3 project almost ten years ago, I suppose I feel foolish for thinking it could be anything other than clunky and weird, but the melancholy at its core is Ueda's spirit itself, and any fan knows what that means. However it appears, The Last Guardian will be unforgettable and an instant buy for the old school. Whether it can weather some potentially bruising review scores to achieve commercial success with newer gamers - players long used to stellar production values and monumental world-building - could well be another story.

Read this next