The frustration game
But that’s not to say that this is a flawless technical achievement. As with Ico and Shadow of the Colossus before it, there’s a stodginess to the controls that stampedes through the fourth wall.
The frustration of missing a jump because you’re an idiot is nothing compared to the frustration of missing one because the game reacted fourteen years after you pressed the button. Or because the character jumped in precisely the wrong direction.
It also annoys me that walking slowly is represented by the main character sneaking, whether there are enemies around or not. And that most of the time, he’ll stop at an edge regardless of the speed you approach, but sometimes will just run off it like a particularly energetic lemming. And that there’s very little differentiation between a ledge you can climb and one that you can’t.
The camera’s often awful as well. It stops you rotating it fully when you’re in open space. It lets Trico completely block your view. It will be too sluggish and heavy to give you a glimpse of what you’re looking for.
All of which pales into insignificance when it comes to trying to get Trico to do what you want.
The excuse, I’m sure, is that getting an untrained cat/dog/eagle to do what you want takes plenty of patience and some clear direction, but that isn’t what’s happening here. What’s happening here is that the lack of precision in the game controls is clashing with the game’s need for Trico to be in precisely the right place in order to trigger the next action.
There is nothing at all fun about finally figuring out the solution to a problem, then having to spend a further ten minutes screaming at your telly because a stupid, flaming dog/bird/eagle won’t take the blasted jump.
You end up wandering around, convinced you’re going mad and must have missed something else until, having exhausted every possibility, you go back to the original solution and suddenly Trico’s all up for it, as if he was trolling you the whole time.
The Last Guardian: Verdict
You encounter these issues a fair bit over the course of the journey, and they make you want to headbutt your TV, but they’re invariably followed by something brilliant or beautiful, or both.
I found one water section so annoying I had to walk away twice, but what followed was a ramping up of excitement and drama so all-encompassing, I had to refer to my notes to remind myself the preceding irritation had even happened.
And, in the end, that’s where The Last Guardian succeeds. It’s absolutely riddled with flaws and frustrations, but while they annoy the hell out of you in the moment, they’re surprisingly forgettable in the face of an emotional, dramatic and beautiful overall experience.
For all of its issues, this is a lovely, lovely game that will stay with you a long time after its twelve-ish hours are done. And there are very few games that have that sort of impact.