The Last Guardian is one of those old oddities about the gaming industry. When it first hit audiences with a stunning trailer, crowds of fans were willing to rush out and buy a Playstation 3 purely to jump onto the latest game by the creators of Ico. Yet, as we all saw, the project suffered from delay after delay, until here we are well over a decade onwards and it has finally been released. As a result, The Last Guardian proves to be charming, intelligent and stylistic, but woefully archaic.
Let this be clear from the start - This is a decent video game. It's not a disaster, and it's certainly vastly better than the twin monstrosities of Aliens: Colonial Marines and Duke Nukem Forever that Randy Pitchford lied through his teeth to help promote. It even has far fewer bugs than many modern releases, but the interface, reactions and ideas it promotes have long since been surpassed. As a result, the execution is very much at odds with the genius behind its creation.
Its strengths and problems are personified by Trico, the large bird-dog creature the protagonist befriends to help escape their mysterious assailants. The idea behind Trico is interesting for sure, where you are bonded with a creature who is both your greatest asset and liability. The character's design is beautifully creative and his personality quite charming, even if it is down to minor quirks. However, the problems lie in how the character's AI can be both pedantic and quite dull at points, sometimes failing to follow basic commands or ignoring the blindingly obvious solutions to issues. In addition to this, certain interactions such as calming him down following fights quickly become overly repetitive busywork, bereft of thought or serious intelligence. You can even find yourself re-treading the same old territory time and time again, purely thanks to how inept the AI can be.
The same sadly goes for the puzzles, which are cleverly and creatively designed. Many reflect well upon the unity between the characters, and even the themes of boy and beast struggling through a hostile place. Unfortunately, despite the thought put into them, The Last Guardian is woefully inadequate when it comes to communicating and confirming details behind puzzles. Sometimes you can even go minutes without realising a puzzle has been completed, and this issue doesn't even stop there. Without a clear and concise HUD interface, helping command and guide Trico can be a chore. A problem which is only further enhanced when its compounded by the game's major control issues. While it aims for the Zelda approach of a single button controlling multiple functions, but it lacks the same refined quality. If you're too close to multiple interactive objects, it can be near impossible to select the single one you're after at times.
If the compliments and criticisms of this review sound mixed, it's an issue unfortunately matched by the game itself. You can be enjoying every second at one minute, but then bashing your skull against a brick wall in frustration in the next; with every great idea allowing it to take a step forwards, before a problematic execution makes it take a step backwards. While certain animation and physics issues can be forgiven thanks to The Last Guardian's age, and the artistic vision behind the game is utterly award worthy, the mechanical execution is undeniably flawed.
Fans of Team Ico's past works will certainly still enjoy this, but there's no denying it lacks the punch many wanted. Those after an innovative open world puzzle experience or hungering for a Shadow of the Colossus experience will certainly get a kick out of this, but it won't be anywhere near as sweet as you might expect. It might tug at your heartstrings, but this is by no means this developer's opus.
THE LAST GUARDIAN / DEVELOPER: TEAM ICO / PUBLISHER: SONY INTERACTIVE ENTERTAINMENT / PLATFORM: PLAYSTATION 4 / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW