E3 2016 – The Last Guardian Hands-On Preview – Earning Trico’s Trust (PS4)

Starting up my demo of The Last Guardian, I was immediately struck by one thing: Trico is scary powerful. All the previous footage I’d seen of the creature had pretty much been of the adorable variety, which made me forget just what an imposing figure he really is. That reality came crashing down — quite literally — in the opening moments of my 45-minute preview, which gave me the perfect bite-sized look into the enormous world Fumito Ueda has created.

A bit of a confession before I talk about the contents of the game itself: I couldn’t help but get a bit weepy during the opening sequence. There’s nothing particularly moving about what’s onscreen — the camera just pans past some illustrations of increasingly weird creatures before settling on one of Trico — but the music, penned by Takeshi Furukawa, was stunningly gorgeous and really caught me off guard. That surprise frisson, combined with the weight of my precious memories with predecessors Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, brought on the waterworks just a little bit.

Enough about my emotional fragility, though. The game proper begins with a little narration, which is told from the perspective of the boy protagonist — although his deep, rough voice and use of the past tense obviously indicate he’s aged quite a bit since his adventure with Trico. The old man recounts the time he found himself in a mysterious cave, and that’s where the preview begins: with the boy waking up, confused by the sudden appearance of tattoos on his body and in awe of the giant creature before him.

The Last Guardian 02 555x328

Earning Trico’s Trust

Trico has a pair of arrows embedded in him, so he’s rather understandably pissed, but I was shocked by just how powerful and fearsome he appears to be when you try to approach. His cry knocks the boy clean off his feet, and his body language makes it plainly clear that getting close is a really bad idea. Of course, players really don’t have any choice but to help him out by getting close (unless they’re heartless or something, which is a trait I frankly refuse to believe can apply to anyone who’s been moved by Ueda’s previous work).

After I had the boy feed Trico some barrels of food (fish, I presume?) and climb up the beast’s side to pop both of the arrows out, I found myself able to clamber onto his back, remove the giant metal collar, and finally free my furry and feathered friend (earning some of his trust in the process). From there, I maneuvered the boy and Trico down a long hallway in the cave, where there were further barrels of fish to munch — one of which, nestled in a space too small for his talons, Trico needed a little help with. This was a problem easily solved: I had the boy run along his back, jump off his head, and toss the barrel out of the space for his giant pal to eat.

The Last Guardian 01 555x328

From there, the boy eventually discovers a mirror that creates a symbol to project along the walls. This symbol causes some sort of reaction in Trico, whose eyes change color before he sends an enormous jolt of pink lightning in the direction of it — often helping you knock down enormous obstacles in the process. (I hadn’t seen this in any of the footage I watched prior to playing, so I have to admit I let out a quiet, giddy “Holy shit!” at discovering this ability). Once you’ve got the mirror in hand, the rest of the demo involves using the mechanics you’ve already discovered (climbing, making Trico zap things, etc.) to escape the cave.

It’s the Little Things in Life

Like Ueda’s other projects, a lot of the joy in The Last Guardian comes from the little details: when the command first comes up to “call Trico,” I couldn’t help but smile when the boy jumped up and down, giggling and clapping. And when I tossed one of the barrels of fish at Trico, the way he tentatively shifted it around with his talons before digging in was just plain adorable. It’s these little moments, which will almost surely be spread around throughout the full game, that I think will make the experience a special one for players. The puzzles, while fairly simple for this opening section of the game (and who wouldn’t expect them to be), reveal design choices that fall squarely in line with Ueda’s previous offerings, which made me both nostalgic and hungry for more.

While this is a preview, not a review, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention a couple of the issues I had that will hopefully cleared up before the final release. Firstly, while the game seemed to hold at a steady 30 frames-per-second for the majority of my time with it, there were a few very rare moments — usually when I stood in an area with more intense lighting effects — where it absolutely chugged. Secondly, like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus before it, it seems like The Last Guardian’s controls are just a little more loose and sluggish than they really need to be. Part of this is just the more deliberate and realistic way Ueda’s characters move, but there’s still something not 100% responsive about the way the boy moves after input.

Something Special (?)

Whatever happens along the way to the October 25 release date, it looks like players will be in for a treat when that day finally comes. To say this game is “much anticipated” is a laughable understatement, and while I’m not qualified to make a judgment on whether or not this game is worth the hype (sorry folks, a 45-minute demo just doesn’t cut it), there’s enough both new and reminiscent of Ueda’s past works to make me think Sony might have something truly special on their hands.