E3 2016: Hands-On The Last Guardian

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I arrived at the Sony Media area a good two hours before my appointment. The doors for E3 had just opened for the day and I knew the area would be pretty empty. Being here this early would give me some time to get my hands on a number of PlayStation VR titles.

As I walked in I was asked how much time I had and what I wanted to see first. I was then told by four different people to get on The Last Guardian immediately since nobody was here yet and it was a long demo. Better to play it now than stand around waiting for someone else to finish it later.

The woman handling the demo said that it was about forty-five minutes long and that it was created specifically for E3. Only two PS4’s were running the game and when I was back in the room at the end of the show on Thursday, I watched sadly as the hard drives on both were wiped and reformatted.

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I sat down in a big comfortable chair where I was handed a controller and a headset and then left to my own devices. It started out with an old looking zoology book. The kind with hand drawn pictures of animals and their classifications and species written underneath. There were lions, panthers, zebras, different birds, your typical everyday animals. Then there was a unicorn, a griffin, and finally… the trico.

I then woke up in a small cave across from the sleeping trico. I have no idea how we got here or what had happened prior to our arrival, but the trico was clearly wounded and shackled. I tried to approach slowly and it hit me so hard I flew across the room and passed out.

I awoke and decided to try to explore the surrounding area a bit. This is where the game’s long and troubled development history came to the forefront. I have to be careful how I explain all of this so people don’t take it the wrong way. What I played feels very much like the third part of the trilogy of Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and The Last Guardian with all the good and the bad that that statement implies.

The game is beautiful, let me get that out there right up front. But beautiful in the way that the previous two games from Team Ico were. This isn’t Uncharted 4 or Ratchet and Clank. The color palette is more subdued and things don’t look nearly as crisp and clean. Whether that’s a deliberate choice on the part of the developers or a relic of the early development on the PS3 I can’t say for sure. But based on the previous games, I’d guess that it’s deliberate.

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The boy that you’re controlling definitely looks different. The character design is almost like a watercolor sketch that’s in constant subtle motion, even when he’s standing still. The camera however feels a bit awkward, especially in the cramped quarters of the first area I was in. This is the type of issue that makes it feel like an older game at this point.

I ran into a number of things like that as I played and quite honestly it made me a bit nervous through the first ten to fifteen minutes. I was constantly reminded of the sometimes awkward movement and climbing animations in Ico and Shadow of the Colossus as I explored the environment, but those were PS2 games. We’ve come a long way since then.

Eventually, I got a few barrels and tossed them to the trico to feed it and hopefully some trust. I had to climb up onto the trico and remove the broken spears lodged in its hide. Yeah, it kicked me and knocked me out again. Now, on its own, laying there and moving around nervously, the trico is an amazing sight to behold. The eyes, the feathers, everything about it makes it feel “alive”.


Then I climbed onto it and the illusion was broken somewhat. To be fair, the game is still several months out and this section was made specifically for E3 so it may not be indicative of the final work, demos at E3 rarely are, but it was still a minor letdown.

It’s not a huge thing, but I had trouble grabbing the right area to climb and the feathers didn’t react the way I expected them too. No big deal in the grand scheme of things but again, a minor letdown from a game that’s been in development this long.

There were a few early puzzles that I had to solve by learning how to work with the trico. It started to respond to my calls and I found the hooks gently digging into me. I soon had to leave the trico behind as I crawled through a narrow passage and it’s amazing how conflicted I felt in doing this. I had grown attached so quickly.

I had to explore a bit on my own and solve a few puzzles to come back with something to break the trico free from the small cave we were in. I was genuinely relieved to be back in its company when I saw it waiting there for me.

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Then came the truly amazing part. We came to a cliff high above and underground lake so I dove right in. As I swam and looked back at the trico, I saw it hesitate. It moved like a fully conscious and cognizant creature, unsure of itself, wanting to follow me but scared by the drop off.

As it pawed gently forward and back with a bit of fear on its face I was hooked. The illusion was remarkable. This thing was alive and I wanted nothing more than to grab hold of it, hug it, and tell it everything would be okay. This is where the game will succeed.

When it’s finally released, it’ll be under more scrutiny than any game in recent memory and I’m positive that it’ll get a very mixed reception. Whether people feel it’s a true “next-gen” title or not will be irrelevant. This game is all about the relationship between a boy and his trico. If, or rather, when you fall in love with this mythical creature, you’ll be hooked and the rest probably won’t matter, good or bad.

 

Written by Josh Langford

Josh Langford

Josh has been gaming since 1977 starting with the Atari 2600.
He currently owns 25 different consoles and 6 different handhelds (all hooked up and in working condition) including all consoles from the current generation – minus the Switch.

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