It finally happened. After all this time. As if the gods at Sony looked down upon us poor mortals pining for it, and decided on a whim: “Let them have The Last Guardian.” President and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America, Shawn Layden, kicked off Sony’s E3 press conference with a demo that brought the boy and his bird dog back into reality. It was a short reveal, but showed off its sparse yet beautiful world, its large-scale traversal and offered a glimpse into the relationship between the two protagonists.
Huge environmental puzzles seem to be the primary focus of The Last Guardian. An expected outcome, considering the interactive, epic worlds of Team Ico’s previous games. The young boy must travel across a vast and cavernous city, but first needs to overcome the spacious obstacles in his way. This is where his gigantic pet comes in handy, as it topples over structures it acts as a climbable object and catches the boy on multiple occasions, preventing his demise at every turn. The game may look like Ico because of the barren aesthetic and double protagonist setup, but the bird dog’s usefulness creates a new dynamic between the companions. The playable young boy in The Last Guardian appears to take on the role of a fragile figure, that must be aided continually throughout his journey in order to succeed. His helplessness is noted throughout the demo as he plummets off ledges only to be saved by a swish of the bird dog’s feathery tail. This would then maintain the multi-layered, sprawling puzzles of Ico, while removing the constant frustration of leading an incapable character from danger to danger. Ico’s Yorda was an interesting yet powerless companion.
Despite its years of development hell, the game has been able retain the constant aesthetic of Team Ico’s previous works: a quiet, ancient world of mystery, mythology, and giant yet gentle creatures. The demo shows an intricate number of facades that have been painted green with age, rickety wooden structures and crumbling stone parapets; its entire location points towards a city that has been long since abandoned by its populace. It is a landscape made for exploration and establishes an unsettling atmosphere of isolation from the outset. The visuals of this world have clearly been crafted to create a sense of resonance and texture amongst the ruins. Stone and wood surfaces chime differently to the little boy’s footsteps, while the some wooden stilts crack and splinter authentically as they are torn apart by a heavy metal weight. This mysterious land may be an alien locale, but the building blocks of its structures are literally and wholly realistic.
The Last Guardian also takes it cues from Shadow of the Colossus with the inclusion of its extraordinary beast, appearing to be the last of its kind: a hybrid of both hound and eagle. The griffin is a beautiful enigma. It can be climbed by the boy, forming the basis of some puzzles, its feathers and fur shuffle faithfully in the wind and its calls are a mixture of high pitched barks, throaty growls and whistling screeches. It is shown to play more than the role of a guardian however, as it seems to be lovingly connected to the boy. The pair share a gentle moment from time to time, as the child pets the creatures snout, or as the dog bird peers at the boy from above with dark, sad eyes and a whimper. The relationship is only touched upon in the demo, but I am intrigued by the possibility of learning more about their bond: how they came to be, and how they come to end.
After around eight years of strange tales and foreboding development cycles, The Last Guardian is here after much delay. Its blend of environmental detail, storytelling, interaction and puzzles, depth and almost silent characterisation mixes Team Ico’s previous efforts with a new tale of about a boy and his gigantic bird dog best friend. The game’s troubled life has been as mysterious as the land in which it is set, and has crafted a deep mythology that will, by next year, come to an end. The road has been long and arduous, but Sony have taken on the role of our last guardian, handing us a scaly claw and a feathered wing towards incite and greatness.