The Last Guardian – Cantankerous Cats and Catastrophic Cameras

From the onset, it’s obvious The Last Guardian is a specifically designed experience.  Fumito Ueda and Team Ico are known for their deliberately sparse and evocative worlds but a failure to pay attention to the flawed gameplay undermines such meticulous craft in The Last Guardian, creating a serene world that is equally horrific, beautiful and unnecessarily frustrating.

Given this precise direction, it’s disheartening that you spend most of your time wrangling with the camera.  Great moments are obscured by Trico – your very own giant cat-dog-bird – as the boy you control flails around for no reason or stumbles on some insignificant debris.  I spent more time staring at Trico’s fur as it obstructed my view than I did staring at the grand gothic buildings that crumbled around the beast.

This guy is floatier than a rubber duck

The focus on the budding relationship between Trico and the boy, the core of the game’s design, causes the majority of these issues as the camera attempts to keep both in frame.  It’s understandable why Team Ico did this, intending for you to admire the beast and be ever aware of its skulking presence.  But you control the boy, an entirely different being.  The camera’s failure to present the two most important pieces of the game undermines your control and perspective.

With a little distance, they seem closer

This once saw me staring at the outside wall of a tower while Trico, I assume, majestically leapt into the air.  I caught a fleeting glimpse of it mid-flight and, you know what, it did look rather majestic.  But again, as Trico was coming in to land, all I saw was another grey wall.  This is unforgivable for a game that so evidently prides itself on beauty and spectacle.

At times, the camera pulls back, and both the boy and Trico are clearly framed.  It makes you wonder why the team didn’t consider a fixed perspective throughout if they really wanted to maintain visibility of the two.  It would also show more of the scenery and give it some of the added flair Ueda probably envisioned.

It’s a shame.  Many have argued that Trico acts like a pet and you’re supposed to show utmost patience when directing him, like you would a puppy.  But the camera, coupled with the generally finicky and floaty controls, drains any potential patience.  If the selling point of a game is a relationship with a disobedient beast, then everything else in the game needs to be even more responsive and governable.  The Last Guardian should have been highly polished to negate any unnecessary frustration.  It fails to do this and instead brings into question any claims for purposeful stubbornness.

Working together for once

Shadow of the Colossus, Team Ico’s previous effort, is often regarded as a masterpiece.  Despite suffering from similar flaws, it avoids most of this frustration by mostly occurring in open spaces with few walls to obscure your perspective.  The is unavoidable in The Last Guardian’s story, which follows Trico and the boy escaping from a vast and intricate prison-like compound, which itself is surrounded by a great wall. By the conclusion, it’s though the game intended to evoke the relief of escaping.  Shame it made me not want to pick up the controller in the first place.

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