Friday 28 April 2017

The Last Guardian review: Trico treat

The Last Guardian (PS4) 5 stars Age: 12+

The Last Guardian
The Last Guardian
Ronan Price

Ronan Price

YOU know where you stand with machines: punch in an instruction and you get the expected result every time – unless you’ve made a mistake, of course.

Now humans and animals, they’re different. Rarely the exact same outcome to the same input twice, you could say. They might require coaxing, pleading, coercion or bribes to get what you want.

The comparison becomes particularly apt in The Last Guardian, an enthralling adventure whose tortured development threatened to overshadow its own emotional storyline. Long-delayed, bounced from PS3 to PS4 and almost cancelled, TLG somehow achieves what has all but eluded games until now: a believable AI presence.

Non-player characters in games frequently lack an autonomous agenda coupled with convincing animation to pull off the illusion of sentience – that they exist and have desires independent of the player.

TLG creator Fumito Ueda Ueda returns here with one of his cornerstone themes – the relationship between two interdependent characters. In The Last Guardian, he goes far beyond what he achieved in his dreamy seminal titles Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.

The set-up sounds familiar - a kidnapped boy trying to escape a crumbling castle – but immediately takes a left turn with the introduction of his companion: a giant cat-bird creature named Trico.

Wounded: Trico and the boy in The Last Guardian
Wounded: Trico and the boy in The Last Guardian

Initially hostile and fearful, the two gradually form a sort of bond, helping each other overcome obstacles.

Trico is Ueda’s great creation. The ruins certainly look spectacular – vaguely Aztec architecture soaring into the sky – and the boy’s animation effortlessly captures his vulnerability. But Trico steals the show as a capricious, brooding presence, as likely to ignore you as follow your pleas for help.

It begets frustration, of course – we players aren’t used to AI “machines” who won’t follow instructions every time. But for every moment of teeth-grinding moment of exasperation (“Over here, Trico!”) there must be a dozen heart-warming interactions. Maybe he’ll save you from tumbling to your death or wriggle gently as you rub his fur. Perhaps it’s how he watches you entranced as you bring him food, or protects you from the castle’s demons.

Far from technically perfect, betraying its protracted gestation, The Last Guardian nonetheless exerts a magnetic pull with its delicately realised vision of two lost souls bound together by their predicament.

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