In development hell for over 8 years, The Last Guardian was first debuted at E3 2009 to much fanfare and excitement. It was, after all, from the same development team as Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, both of which are frequently cited as influential titles in the videogame industry and referenced in debates concerning the merits of videogames as an artistic medium. Six years later and The Last Guardian was finally shown to have survived its extended development period intact. Many Team Ico fans were elated by this announcement and its accompanying demo footage. My extended look at the game actually opened before the footage found in the public demo. It began with our unnamed child protagonist wandering the halls of a large castle—huge stone masonry gave the presentation a sense of scale and loneliness reminiscent of Team Ico’s previous games.
The child eventually came across the giant, feathered creature seen in the original 2009 footage. This creature, described as a griffin by game director Fumito Ueda, is central to the core gameplay of The Last Guardian, as well as acting as its emotional core. Players are meant to care for the griffin, teach it new abilities, and even grow attached to it. In order to accomplish this, the creature is said to have an advanced A.I. that allows it to behave as realistically as possible and become a true virtual animal. As seen in the public demo, the creature will cry, whinny, growl, hiss, perk its ears, and lower its tail in fear according to various context-sensitive inputs.Pinned to the floor by various spears and enclosed in a gated clearing, the creature let out a short cry to the boy, indicating it was in pain and required his help. The boy obliged and began removing the spears (three, in total) in order to free the animal. Already we can infer two important things about The Last Guardian, the first being that there will be human or human-like enemies that can injure, trap, and possibly even kill the griffin (as indicated by the spears), and that this specific demo probably takes place some hours into the game (as indicated by the boy’s already-established relationship with the creature). Relieved of its pain, the creature nuzzles against the boy in a gentle sign of affection before spotting an exit high above. The griffin stretched its body upward to reach this area, allowing the boy to climb onto its back and progress forward. Once at the top, the boy moved forward and down a staircase to a clearing opposite the griffin. This area contained a mechanical door switch that rose up the gates surrounding the creature, allowing the two characters to reunite and progress through the castle together. Finding a corridor leading outside the castle, the boy rushes forward without the creature and thus begins the Conference demo footage.
This extended look at the game, although not very long, was nevertheless useful in establishing the tone of The Last Guardian. Dreamlike would be a good way to describe it, with its unfamiliar setting and fantastical creatures. I will admit that I’m far from being a Team Ico fanboy, having only briefly played Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. When the game was unveiled at this year’s Sony Press Conference I felt very little excitement for the title, although that isn’t to say I completely ignored what was shown. And having had the opportunity to see more of The Last Guardian in action I can say that I’m intrigued by what is on offer here. If The Last Guardian can make good on its promise of creating a real virtual animal in the griffin and craft a truly emotional gaming experience where players create bonds with an A.I. controlled controller then I think The Last Guardian stands a chance of being something truly remarkable and not just a nostalgia figurehead.
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