Preview events offer only brief glimpses at very big games. Who knows how any given game will pan out in its final form? The most we can say is This Could Be Good.
The Last Guardian
Developers: gen DESIGN, Sony Japan Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release date: 2016
There was a unique energy in the air during a presentation of The Last Guardian in one of Sony’s private theaters. Sure, it’s special to lay eyes on a project that has evolved into more of a myth than an actual game, but that wasn’t it. Within a minute, the room was full of grins and sporadic chuckles, all brought on by the wordless interactions of a boy and his giant animal companion. This extended demonstration—played by director Fumito Ueda—devoted its first few minutes to the quiet moments and acts of kinship that were missing from the surprise footage Sony screened during its E3 press conference. As brief as it was, that serenity and space was enough to let the relationship at the core of The Last Guardian show through.
One of Ueda’s loftiest goals is to make Trico—that’s the giant cat-bird-dog hybrid thing—feel like a real animal. The creature’s appearance is a weird amalgamation of all those pets. Ueda said he wants Trico to evoke furry and feathery friends of all shapes and sizes, and his team has accomplished that by playing off little tendencies that any pet owner would recognize.
The sense of animal kinship goes beyond Trico’s dog-like whines or the way the boy points to a destination and jumps in place to cajole the beast into jumping over a chasm. Ueda’s presentation began with the boy running through a corridor, his movements brimming with infectious youth, and calling for Trico. A few seconds later, we happen on the beast, who couldn’t give two shits about what the boy wants. It just lounges in the sunlight, staring at this ridiculous shouting kid. It should be a familiar scene for any cat owner: the eager human and the apathetic feline.
But you can get Trico to cooperate with a little tender love and care—and snacks. The boy rubbed Trico’s snout and then climbed onto its back to pull out a few bothersome spears. Trico perked up and paced around, searching for what looked like barrels with a treat inside. It spotted them on a high ledge, and just like a frisky pet trying to get a better look at the grub on the kitchen table, Trico reared up on its hind legs and reached toward the ledge, creating a feathery ladder for the boy to climb. Once up top, he tossed a few barrels the beast’s way, rewarding its efforts.
You’ll need to goad Trico along like that in The Last Guardian if you stand any chance of escaping a ruined tower that has mysteriously become your prison. The rest of the extended demo was the same as the footage from the press conference—lots of crumbling bridges and leaps of faith. It’s worth noting that the scene where the boy tries jumping to Trico and ends up just barely grabbing his tail is not an automated sequence. (In fact, Ueda screwed up and fell to his death in his first attempt.) You have to press a button to grab hold of your friend and, much like Shadow Of The Colossus, hold on for dear life while Trico hoists you up and bounds through the air. One benefit of Trico being a computer-driven character is that the game can transition into these suspenseful sequences and cinematic camera angles without pulling you out of the action.
It’s been clear since the beginning of The Last Guardian’s real-world story that the goal was to create a familiar pet-owner relationship between Trico and the player. The fact that I—and, I suspect, the room full of reporters smiling along with me—were able to make a near-instant connection with the beast means that Ueda’s vision of a believable animal companion may be on track to becoming a reality.