In retrospect, one of the biggest downsides of The Last Guardian’s 10-year development cycle is that people knew about it.
Not for those who worked on the game, of course. I’m sure they dealt with political and organizational hurdles that make player expectations seem tame. But for those of us on the sidelines, watching the game pop its head up every few years then disappear for long stretches, the past decade led to lots of speculation and questions about what happened behind the scenes — most of which Sony and GenDesign reps haven’t yet been willing to answer, and journalists haven’t yet been able to uncover the answers to.
For me, at least, that cloud of confusion hung over the game as I played it.
“Were those framerate issues because of long-standing dev struggles?” “Does the game keep showing button prompts because of creative arguments behind the scenes?” “I wonder what the graphics would look like if the game had started development on PS4.”
I didn’t want to think this way, but I’d heard so much chatter about the lengthy process that it was hard not to.
When I got out of my head and enjoyed what was on the screen, though, The Last Guardian presented one of the year’s best experiences. It’s a rare case of creative restraint that simultaneously feels intimate and expansive. It doesn’t feel like an adventure game; it feels like an adventure.
I’ll call special attention to Trico, the massive bird/cat/dog who accompanies you on your trip. Despite the design challenges of putting a creature that large in a series of small rooms, the developers built an animal that acts naturally in nearly every situation, and animates more like something out of an animated film than a game. Whenever I saw Trico leap too far and struggle to pull up on a ledge, I felt like I was playing inside a cutscene.
Certainly, the game isn’t without technical flaws, and they may sour your experience at times. It’s not like you’ll dislike the camera issues enough that you’ll go play other similar games instead, though. There are no other analogous games of this scale. In recent years, a number of games have nailed a similar tone, but none have come anywhere close to building a creature as elaborate and impressive as Trico.
And Trico, more than anything else, helped me forget about all the discussions of the game’s development and focus on the game itself. Thanks to how well the developers nailed that character, the game feels fresh despite the practical proof otherwise.
People often talk about it being hard to predict the market for a game that takes two or three years to develop, because the game industry changes so quickly that it’s hard to catch the waves as trends and tastes change. And with The Last Guardian, Sony and GenDesign made something that feels right at home despite taking 10 years.