Fumito Ueda and his team have just been waiting for technology to catch up. The Last Guardian may have taken just under a decade to release, but this isn't a title that's been trapped in development hell, clawing at the broken brains of its creators to get out. The game, available on the PlayStation 4 this week, instead merely realises the vision of the very first trailer that released all the way back in 2009.
This is a title that is so rigidly obsessed with its own creative direction that it feels practically unlike anything else. There are comparisons that can be made to Team ICO's historical output: the bloom lighting and intricately detailed architecture is straight out of ICO; the inclusion of a giant mythical monster which must be climbed upon is unmistakedly from Shadow of the Colossus. But the title does away with any other convention: there are no tutorials or hints; jump is bizarrely mapped to the triangle button.
And while some may feel frustrated by the game's occasionally cumbersome disregard for industry standards, we'd actually argue that it's all the better for it. In a medium swamped with cookie-cutter experiences, The Last Guardian is something all-new. And at the heart of that original experience is the bond between boy and beast – the central creative theme upon which the entire adventure is so lovingly assembled.
Right from the beginning, the game makes you appreciate the difference between these two central characters. The boy is industrious, but he's also diminutive and weak; the beast is frightening but also frightened – a heartbreaking contrast. And the game, ultimately, is about how the relationship between these two protagonists develops. At first the bird is contrary, but over time, you'll learn ways of controlling it through cat calls.
It's no exaggeration to say that it's all expertly executed. There are some camera issues that can be problematic in smaller spaces, but the way that the title makes you care for your feral companion is unlike anything we've ever experienced before. Much of the success can be attributed to the animation, which is gob-stoppingly beautiful and injects each character with more personality than practically every other video game protagonist combined.
But the actual gameplay itself, which takes the form of a puzzle platformer, aids with this sense of camaraderie. Puzzles are of the switch flipping, chain climbing kind – but introducing the enormous Trico (which the animal is named) into the mix augments a little originality. Sometimes you'll need to convince him to lean up walls so that you can reach higher places, for example, while on other occasions you may need to smash mirrors or certain iconography to calm him down.
The release is at its absolute breath-taking best, though, when the odds are stacked against you. One sequence sees you sprinting around a cylindrical staircase, desperately trying to drop a drawbridge, as Trico stands stranded atop a column being attacked by the spears of the ethereal enemies who inhabit the game's castle-like world. It's really white-knuckle stuff, as you dash across pillars and platforms attempting to protect your pet from the deadly abuse that he's receiving.
And the level design's equally wondrous. Much like in ICO and more recently the Dark Souls games, Fumito Ueda wants to constantly tease you about what's to come. You'll see structures and areas in the far-off distance, only to stumble upon them hours and hours later. The world, for as fantastical as it can be, feels real and believably assembled. And while it may not be the best looking PS4 game to date, make no mistake: this could not have run on the PlayStation 3.
All in all, The Last Guardian is something quite exceptional. Mechanically, it's imperfect: the controls can be somewhat cumbersome and the camera is problematic in close quarters. But these issues almost melt into insignificance when you consider that this is a game so creatively dense, so cleverly put-together that it will stand the test of time for years to come. It's taken a long time, but The Last Guardian has been more than worth the wait.
Are you excited to play The Last Guardian this week? Have you been waiting patiently for this title since it was revealed almost a decade ago? Roar in the comments section below.