Folks, it’s finally happening: The Last Guardian was re-announced at this year’s E3 and is slated for a 2016 release. The prospect of this title ever being shown off again became a running joke for online trolls. Every year people predicted its glorious return, only to be disappointed… but this is the year that everyone’s optimism finally paid off. By dropping an unexpected demo at the beginning of their conference, Sony set the internet aflame with digital cheers, hashtags galore, and plenty of joyful tears. At this point, it’s still hard to believe that it exists, because we basically found the video game version of a unicorn, or a double rainbow. It’s that unbelievable.
Enough about that, though. Yes, it was unexpected and getting to see a demo gave us some insight into what to expect from the gameplay. Well, lucky for you guys, I got to watch an extended version of the demo live at this year’s show. So allow me to give you some in-depth commentary about what you may have missed from the video above, while also giving you a glimpse of what I saw in the extended demo.
First, this game is an adventure puzzler about a boy, who at this point is nameless, and his giant beaked friend. The ultimate goal is still unclear but know this: everything will revolve around the bond and friendship between this unlikely combo. One is small and nimble, lacking in stature and strength, while the other is a hybrid bird/dog/cat creature named Trico. Like any good pet, our buddy is cute, sometimes doesn’t listen, but at the end of the day still has our back. From a design point of view, there was a conscious effort to blend together popular household pets so that most people picking up the controller would instantly feel familiar with their partner.
Now onto what you didn’t get to see. The live demo began prior to what was shown at the conference, with our two protagonists inside the ruins. These ruins have clearly been here for a long time; the ground is cracked with turf already growing, and butterflies majestically fluttering around your vision. Sunlight streams in through the top, illuminating the middle of the room where Trico is taking a breather. Simply taking this scene in felt breathtaking. There is only one problem, though: our pet dog hybrid is injured. Two wooden posts have penetrated his back, but no worries, he is tough.
The boy cautiously climbs up the feathered beast’s back, slowly pulling out the wooden shards. One thing can’t be forgotten, Trico is still a wild animal.
This is only the first part of the puzzle; a giant gate door blocks the exit where our destination is located. This is where the collaboration between the two really takes flight. A key aspect that seems to be running through the DNA of this title is leveraging both these characters’ strengths and thus diminishing their weaknesses.
By jumping up and down, the boy is able to communicate that he wants his friend to use his length and height to put his front legs up to a top area, previously unreachable. He climbs his back to progress to this new section. The boy finds a few barrels up there, grabs a few, and tosses them to Trico like a treat. So apparently eating barrels is a hobby of bird/dog/cat things. Reaching this new area allows the boy to open up the gate for his lumbering partner, finally reaching the outside where the above video takes place.
The rest includes what has already been shown off, with very little variation outside of the pace in which the person playing the demo was executing the movements. But there were a few interesting tidbits divulged at this point. The section that has Trico jumping over to the middle platforms first, to then catch his human friend from falling from his death, can be done in a completely different manner. Instead of telling the giant to jump first, you can climb his back and jump together. Highlighting the different approaches you can take to certain situations that will help build an actual bond with the characters on the screen. Everything that was visible around them, like the towering structures, are all explorable. How far out the reach will be in the final product is currently unknown.
As for one of the iconic scenes from the demo, where the boy jumps from the crumbling platform and catches the tail to reach safety, that whole section is not a cut scene. It’s actually intractable, but it wasn’t made clear on whether it was a QTE or if there was some other input. You can imagine that there will be plenty of these moments riddled through the adventure. The live demo ended soon after that, in the same location as before.
It’s still shocking to me that this game is actually on its way. The demo certainly had that Shadow of the Colossus and Ico vibe, which is exactly what people looking forward to. The thing I enjoyed most was the way the two characters interact with each other. There are no command inputs, at least none that where shown, other than jumping up and down to indicate different movements. I can see that becoming your own way, as the player, to bond with the fictional characters as you build your own language to communicate in game. That was a brilliant choice for the type of experience that this promises to be. Nothing new from this team though, which has a knack for pulling this kind of thing off. I was impressed with everything I saw and can’t wait for more to be displayed. Fans of the previous games from this team will surely agree.