It appears as though this is the year that we will finally get to play The Last Guardian– after so many delays, including another one just recently that pushed the game from its late October release date to an early December one, we will finally get to play one of the most infamously troubled video games in history.
The release of The Last Guardian is a Pretty Big Deal™- this is the new game by Fumito Ueda and his colloquially named ‘Team ICO,’ the same folks who previously brought us the charming ICO and the seminal Shadow of the Colossus. Ueda brings a unique mentality to his games in terms of how he approaches design, an almost Nintendo like focus on mechanics and interactivity paired with a decidedly un-Nintendo like focus on storytelling and narrative through gameplay. His unique approach to telling stories embedded within the very fiber of interactivity of his video games is what has made his games stand out, and be resonant with so many people around the world. This approach is what made Shadow of the Colossus so beloved, and what made a small but vocal legion of fans worldwide look forward to Ueda’s next release with such fanatic devotion to begin with.
The Last Guardian seemed to be the perfect successor to Shadow of the Colossus, a sort of cross between ICO‘s emphasis on Ico and Yorda, and Shadow of the Colossus‘s emphasis on gigantic beasts, and the bond that man can share with beast. The game’s very premise was arresting, but more importantly, the talent behind the game almost demanded that people be excited for The Last Guardian– the next game by the makers of Shadow of the Colossus and ICO, coming exclusively to PlayStation 3. You bet people were excited.
"It was Fumito Ueda’s track record, and the immense amount of goodwill that he had accrued, that bought him so much leeway in the first place."
It was Ueda’s track record, and the immense amount of goodwill that he had accrued, that bought him so much leeway in the first place, too- with Sony, sure, but more importantly, with the players, who patiently waited month after month, year after year, delay after delay, disappearance after disappearance, convinced that The Last Guardian would eventually be out, and that it would be a Pretty Big Deal™, because this was a genius at work here, and genius always takes time- and always delivers the results.
But that goodwill did eventually begin to dissipate. The Last Guardian was originally shown off in 2009, three years after the launch of Shadow of the Colossus, and originally planned for a 2011 release. Immediately, however, it was apparent that something was wrong, because The Last Guardian missed important showings the next year, and went awfully quiet for a game due to launch in 2011. The game went entirely silent after that, with no official word on its existence. Rumors began to spread- that Sony’s Santa Monica team had been brought in for technical assistance, that Ueda had ended up quitting Sony and was now only working with them on a contracted basis, that the game was far too ambitious for the PS3, which was struggling to run it, that the game was just an abstract vision with no real substance to it, that it was quietly cancelled and Sony were just hoping for it to fade quietly into the background, instead of publicly acknowledging the failure.
But all that fearmongering ultimately amounted to nothing when Sony took the wraps off of what they had been quietly working on in the background at E3 last year- The Last Guardian was real, it was coming to the PS4, and it looked to be every bit as great as the original trailer had promised. And though the game went quiet after the E3 re-reveal last year again for a while, it wasn’t for long, because eventually it was shown off again, and a release date for October this year was set in stone. And then, when the game went quiet again, even though its release was nearing, people were pretty confident that it would make it out when planned, if only because at this point, Sony probably just wanted to get it done with already.
Of course, then it got delayed, one final time- because it wouldn’t be The Last Guardian if it hadn’t. The delay was a short one, from late October into early December – less than two months total – but it was emblematic of the game’s troubled development. Troubled development that started to rear its ugly head, as multiple outlets that got to play the game hands on started to express worries about the final product not quite coming together at all- and old worries about the game and its quality began to rear its head. Yes, The Last Guardian is probably going to release- but if it’s disappointing, as Kotaku and Polygon seem to suggest that it may be, is it actually going to be worth it?
"A disappointing The Last Guardian doesn’t have to mean a bad The Last Guardian."
The answer to that is, yes, it will be- I have no doubt that The Last Guardian will disappoint at this point. This is not meant to be a reflection on the game’s ultimate quality (though that may be lacking too, as Kotaku and Polygon suggest)- rather, it is meant to be a recognition of the fact that after a ten year long hype cycle, multiple delays, and a legendary status that saw expectations for the game balloon beyond all reasonable bounds, there is actually no way for the game to live up to the hype. By virtue of simply existing as a real product, and not an unbounded imaginary one, the game will be disappointing next to whatever its legion of fans may have imagined it to be. It’s like if Half Life 3 were to release today, at last- even if it’s a great game, it will probably disappoint, simply because it has given its fans a decade to stew, to come up with expectations and hopes and fears about what the game will be. It’s become a mythical chimera, a standard and abstraction more than anything, and the final game simply cannot live up to that. The same will be true of The Last Guardian, too.
A disappointing The Last Guardian doesn’t have to mean a bad The Last Guardian, though- the game can still be a great game, and one that is every bit the masterpiece that Shadow of the Colossus was. And while I would absolutely love for that to happen, chances are at this point that Kotaku and Polygon’s initial impressions are indeed right- that the final product will indeed fail to come together as a cohesive whole, that not only will The Last Guardian be disappointing, it will also be not good.
And you know what? If that happens, I will not care. If that happens, I will still be glad that The Last Guardian got made, that it exists, that it got released. Even if it fails as a game, it will stand as a testament to ambition and aspiration, and as a monument to an altogether unique style of game making that is simply not seen much in the industry any more. In an era when AAA games are becoming homogenized, and it is hard to distinguish one multiplayer shooter or open world game from the next in the blur of multiplayer shooters and open world games, I will be glad that something like The Last Guardian, flawed though it might be, got to exist- it’s a dash of something different, and sometimes, different can more than make up for disappointment.
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