When will we get to play The Last Guardian?

News Ryan Lambie 7 Dec 2011 - 14:03

With its director and producer no longer working at Sony, what does it mean for The Last Guardian, Ryan wonders, and when will we get to play it…?

The mere mention of the titles Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus are enough to make some gamers’ eyes shine with enthusiasm. They may have been little more than platform-puzzlers, with the same kinds of action and mechanics as you’d expect to see in a Tomb Raider or Uncharted game, but that’s a bit like saying an Aston Martin DB7’s just another production-line car like a Nissan Micra.

Bringing with them a hushed, mysterious atmosphere and an extraordinary artistry that went beyond the cinema of most games, and into a unique, almost poetic place of their own, Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus are among the finest games ever made, and established creator Fumito Ueda and his studio, Team Ico, as one of Japan’s most important game developers.

Although not huge sales successes, these PlayStation 2 titles immediately won over critics, earned a devoted cult following, and Sony even released high-definition versions of them back in September. Those HD remakes were surely intended to pave the way for the third game from Team Ico, The Last Guardian. So far, however, the atmosphere around this most anticipated production seems rather gloomy.

News that Team Ico were working on a new game originally surfaced in 2008. A year later, Fumito revealed that his new title would contain the same essence as Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus. At the same time, there were suggestions that The Last Guardian would be made to appeal to a broader, Western demographic – awe-inspiring though its predecessors were, the heads of Sony were probably less impressed with their inability to conquer the lucrative US market.

As more details of The Last Guardian surfaced, it became clear that Team Ico had no intention of completely abandoning the tone of its earlier games. Clearly set in the same world as its predecessors, Last Guardian is about the growing friendship between a small boy and a gigantic, griffin-like creature. Just as Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus were about interacting with non-player characters in order to solve environmental puzzles, so this game involves gaining the trust and caring for its friendly monster.

Formally unveiled at the Tokyo Game Show last year, the game’s projected release date was originally intended for 2011 – a launch window that has since closed. While delays aren’t unusual in the videogame industry, it’s a little strange that, in February this year, Ueda had little more than five-minute demo “not related to the final product” to show to journalists.

In March, Ueda said that he was “considering” putting a playable demo of his work-in-progress on the Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus collection disc – something he clearly decided against. Expected to be fully unveiled at any of the rest of this year’s game shows, further news from the project has been worryingly sparse.

Now, given that The Last Guardian is far more adventurous, from a technical perspective, than its previous titles, with a proper physics engine and an attempt at creating life-like animation and AI for its characters, the game’s delay could be a result of Team Ico making sure it has everything in its right place.

More recently, though, the news broke that Fumito Ueda and executive producer Yoshifusa Hayama have both left Sony have led to concerns that there are production problems behind the scenes. Exactly what’s going on isn’t clear, though Ueda has himself confirmed that he’s still working on the game in a freelance capacity.

As for why these two important creative minds would suddenly leave Sony, we can only speculate. According to the industry website Develop, Sony has issued a “company-wide gagging order” to prevent employees talking about Ueda’s departure. Was their some sort of creative dispute between the game’s creators and its publisher? Sony’s Shuhei Yoshida recently said of The Last Guardian’s progress, “[It’s been] very difficult, not as fast as we'd been hoping for, and the team has been under big pressure.”

With no firm release date in sight, it’s not yet clear when we’ll finally get to play The Last Guardian. While this is merely a personal opinion, I suspect that any dispute arising between the game’s makers and Sony has arisen due to delays and its mass appeal than a lack of quality. It’s possible that Sony has invested a lot of money The Last Guardian, and may be concerned that what Team Ico has served up won’t recoup its development costs.

When The Last Guardian does arrive, its release will be more than a little bittersweet. With Ueda gone, and Hayama now working on Facebook games for the UK’s Bossa Studios, the close-knit team that created Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus is effectively no more. Let’s hope that the pair’s final game serves as a fitting send-off.

Develop

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