In 2001, the PlayStation 2 released one of the definitive games of its era regarding the “are video games art?” argument. ICO was a fantasy adventure/puzzle game that was viewed by most game critics as an instant classic and became one of those rare games that fans analysed and over-analysed for every little detail that could possibly cast any light on the game’s sparse but compelling narrative.
Four years later, Team ICO returned with another game set in the same universe that gained more attention and praise. Shadow of the Colossus is universally lauded and respected as one of the PS2’s masterpieces, and again the minimalist narrative was cited as an example of video games as art.
With Team ICO now established at the forefront of exclusive PlayStation development teams, big things were expected for the next console generation. ICO and Shadow of the Colossus pushed the hardware of the PS2 to the brink and still looked pretty great when they were remastered and rereleased for the next generation of consoles six years later.
But here’s the thing: it’s almost 2014 now. Shadow of the Colossus came out in 2005. In the past nine years, we’ve been teased mercilessly with their third game, The Last Guardian. What was promised was a combination of Team ICO’s previous projects, with the story once again focusing on a duo who must work together to accomplish their goal.
This time instead of befriending a girl and solving puzzles or slaying giant beasts, you were going to befriend a giant beast and use it to solve puzzles. Count me in.
A game doesn’t spend most of a decade in development for the fun of it, and one look at this one shows clearly that it was an ambitious undertaking. Maybe too much so. The protagonist’s massive partner, Trico, was being programmed to look and behave like a real animal with revolutionary trainable AI that was an important aspect of the problem-solving in the game.
If you didn’t believe Trico was a real creature in-game, the narrative wouldn’t pack the proper emotional punch and the lofty standards set by the previous games in the ICO-verse wouldn’t be met.
So we wait. It’s pretty much unheard of for a development team to make such a big splash in one console generation and then sit the next one out entirely, but that is exactly what has happened.
The PlayStation 4 is already on store shelves (more or less) and The Last Guardian remains unfinished with an unannounced release date.
Last August, Sony put out word that the game was still in development being re-engineered with a smaller team and was a lower priority. The game’s director, Team ICO mastermind Fumito Ueda, left Sony last year but has committed to finishing the game, which should probably be viewed as the final part of a trilogy in that light.
The assertion that it’s being re-engineered implies that it is going to be rebuilt for the PS4, but the question that raises is how well a game that was designed for the PS3 is going to perform on the new console. ICO and Colossus were both great remastered, but that was largely due to the fact that they were exceptional on the PS2, and neither would have been a current-gen standout as a AAA title on their own. Can The Last Guardian live up to past successes of game-changing mind-blowers with the handicap of a too long development period?
Well, I’d still play it. Sony’s slow backing away from the project is a terrible sign of lack of faith in what was once one of their rising star development teams and that makes me sad. But as you can see from the trailer, this game looks like something truly special; a potential emotional and creative masterpiece to surpass what they built with the previous games.
I’ll be waiting…