The State of Play – Do we still care about The Last Guardian?

The Last Guardian

E3 is just around the corner and this year’s show looks set to be a return to the glory days.

Gaming journalists and fans alike are working themselves into a giddy frenzy at some of the titles set to be shown this year; Fallout 4, No Man’s Sky and Doom are just a handful of the heavyweight titles tipped to be on display. But there is one title that pricked the ears of even the most sedate of gamers. If you listened hard enough you could just about hear the hushed whispers circling the Internet. Making sure not be be too loud, so as to not scare off this mythical title. Thousands of gamers the world over rubbed their eyes in disbelief and asked themselves, “The Last Guardian is to be shown at E3?”.

The story first appeared in an article on The Guardian’s website (the British newspaper – no relation to the game) this week. The short, sparse paragraph gave no solid evidence whatsoever as to the title’s re-emergence, it could have just been popped in to fill a few column inches. It doesn’t matter though, as gamers worldwide are talking about Team Ico’s title again. It got me thinking though, “Why do we care so much?’.

After reportedly being in development since 2007, the first time we saw the game was 2009. As expected from the people who brought us Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, the hype was real. Fumito Ueda had pulled up a throne alongside Hideo Kojima as Japanese game designer royalty. Gamers were chomping at the bit to get their sweaty mits on this Playstation 3 exclusive. Then, quite suddenly, everything went quiet.

As the years rolled by release dates came and went, as did key staff members associated with the project. Like Kojima, there were tales of mutiny and ridiculously lengthy delays due to “perfectionism” associated with the project.

Even though the premise of the game is beautifully original – a young boy and his huge feathered dog like creature completing puzzles – due to the game’s delay and what has happened in the proceeding years, it doesn’t feel as special as it once was.

In the 8 years it’s been in development (8 years!) we have seen some of the greatest games in a generation come and go; Red Dead Redemption, Skyrim, The Last of Us, Super Mario Galaxy and Bloodborne to name just a few. Not forgetting the emergence of indie game developers and titles such as; Journey, Braid, Limbo and Fez.

You can see the challenge facing Team Ico. The video game landscape has changed dramatically since 2007. What was once an original, intriguing title is in danger of becoming an overhyped throwback to a bygone generation. Don’t get me wrong, if The Last Guardian was to ever see the light of day I highly doubt it would be keeping company with Duke Nukem Forever as one of the most overhyped dog turds of all time. But I also doubt we will be talking about it in the same excited tones as we were back in the “noughties”.

Some would say that sometimes it’s better to just cut your losses, accept that the game had promise and move on. Others would say that it is a labour of love and the game must see the light of day, a reward to all the fans who have waited patiently for its release year after year.

It’s all speculation of course. The only reason we are talking about this game again is because of a vague reference in an article on the Internet somewhere.

Yet there is a part of me deep down that would love to see Team Ico and Ueda swagger out at E3 and show us that actually, good things do come to those who wait.

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The State of Play – Are games challenging enough?

“You Died”

I found myself maniacally laughing and speaking in tongues at seeing these two words for at least the thirtieth time in 3 hours. Yet the frustration was reassuringly nostalgic.

I’d first seen the blood red text appear on my screen 20 years prior when playing Resident Evil for the first time on the Playstation. Now, in 2015, I was seeing the same two words again – but this time on the console’s fourth generation, and in the form of Bloodborne.

Playing From Software’s fantastic new release got me thinking about another thing these two games had in common despite the age gap of two decades – the difficulty.

Bloodborne has garnered much praise from critics due to its unflinching difficulty and deservedly so, but is this game overly testing or have we – as modern gamers – become scared of a challenge?

It immediately becomes apparent that From Software have been very economical when it comes to checkpoints, they are audaciously few and far between. The humble checkpoint has become such a crutch in recent years that we take them for granted. Most releases these days find them staggered in what sometimes feels like 30 second intervals. In Bloodborne, the feeling of finally reaching one after fighting through hordes of beasties, half dead and low on items, is one of exhilaration. The sweet satisfaction of reaching a save point where you can fully restock and replenish your health and items make it all worth while. A glorious feeling.

Back in Capcom’s survival horror masterpiece, and the feeling was quite similar. There was nothing quite like the dawning realisation that you have no health replenishing herbs left, 4 rounds of ammo in your handgun and in order to get to the typewriter to save your game you must first get through a corridor of the undead. Couple this feeling with the stomach churning dread of knowing that you last saved two hours ago, and you begin to appreciate the enormity of the situation.

I’ve lost track at the number of games from back in the day that I have put to one side for months on end after dying and losing hours of progress.

The interesting thing is that early in my gaming career I didn’t really know any better. Sure, Legend of Zelda a Link to the Past had a superb save feature, as did Super Metroid, but other titles on the other hand had nothing at all. Not even a password to level select.

I remember Jurassic Park on the SNES. It was a decent game; great graphics, sound and design. The object of the game was to collect eggs and do something with them. I never knew what as I never made it that far. There was no save function or password system. Every time you played the game you had to start from the beginning. Every time.

To this day I can still play the first three levels of Super Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts in my head as if I was playing it on a SNES. I shit you not. I’ve played that game, and more specifically the first few levels, hundreds of times in my life. It’s easily one of the hardest games I’ve ever played and also one of the best. Any game where you get to the end of it only to find out you have to play through it ALL AGAIN immediately in order to fully complete it is a true sadistic masterpiece. I must be a sucker for Capcom games.

The feeling of completing a game such as Super Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts is unparalleled in my experience of gaming. A true test of timing, reactions, level memorisation and patience. The same feeling with Resident Evil. There were many points where you would temporarily give up, but the frustration in it’s difficulty would ensure you’d always be back.

Recent games I’ve played have none of this. GTA V for example was a stunning game. Great fun and an enjoyable experience. But was it a challenge? Not for me. Not in the slightest. It seemed to be scared to challenge the player too much.

It’s as if developers these days are playing it safe, they don’t want to lose players who can’t hack a challenge.

That is why Bloodborne is such a breath of fresh air. It has everything the modern gamer wants in a game; gorgeous graphics, fast paced action and lots of blood and guts.

Yet it also has what the modern gamer so desperately needs in a game – a challenge.