The Last Guardian wasn’t the most technically accomplished game of last year, or the best designed. But it was one of the most memorable, thanks in large part to its star, a towering bird-cat-dog hybrid named Trico. Playing as a young boy, you built a powerful and lasting relationship with the creature, which felt more like a real living thing than anything I’d previously encountered in a virtual world. I still get chills thinking about the first time we met, and a little weepy when I remember the way the game ended. And it turns out that the feeling of connection is even more pronounced in virtual reality, which you can experience now through a free demo on PlayStation VR.
As the name implies, The Last Guardian’s VR demo isn’t the full version of the game playable with a headset. Instead, it’s a handful of short scenes that take place within the game’s mysterious, ancient world. You still play as the boy, this time taking in the world from a first-person perspective, and the controls have been incredibly simplified. You move around by selecting small statues and warping to their location, and there’s only one button for interaction. You can use this to solve some light puzzles, like flipping a switch to open a gate, and to pick up barrels filled with a glowing goo that Trico can’t seem to resist. It’ll take you maybe 30 minutes to get through the whole experience.
But what The Last Guardian’s VR demo lacks in length or depth, it makes up for with sheer heart. Calling Trico over, gazing directly into its excitedly glowing eyes, and then having it nuzzle me is the most powerful moment I’ve experienced yet in VR. I couldn’t stop smiling. You can’t always predict what Trico will do, which is part of what makes it feel so real, in both the game and the VR demo. When I threw a barrel past its head at one point, I expected Trico to chase it. Instead, it turned and gave me its paw (or rather, its massive avian claw-foot) like an eager puppy.
The demo also re-creates some of the game’s iconic moments, like flying on Trico’s back. When it sits and looks at you expectantly, it’s a clear sign that you should jump up for a ride. Clinging on while Trico climbs rickety scaffolding is thrilling, even if it’s entirely non-interactive. There’s even a slow-motion sequence where you leap across a chasm and nearly plummet to the ground, before Trico snatches you in its beak at the last second. In the final scene, you don’t even have to do anything. You just stand there watching while Trico scratches behind its ear, taking in the breathtaking view of a crumbling kingdom down below.
Virtual reality is often talked about in terms of places. It can transport you anywhere, with a level of immersion not possible with traditional games. But The Last Guardian shows another very powerful aspect of the medium: being able to interact with virtual beings in a way that feels arresting and natural. With its distinct personality and lifelike animations, Trico already felt like a shockingly realistic digital creature outside VR. But the headset takes that idea to another level. Looking up at Trico gives you an unparalleled sense of its sheer size, and its face is even more expressive when viewed up close. Sure, VR can send you to Mars or even to Hell — but there’s nothing quite like staring directly into the eyes of giant cat-dog.