Face-Off: The Last Guardian

Digital Foundry compares three very different ways to play this beautiful game.

By Thomas Morgan. 5/12/2016

After nine years, The Last Guardian is finally complete. It's a game we can all now experience for ourselves, after many no-shows at trade-events, and reported issues during development. Created by Sony Interactive Entertainment's Japan Studio and Gen Design, the game has had a notoriously rough path to launch - though the result is well worth the wait. But when it was announced as a PS3 project all the way back in 2007, little did we know we'd end up playing on one of two consoles: its successor, the PS4, and of course the freshly minted PlayStation 4 Pro.

Yes, Pro owners can rest easy. Despite no mention of specific support for Sony's new console in any of its patch notes (we're currently up to version 1.2), there are two distinct levels of support implemented. Let's talk visuals first. On the standard PS4, you get a native 1920x1080 resolution - giving you a far crisper image than we could have expected from a mooted PS3 version. It's easily one of the most visually arresting games on Sony's latest generation of console hardware.

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At the heart of the production is Trico, a huge creature of many moving parts. Despite the dense of feathers covering its body, when placed against the game's lighting, Trico has a nearly Pixar-esque quality in motion. Dithering and rough edges are surprisingly minimal, and combined with a high quality motion blur, it's often hard to tell when a cut-scene has ended. The same goes for materials across the game. Geometry and textures err on the simplistic side, but due to the way all these elements are lit - indoors or out - the result is often photogenic, and natural.

However there are blemishes that show The Last Guardian's history as a PS3-developed title, and in particular, texture resolution is lower than we'd expect of a current-gen game bearing in mind the PS4's vast pool of memory. The often thorough post-process anti-aliasing doesn't address all shimmering either, and despite Trico's complex design blending nicely with the environment, foliage elements still flicker as you pan the camera. Even so, the final picture comes together beautifully in The Last Guardian, with strong art direction that keeps each area visually distinct from the last.

It's a stunning title regardless of the type of PlayStation 4 you run it on, but the game offers up both frame-rate and image quality enhancements on PS4 Pro - depending on how your display settings are configured. If you boot the game up with 4K selected in the console's front-end settings, The Last Guardian renders all this at a higher resolution. Pixel-counting strongly suggests a 7:8 pixel ratio on both axes, which translates into a 3360x1890 resolution. It's a considerable boost in pixel count over 1080p, and one that scales very well to ultra HD TVs in our experience - especially with HDR enabled.

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The only shortfall is it still doesn't quite eliminate all visual noise on foliage - but everything else looks pristine on a 4K set. In terms of graphics settings such as effects, textures and lighting, there aren't any distinguishable differences from the regular PS4's output. Barring oddities in texture resolution in a later cage sequence, where PS4 Pro curiously turns up with higher quality assets than the other playthrough, it's fundamentally the same game. Between the two images however, it's PS4 Pro's ability to render at 1890p that offers the biggest enhancement to game.

But here's the twist. On PS4 Pro, there's a another rendering option you can access, depending on what resolution you select before the game starts. To be clear, The Last Guardian has no in-game settings at all - for resolution or HDR. But by selecting either 1080p or 2160p from PS4 Pro's video settings, you can alter the game's image quality, and crucially the frame-rate as well.