Too Human's setting and story do not save it from mediocrity
When Too Human was announced in 1999 for the original Playstation, nobody expected that it would become infamous for an extremely long development cycle and a lawsuit filed by developer Silicon Knights over the engine. However, the game managed to make it to shelves nonetheless. Too bad its terrible gameplay negates any enjoyment you may extract from the epic story the game attempts to tell.
Too Human stars Baldur, a Norse deity that takes part in a conflict between the Aesir, the faction which he belongs to, and the machines. The machines are being controlled by one of the gods, a rogue called Loki. Loki's daughter is also part of the plot, and is responsible for Baldur's loss of his wife. The enraged god therefore fights Loki and seeks revenge against the woman who robbed him of his partner.
Too Human's story and presentation is probably its highlight. The story isn't particularly interesting, but it isn't bad either. It keeps the game moving and you always have a clear purpose. The tale is told through cutscenes that look quite decent, although the faces were slightly too static in conversation, especially Baldur's. Far more interesting than the actual story, however, is the setting. I've been talking about Norse gods, so you might expect to be walking around in fantasy halls filled with bonfires and wooden things. However, there's a second influence in place here: technology. Electronics and wooden buildings combine to great-looking and interesting effect. The hub fortress is cool to run around in for this reason, and there are cool little touches everywhere, like how there are knights in medieval armor running around, armed with plasma rifles. It sounds odd, but ends up working quite well when you see it.
You spend relatively little time in that hub world though. More often than not, you'll be on some mission. The game features only four, but they are all rather long. Every mission is basically the same: you see a cinematic, enter the castle, ship or building your target has taken residence in and fight enemies. Lots and lots of enemies. The interesting locales pretty much disappear here, and make room for bland rooms that have little of interest in them. As you run through these rooms, you'll see large groups of enemies coming at you, and you'll deal spend a couple of minutes dealing with them. Then, you'll move on, notice another group of enemies and deal with them. Repeat these steps ad nauseum and you'll beat the mission... eventually.
The repetitive nature of the gameplay wouldn't be such a big problem if the combat wasn't so atrocious. The player can swipe with Baldur's equipped weapon by pushing the analog stick in an enemy's direction. The triggers can also be used to fire his handguns, rifles or gatling guns, whatever suits your fancy. Some more advanced moves, such as launchers and a weird slide that makes Baldur look as though he's using ice skates to get around can also be pulled off by holding down the stick.
That's all very reasonable on paper, but the end result comes out as frustrating and unresponsive. The right stick just doesn't do its job right in Too Human. The moves lack power, Baldur's movement has a very stiff feel to it and the enemies are stupid. At the start of the game, you'll only be fighting groups of fodder enemies that can't really touch Baldur and die after a hit or two, but the game starts to mix in foes that shoot rockets at you, have powerful shields and take a long time to stun. At that point, the combat is in completely over its head. It all feels so sluggish, and Baldur, despite being a god and supposedly pretty powerful for it, can't keep up with this barrage of attacks. The thing that makes other games, such as Devil May Cry, so great is that when you press a button, the character will actually do what you want him to do right away. With Baldur, not so. You'll be making feeble swipes at an enemy, completely missing him, of course, because the targeting is so terrible, when you suddenly notice a rather unpleasant cloud of rockets coming your way. You try to roll away, but alas, Baldur is still stuck in his attacking animation. You tap the jump button frantically, but alas, Baldur is still stuck in his attacking animation. In the end, he gets wasted by a dozen rockets, which knocks him down, at which point a big brute comes by and continues to stomp on him for a while, stunning him and knocking him back each time. I am not the type that throws his controller in some rage-induced frenzy, but this game almost made me. In Too Human, you'll be spending most of your time fighting, so the fact that the fighting is some of the worst I've had to endure this generation completely nullifies any enjoyment you might derive from its cool aesthetics and occasionally intriguing story.
To add insult to injury, a special respawn system is in place. If Baldur dies (and for reasons explained above, he will a lot) a valkyrie will drop down from the heavens and carry him skywards. A couple of seconds later, you'll respawn and find yourself at exactly the same point where you left off: enemies don't regain any health and you don't lose anything, except valuable time which you could have spent doing something else. If you think back to Bioshock, you might argue that being practically immortal this way can contribute to a game's quality, but not so in Too Human. Silicon Knights felt that the small respawn scene should take forever, and look horrible. The valkyrie clips through the floor, and through Baldur as she picks him up.
If you get down to it, Too Human is one of those games which grabs you with its incredible loot-lust. If you're one of those Diablo players who can't get enough of finding new stuff to use, Silicon Knight's effort might be a good game for you. There are lots and lots of items to pick off enemy corpses, ranging from new pieces of armor and weapons to special runes that offer stat upgrades. Too bad there isn't a rune that allows you to skip the valkyrie death scene, or I would've immediately applied it. Aside from the deep loot system, there's also a small skill tree which you can invest points in to give Baldur new abilities. However, when you come to realise that you're only getting all this stuff through the horrible combat, and that you will be using all the new stuff in the horrible combat, it suddenly feels very flat. Loot is great when it's part of a good game, and Too Human does not even come close to qualifying for such a title.
You can play with another human being as well. There are five classes in Too Human, which range from being melee-focused to firearms-focused, and the idea is that the two players will be able to support each other with their classes' respective benefits. Thing is, playing co-op doesn't magically make the combat any better, and it rips out the story bits. When you have nothing left but the combat, things are not looking up. As a result, this mode makes the thought of shelving the game all that more appealing. At this point in time, the servers are deadish anyway, so unless you can find a friend who is willing to accompany you as you trudge through the game, you might find yourself without people to play with.
The game doesn't look outright bad, but in a technical sense, it's hardly impressive. The great artwork alleviates this issue, but there's a lot of clipping, bad animations and bad textures. I guess it's to be expected when a game has seen so many revisions and engines. The music is good, and the voice-work decent, but the little menu's sound effects made me cringe. Every time you hit a button, it's accompanied by this high-pitched squeal, which made my youthful ears bleed.
Too Human is mediocre. Its story and setting are inspired, but the combat, which dominates the game is just so horrible that it made me regret my purchase immediately. You'll regret it too. So do yourself a favor and buy something else with that money.