Very Long Too Human Review of Ironic Naming Conventions
Too Human- the game that everybody and nobody wants to play. At once. Paradox? You'd think so, unless you saw the recent turd-flinging contest between developers, media, fans, and random people that was the Too Human release aftermath.
Too Human is indeed a strange beast, a game who's development I've followed for several years now. For those of you who don't have much background (how could you not?), Too Human is developed by Silicon Knights, the much-lauded developers of titles such as Eternal Darkness, MGS: Twin Snakes, and a Legacy of Kain title. It takes place far in the past, as a sci-fi re-imagining of Norse Mythology, offering a unique take on cyclic history and old Scandinavian tales. You play as the god Baldur, a member of the Aesir corporation, a Private Military Company specializing in cybernetic implants. You are charged with defending humanity's last vestiges from the impending robot invasion. Sound generic? Read on.
Let me start off with one of this title's hot subjects: the story. To put it in the simplest terms possible, Too Human's story is phenomenal. That being said, the storytelling and presentation is something you wouldn't expect from a game that was made after the year 2000. Silicon Knights, a development house notorious for its stiff and fairly emotionless animations, decided against Motion Capture use in Too Human. As a result, main characters often fail to convey their feelings adequately, despite generally admirable voice work. Ironically, it's two of the main characters, Baldur and the rambunctious Thor, who's voice talent needs to be changed before the next iteration of Too Human. Overall, cinematics fail to do justice to the writer's epic re-telling, often leaving you yearning for more, scratching at the surface to get at the beauty you can see just under its crust. The game starts to pick up and start getting things right just in the last level, with the last cutscene leaving you going “Why the hell wasn't the rest of this put in one game?”.
In terms of graphics, another catch-22 presents itself. The art style- is entirely magnificent. The large, open environments, gigantic backgrounds and detailed, interesting designs never cease to impress. The graphics themselves are (can you guess what's coming next?) a fairly large let-down. Average by all means, they don't do much other than show you how great things could have been. Polygon count is low, facial definition is spotty and oddly low on polish, although it's an area that you'd expect to see a story-driven game to excel in. Hair is the worst offender, looking flatter than Amy in Soul Calibur 4. Weapons and armor are designed beautifully, with detail and uniqueness enhanced by the color rune upgrades available on the cheap in the Weapon and Armor stores. Some skins can border on ridiculous, and there seems to be a mild case of “WoW Shoulders” going around town; but you can never say that you don't really feel bad-ass. The game does a great job of making you look like god from the beginning, and somehow manages to keep the feeling of awesomeness rising as you level up continually, all the while updating with more ridiculous names every time. Looking at screenshots of the game in '06 while it was still on the Unreal Engine 3 is an exercise in sadness, as you can clearly see much smoother models and what is apparently an actual head of hair for Freya; but I digress.
Gameplay is the real meat of Too Human, and that is where it tends to excel. Many harp the controls for their “unintuitiveness”, their tendency to be “too clunky” and “retarded man, like a button masher but WTF NO BUTTONZ NO WAI”. I have to chalk those complaints up to people who just can't get into something new, however. The controls work beautifully- allowing all the combat action of a button mashing game without the finger fatigue, allowing for long dungeon-crawl-style play sessions without having to get repeated Carpal Tunnel surgery. Targeting and locking on is all handled by the right thumbstick, movement with the left. Once close enough to an enemy, you may hit the attack button and perform a slide, speeding up and hitting the enemy with your godly... hoverskates? Who knows. It just looks cool. As you continue to build a combo count, your speed increases and you begin flying around the map with frightening speed. Shooting is done with the triggers- simply hold one or both down and point the stick in the direction of an enemy. Tap the right stick once (twice for pistols) to adjust targets and shoot multiple enemies. If you happen to have trouble with the guns targeting dead enemies repeatedly, take both fingers off the trigger and manually re-target your intended baddie. It works, but it takes skill. In addition to these main mechanics, you have special attacks. These consist of Ruiners, Spiders, Battle Cries, and Sentient Weapon Abilities. Ruiners are Area of Effect attacks, triggered with the right bumper. They use Combo Meter, the game's equivalent of Mana. You build Combo by battling, forcing a good mixture of combat and special moves that results in a well-rounded experience. Battle Cries are rather self explanatory, they are group skills that apply buffs for as long as they run, and they also require Combo. Spiders are another story. Press Y, and you have a little AI buddy come out and do something, whether it is deploying shields, attaching bombs, or being an amazingly bad-ass support turret. They have limited charge times, and have a long downtime. Sentient Weapons work by deploying a shadow version of Fenrir, your sword, which goes out and literally destroys anything in its path. It's amazingly fun to use.
Now that I've covered the 3 core components, let's discuss replay value. In a game like Too Human, a dungeon crawler with hybrid Action game combat, you'd expect to want to play the crap out of it. Not so. Although the level cap is 50, it is a tedious and rather boring journey to reach it. Completing the game gets you about halfway through, landing at level 26 or 27. The rest of the game is endgame exploring and looting, something that quickly becomes tiresome. The game has 4 large areas, of roughly 1-2 hours each. The second level is an anomaly, often taking more than 3 hours to complete. That would be all fine and dandy if it weren't for the annoying Token system. Collect tokens by playing through sections of the level, with the best boss loot only available if you've gotten every token in the level. Tokens are very annoying to gather, although you can do a section of a level, leave, and come back later still possessing that token, allowing you to break it into bits. The problem is environment variety. Only the Ice Forest is really distinctive, and even that is just another oddly bumpy floor with lights that takes you through the annoying door with more enemies. The only incentive is Epic loot, but even that fails to draw in your attention long enough to spend 100+ hours on the game (although people report having done exactly that already).
So overall, in conclusion? Too Human is a fun game. A good game. Not great, above mediocre, and certainly not bad (I'm looking at you, Jim Sterling). If you enjoyed the demo, this game is for you. If you thought it was ok at best, give it a rent. It's a good weekend-buster (averaging 12 hours of length) for the lull before the explosion that is the Fourth Quarter of Release Hell. The game certainly isn't without its design flaws, but several innovations shine through that leave me instilled with confidence in the second iteration in this trilogy. I would recommend a healthy background in Norse Mythology before you dive into this, if you'd like to get into the story. This game hits slightly between the 3 and 4 mark, so I'll leave you guys with a rousing 3 and a half stars. A solid addition to any library, it should be tried (in demo form) by anyone remotely interested.