Too Human Review
Written : Tuesday, August 19, 2008
By: Dan Webb (GT: Webb x360a)
Too Human is one of those titles that people thought would never emerge or see the light of day. The vast majority of games that encounter so many knock backs and roadblocks in the development stage tend to disappear in to nothingness and become nothing more than a distant memory. Too Human however is an exception. It was originally announced for the Playstation at E3 ’99, a partnership that lasted not even a year as it suddenly switched over to the Gamecube when Silicon Knights teamed up with Nintendo. But as things do in this day and age, the partnership broke down and Too Human was in limbo... Until however, Microsoft picked up this distant memory and gave Silicon Knights the go ahead for their Too Human trilogy.
Midgard is a beautiful haven.
Too Human is a tale of Norse mythology but not as you know it. Sure, the usual Norse gods make an appearance, whether it be Odin, Thor, Freya or Baldur but they are not gods in the traditional sense. Instead of being enlightened spiritual powers, they are in fact cybernetically engineered humans and they must unite to stop Loki, Hel and their vast machine army. You take control of Baldur, a cybernetic warrior who’s desperate to unlock the memories of his past and vanquish the evil machines that are under the control of Loki and co.
The title is essentially an action-RPG title, taking the hack and slash element and coupling it together with some seriously detailed RPG aspects. It is in the back end of Too Human where it truly excels. The RPG element of the game is supremely detailed and that goes from the skill trees which determine your character’s strengths right the way through to what you equip Baldur with. With hundreds, if not thousands of different types of armour and weaponry available, the amount of permutations is simply endless. There is something just so damn pleasurable in kitting Baldur out in matching armour and dual wielding badass swords, you can’t help but smile. There are moments when looking good is just as, if not, more important than being powerful and you’ll find yourself taking to the battlefield with a significantly weaker weapon just because the other sword and rifle combo just doesn’t fit in with the whole ensemble.
More depth is added in to the game’s RPG element through the ability to add special attributes to weapons and armour through runes. Whether you want to increase its power, or increase its durability, there are a huge range of runes for you to use at your disposal. Silicon Knights also threw in some coloured runes that can be used to customise the armour in the game which is a nice little touch.
The story takes place essentially in two worlds, there is the mortal world where you’ll find Midgard and spend most of your time, and then there is cyberspace; the world of data and mystery. The two worlds intertwine with each other throughout the storyline but both have very different purposes and feels. Cyberspace is a peaceful, harmonic world which is a bright, vibrant environment with plenty of luscious vegetation. In direct contrast, there is the mortal world; a metallic, barren world full of doom and gloom. The artistic vision of the game is superb and the huge contrast between the worlds is what really brings the world to life.
Can I see some ID please sir?
Other than the artistic vision, there isn’t much really to visually wow you about the title. Sure the animation is fluent, there a few effects that are pulled off well, but there is nothing to distinguish it from the hundreds of distinctly average titles on our shelves today. The facial visuals do remind me somewhat of Mass Effect until they open their mouths and it seems a little ... robotic. I suppose that’s ironic for a title that acts as a social commentary on technology and its impact on culture and society.
There is something that doesn’t quite feel right when you're controlling Baldur. Silicon Knights made a conscious choice to put the combat on the right analogue stick which, yes, on the one hand makes the combat seem quirky and fluent, but on the other hand, moving the combat on to the right stick ultimately means that Silicon Knights have sacrificed the player’s control over the camera and let's be honest, in this day of gaming that most definitely seems like a crime. The camera is most definitely the biggest problem of Too Human and at times you’ll be pulling the controller out the dry wall in frustration. In an open world environment with big vistas it could be deemed ok, but the fact that Too Human is essentially a dungeon-crawler does not bode well for the camera setup. Don’t even get me started on the ranged combat which at times is a complete disaster as it seems to have a mind of its own and is much happier targeting an enemy you’ve already taken down or just shooting somewhere totally different.
The combat on the whole is fun and simple, you can’t just weigh in with a monstrous hammer and expect everything to shudder and die in your path. The game requires an element of skill, especially as you get further in the game, and thankfully Baldur is equipped with various other combat tools at his disposal to aid the cause. Baldur can make use of; the spider which is essentially a deplorable mobile turret, the battlecry that gives surrounding allied NPC’s a sudden burst of adrenaline rendering them more effective or the devastating ruiners which are powerful radius attacks. The ruiners are possibly one of the most effective combat tools and take advantage of your combo level, depleting it by one with every use. The combo level is a simple system that works in levels and builds up as you link together your attacks or perform real powerful moves. The higher your combo level, the more responsive Baldur will be and the further his slide and the stronger his attacks will be. Last but not least, Baldur has the use of the fierce (ranged) and finisher (close combat) attacks that are powerful moves that can be used when flicking both analogue sticks together at once.
If the camera doesn’t annoy you in Too Human, then the sloth running speed of Baldur surely will. Sure, he can roll out the way of incoming rockets but can he maintain a decent running pace? Not a chance. It just seems so sluggish. Throw in some invisible walls around the level that stop you jumping over a one foot ledge my two year old niece could jump and frustration sets in a little further.
Another one of Too Human’s major gripes is its lack of variety in terms of enemies. Throughout the game, you’ll be lucky to come across maybe 4 or 5 different enemies (excluding bosses) which most definitely detracts somewhat from the replayability factor. It’s all well and good being able to take the character across multiple playthroughs of the same levels to level up and such, but when you’re constantly taking down the same enemies, the combat because monotonous and the game becomes a chore.
Granted, the game is fairly linear and offers not much room in movement, but the ability to complete certain mundane side quest (like kill 15 trolls) come in the form of charms and give you something to aim for, if only for a very short while.
One of Too Human’s shining lights from the outset is its online play. The game boasts a 2 player co-op mode over Live with 4 player and split screen not supported which is no real loss. The big loss actually comes in the lack of cut scenes which are unsupported in the co-op mode and ultimately means that your first playthrough can’t surely be in co-op mode for fear of spoiling the story. Would it not have been easier to allow players to skip them then rather than just cut them out together? Either way, despite that that colossus oversight, the co-op mode is fun and that’s all that matters; linking combos and dispatching enemies left, right and centre has never been so much fun. The co-op mode does in fact offer gamers a different experience to one that is experienced in the single player campaign with more and often harder combinations of foes who do level up as you do. The co-op although adding another dimension to the title is still plagued by the horrible camera issues but that isn’t expected to go away just because you game with a friend but it does ease the pain.
The laser is one of many weapons on offer.
Sure, in the co-op you get a different experience, whether it’s more or harder enemies, but at the end of the day, it’s more of the same and the game offers no real new challenges... Especially when you are effectively invincible because death triggers a truly artistic reincarnation involving the mythological Valkyries.
Part of the fun of Too Human is defeating as many enemies as you can to see what sort of weapons and armour they drop. The drops are rated in rareness from green through blue to red, with blue and red each offering their own epic orchestral roar to accompany it but again, relying soley on this is frankly not enough.
The score in Too Human is as you expect from Silicon Knights having created epic scores in most of their previous titles. It is a solid accompaniment to some decent voice acting and some spot on special effects that run alongside a pretty engaging story.
The achievements on the whole are not too badly balanced and despite the real lack of originality, this is a good indication of what a decent list should be. It’s almost as if it's tiered. The first tier is the "one play through" crowd (10-15 hours) and it can net you between 600-700 points for just playing through the story. The second tier is for the "completionists" as a bit more work (between 40-50 hours) will get you to the 900 mark. Then the last 100 are truly for the "hardcore Too Human" fans, requiring you to max out your stats and complete the levels without dieing and this could easily set you back 100 hours. Generally you’ll find achievements popping up for levelling up, killing vast amounts of enemies, actually, you’ll just get them for playing the game. No ridiculous feats here, except maybe completing the levels without dieing, just plenty of evenly dropped achievements.
Too Human in some respects is a deep and meaningful game. There were times when I was sat down reviewing it where the hours seemed to disappear from under me. I’ve always said that alone is the sign of a great game, but I’ve also said that when a game causes you to shout at the screen and launch the controller at the neighbour’s cat because of its controls, it is doing something seriously wrong. A non-user controlled camera in this day and age of gaming is tantamount to making a car without air conditioning and this is frankly unforgivable. It should be a criminal offence and probably is in some countries. It’s a shame as well, because if you can get past that, Too Human is a deep and enjoyable game. Granted, it’s a bit repetitive, but the skill tree and the general RPG side of the game is sophisticated and worthy of anyone’s time. Too Human has laid the foundation for the next title and is not a bad start to a new IP, but it’s got some distance to go become it can be labelled as a console shifting exclusive.
Solid audio throughout. Powerful score, decent voice acting and some SFX that hardly go astray.
Superb artistic vision with the environments. Midgard is a fantastically built haven but the rest of the game is fairly average. The game does have a decent level design, even if it is a little narrow and linear at times. Solid animation and fluent combat though.
The combat is fluent and easy to pick up. However, in order to progress, it’s necessary to master it ... That’s if the annoying camera, oddly placed invisible walls and incredibly slow running speed of Baldur doesn’t drive you to the edge of your wits before you get that far.
The RPG nature of the back end system is a true pleasure at times. Kitting Baldur out from head to toe in badass armour is one of Too Human’s fortes. Other than the main story quest though there isn’t really that much to do and the game gets incredibly repetitive, not just with the combat, but with who you’re fighting as well. No cutscenes in co-op? Shocking, I know.
Solid list of varying difficulty. Bit of grinding to get the harder achievements but that's the RPG element for you. All in all though, it does 2 things, a.) rewards the casual Too Human player with a good wad of 700 points or so with little to no effort and b.) rewards those who truly put the effort in. Not much originality, but you can't really knock that.
Too Human has the makings of a memorable trilogy. The first game has set a decent foundation for its sequels but will have a lot to do before it is considered a successful franchise. Don’t get me wrong, the game is fun, but despite boasting tonnes of replayability, it fails to deliver and is marred by its repetition; not enough variety with regard to the enemies and as a result the combat gets boring. Other than that though and the obviously annoying camera, Too Human is actually pretty fun but is only really going to appeal to those with a high threshold of patience.