Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer
Great Odin's Beard! It went from "most anticipated" to more than a little disappointing, but how?
Back near the start of 2008 several of the CC2K Gaming Gurus talked about the video games due for release in the coming year that we were anticipating more than any other. For me, the game that fit such a description was Too Human. Here is what I had to say about it at the time:
"Billed as a sweeping, cinematic blending of cyberpunk and Norse mythology, while the game’s third-person perspective and melee combat system might appear to some Playstationites as a God of War wannabe, its promised mix of action/adventure and RPG genres with elements from Devil May Cry and Diablo has got me intrigued to say the least.
Add to that my feeling that Nordic legends have always seemed to take a back seat to Greco-Roman mythology, and the re-imagining of these mighty inhabitants of Valhalla as cybernetically enhanced humans persisting from the ancient past to fight in a future threatened by a sinister machine presence intent on humanity’s eradication has me stoked. If Silicon Knights really does intend this as the first game of a trilogy, let’s hope it delivers on all it promises."
I think I had good reason to be excited. Maybe a little too excited. When Too Human was released to mixed and many negative reviews, I was filled with apprehension. Did I really want to spend $60 on a bad gaming experience? I don't like to rent games, as I don't have the free time required to burn through a game in marathon sessions over a couple of days. So I tend to pick and choose the games I buy with more than a little care. I decided to hold off on Too Human for other more exciting prospects. But after the disappointment that was Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, my attention was once again drawn back to Too Human. I found more favorable reviews and a long wait until the big Q4 releases too much to resist. Having played it for a couple of weeks, I can say I'm glad I picked it up, but more than a little disappointed that Too Human doesn't meet my expectations.
One of the most disappointing things about Too Human is the story. Not the quality of the story, necessarily, because to be perfectly honest, I'm no more familiar with the story today than I was when I wrote the comments above. Bare with me for a second. One of the more exciting elements of the game was the promised coop feature, allowing you and a friend to play through the entire campaign together. This is where the game really shines as Silicon Knights mostly delivered. Here you and a friend can try out different combinations of the available character classes as you wage war on the machines and tag team bosses, and even trade loot you find along the way. Yet one major failing in my opinion is that while in coop mode none of the game's cinematic cut scenes are triggered such that if it's your first time playing through (as it was mine) you really have no idea what's going on. You can take your existing character and start a new solo campaign, but do to the nature of Too Human's leveling system this makes enemies in even the beginning levels epic foes yet rewards you with novice level loot, which doesn't sound very fun, does it? (more on this later). Setting the story aside for a moment, which I've read is – at its best – fairly lackluster when it actually manages to make sense, let's talk some more about the gameplay.
Silicon Knights made the rather daring move of taking a departure from what has come to be the standard controller configuration. Most first and third-person games (Halo, Gears of War, Call of Duty, etc.) utilize the two analog sticks featured on pretty much every console since the PS2 (with the exception of that oddball the Wii) for movement and control of the camera. The left typically does the former and the right handles the latter. However, in Too Human the camera is almost entirely controlled by the game. The left analog stick still controls the movement of your character, but the right controls melee attacks. This takes some getting used to, and in the early going it can be quite jarring as you'll find yourself attempting to move the camera with the right analog stick only to unsheath your Transcendent Broadsword of Heavenly Smiting, or whatever your current weapon of choice might be. Adding to the frustration is the imprecision of the controls. The direction they are pushed in, and the intensity of the push makes a difference. To illustrate the point, quickly pushing (and immediately releasing) the right analog stick in the direction of an enemy launches an average melee attack. Two quick pushes and you trigger a "Juggle Combo" where you launch your foe into the air where they are temporarily vulnerable to further melee assault or an impromptu bout of skeet shooting with a ranged weapon. Pushing and holding the left analog stick in the direction of a distant enemy triggers your character to launch himself into a power slide, bringing you into melee range in an instant. Pushing and holding both toward a distant enemy launches your "Fierce" projected attack, and repeating the same motion toward a nearby enemy launches a "Finisher" combo strike. Given the fact that there can be dozens of enemies scattered about a large area at one time means that your ability to control exactly what your character does exactly how you want is vitally important, but as I said, the imprecision is real and frustrating. Adding to this frustration is the camera. I find any game in which developers have handed over the reigns of the camera to the computer programming dubious and anxiety-inducing. Has there been a game that has got this right? None come to mind, but plenty that have gotten it wrong do. There are times when Too Human chooses a camera angle that is just confounding. Maybe the developers were going for a cinematic feel, or perhaps they just wanted to take the unconventional route, I don't know, but the result is mixed and generally fails. If it's not broken there's no need for correction. The tried and true over the shoulder or "above and behind" fixed camera position that gives the player total control over what he or she is looking at would have been the way to go here. OK, enough griping. It's not all bad.
As an RPG Too Human is surprisingly detailed and deep. There are five character classes to choose from, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. There is an expansive skill tree that virtually guarantees you won't max out your character before game's end, and the added ability to completely reset your character's skill tree at any point in the game. How cool is that? There's something to be said for the dedication demanded by an RPG in which there's no going back as character development progresses, but there's something very appealing about the idea of being able to overhaul your character on a whim. And then of course, there's the loot. Too Human seems firmly planted in the tradition of Diablo and Baldur's Gate. If anything, Too Human may have taken the loot idea a little too far. You are constantly finding armor and weapons throughout the game, and as such you're going to be spending quite a bit of time in the game's menu system going through it all, constantly tweaking your character and trying to decide how to outfit your hero. There's very little explanation of how the menus are setup, and the amount of information can be daunting. Give it time and you'll soon find it not too difficult to navigate through. If there's one other problem with the loot system (aside from the plethora of items available) – and you thought I was done griping? – it's the leveling system. Some of the items you find you can equip and use right away. Others require you to be a higher level than you currently are to equip. This never stops. So you're continuously finding items that seem cooler than what you're currently wielding, and when you finally level up and use them you've already found something cooler that you're just dying to be able to use. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat. And what elevates this from merely annoying to frustrating is that as you (and the items you find) level up, so do your enemies. This is not unlike the failing of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Whereas in that game the problem was a lack of authenticity (really, every backwater bandit is your equal resulting in epic battles left and right?), in Too Human the problem is that you never quite get to enjoy the loot. Part of what made Diablo so fun was finding that particuarly awesome weapon that allowed you to smite your foes like an all-powerful deity, and left you feeling a little like one too. You never quite get that feeling of being a bad ass as the enemies always seem to match you in strength. If only you had a more powerful item. But wait, you do! Only you can't use it until you level up, but by that time it's no good! Damn this viscious cycle!
Gamers have long been aware that Too Human is intended to be the first of a trilogy. Sure you could say that Silicon Knights could address the problematic issues of the first game in the sequel, but then again why weren't they taken care of in the first place? Especially considering how long this game has been in development? And can the developers realistically expect once bitten gamers to be there for a sequel? Speaking for myself, I may be too wary to purchase Too Human 2.