Too Human

At long last, the first chapter in Silicon Knight’s epic Too Human trilogy has landed on the Xbox 360. The epic cyber-punk retelling of Norse mythology has been a long time coming, but does it live up to the hype and anticipation? In many ways, the answer is yes. However several flaws keep Too Human from living up to its full potential.

Too Human relies on the concept of cyclical history for its story. The idea that time isn’t a steady progression of technology towards the futuristic, but a continuing cycle of civilizations becoming incredibly advanced, and then destroyed. In this way, Silicon Knights suggests that the “Gods” of ancient Norse mythology were not mystical beings at all, but normal men and women enhanced with cybernetics to achieve their godlike power. In the world of Too Human all humanity has fled to the giant city of Asgard, retreating from the advances of the children of the Ymir, a race of machines intent on the destruction of mankind. The Aesir, cybernetically enhanced, God-like guardians that fight to defend humanity from the machines. Your part in this story is as Baldur, favorite son of ODIN and the God most beloved by the humans.

As the story begins, Baldur is attempting to hunt down the GRENDL, a massive machine that feasts on human flesh. You follow him through this quest, and through the twists and turns that revolve around the betrayal of Loki, a member of the Aesir who has seemingly joined forces with the ranks of the machines. Along the way, you’ll wind through not only the frozen wastelands of the real world, but also the lush greenery of Cyberspace, a parallel dimension to the world of the Aesir, and home of the Norns. The story has serious level of depth that I can’t fully go into in this review, but it is an original take on the classic Norse mythology, and by the last hour you’ll be clambering for more. Unfortunately, because the series is planned as a trilogy, the ending comes abruptly and just when the narrative really feels like it’s picking up steam. I couldn’t help but wish for more, but they definitely ended it at a good jumping off place for the next game in the series. The last scene especially is fantastic, and really jacked up my hype for the next title.

All is not sunshine and roses as it relates to the story, however. While the voice acting is mostly very well done (Baldur and Loki especially), some cheesy dialogue causes the occasional distraction. The character models are mostly well done, however the hair and eyebrow work is sinfully bad. Worst of all, the animation is awful in the cutscenes. Hopefully the next game in the series will iron out some of these issues, because the overall quality of the story is very good and incredibly original.

While at first glance, Too Human may seem like an action game in the vein of Devil May Cry or God of War, it has much more in common with loot gathering dungeon crawlers like Diablo, Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, and the Champion’s of Norrath series. Like other games of this style, you’ll start out by choosing a class. The Berserker is the DPS machine, a pure melee monster with less emphasis on health and ranged combat. The Defender is the tank of the group, and has the most armor, hit points, and a resistance to being knocked down. The Champion is the most balanced of the classes, and specializes in mid air combat. The Commando is the pure ranged combatant. Finally, the Bio Engineer is the “priest” of the group, and the only class with the ability to heal both himself and his teammates. The class you choose makes a huge difference in the way you play the game, especially at the higher levels, and trying to play the different classes in ways they weren’t intended will lead to quite a bit of frustration and death. As in all games of this type, your best bet is to pick a class that compliments your personal play style.

In an interesting diversion from the button mashing (or furious clicking in the case of Diablo) Too Human takes a step clearly out of the box. Melee combat is tagged to the right analog stick, a decision that increases the fluidity of the combat at the expense of free control of the camera.

In my 25+ hours with the title, I’ve experienced only a couple issues where the camera was in the wrong place at the wrong time for the action I was trying to perform. For those that dislike the default setting, there are multiple options including an isometric view in the vein of the traditional dungeon crawlers mentioned above. The one issue I have encountered at times however, is when the camera changes direction suddenly; Baldur’s feet don’t seem to get the memo. This leads to situations where he will be running in a direction opposite of the one you’re pressing on the control stick, requiring you to let go of the stick before continuing to move. This happens frequently enough to be an annoyance, but not nearly enough to be game breaking in any way.

In its simplest form, melee combat in Too Human consists of pushing the right analog stick in the direction of the enemy you wish to attack. Baldur will slide towards the enemy, hacking and slashing as long as you continue to hold the stick. When facing multiple enemies (which you’ll spend most of your time doing), you can go straight from attacking one enemy to another by pushing the stick in the next enemies direction. In this way, Baldur will pinball around the room, dealing death left and right. The combat is very smooth in this regard, and sliding back and forth between enemies is very satisfying. I actually think this method of control is perfect for the dungeon crawling genre, where you’re often surrounded by mobs of enemies. The melee combat is dished out using your choice of swords, hammers, or staves, and each has their own advantages and disadvantages.

Ranged combat is split between pistols, rifles, and cannons, and is handled by the left and right triggers. Unfortunately, while the melee targeting is mostly very smooth and well implemented, the ranged targeting can be a little spotty. This is especially frustrating when you’re trying to pick out a certain enemy in a mob. This is another issue that I hope is ironed out for the sequel.

You could try and go through the game using only this method of combat, but you would die…a lot. The later stages of the game and higher levels will require you to dig into the more advanced combat options that Too Human offers. While seemingly very simple, the game offers a great amount of depth to players who will take the time to master it. Fierce attacks (ranged melee attacks that knock down enemies), Finishers (powerful combo’s that are incredibly useful against strong enemies), Juggles, and Air Combat will all become your friends at higher levels when the enemies are not only stronger, but more ruthless.

You’ll also have several other means of dispatching your foes. The spider is a mechanized version of its namesake, which serves not only as your key to entering cyberspace, but as a powerful “pet” that can function as anything from a stationary cannon to a shield depending on your class and skill set. You’ll also gain access to a Battle Cry, which is a personal buff that also varies depending on your selection. Finally, you’ll have access to a Sentient weapon, which causes the spirit of your weapon to lash out and attack enemies on it’s own. All of these skills will be incredibly useful during your journey.

Of course, what is combat without purpose, and Too Human has purpose in spades. This is a loot gathering game at heart, and you’ll never be disappointed in either the quantity or quality of the loot available. As you gain experience, you’ll level up as in most games of this type, and you’ll gain access to new abilities on two different skill trees (the second determined by a choice you’ll make early in the game). As a self professed loot and level whore, I loved digging through the levels of Too Human trying to find the best equipment available and building experience.

The overall graphics in Too Human are hit and miss. As mentioned, the cutscenes suffer from poor animation, and some of the in-game animations are also sketchy. The combat animations are generally very good, although I did experience a couple issues where I and the enemy I was killing were quite a distance apart. Most of the environments are incredibly detailed and very well designed, however some areas feel very open and empty. With a couple more layers of polish, Too Human could have been a very good looking game. As it stands, it’s mostly slightly above average for this gen, with a couple of exceptions on both sides of the bar.

The most impressive technical feat in Too Human is one that isn’t instantly recognizable, but is very welcome nonetheless. With the exception of a brief loading time when you first start your campaign, you will never see a load screen in this game (the only exception being if you skip the cutscenes). You’ll move smoothly from cutscene, to gameplay, and back to cutscene without any pause. This is incredibly welcome in a game like this, and is especially impressive considering the sheer amount of onscreen action the engine is pushing.

Because of this no loading approach, death is handled differently in Too Human. When you die you will be treated to a 25 second cutscene of a Valkyrie coming down to carry your sorry corpse to Valhalla, then you’ll be deposited very close to where you were dragged off. While potentially frustrating, the scene is no longer than the death sequence featured in most games where you get kicked to a Game Over screen, selecting to continue or exit, wait on a load, then trek back to where ever you were when you passed on. It just seems longer because it’s a very seamless, which makes it feel more like a forced break in the action rather than a true death sequence.

Too Human’s main story will last you somewhere between 12 hours and 16, depending on how much you scour the world for loot drops. However the game has a ton of replay value, as you won’t be able to reach the level cap of 50 (or swipe the most powerful loot) on your first (or even your second) playthrough of the game. To keep subsequent playthroughs from being tedious, enemies level to you and their layouts will change when you select the level you wish to replay directly from the Aesir. The game also features a fantastic online co-op feature that is not only a blast, but generally lag-free. Most of your time after completing the single player story will probably be spent here, and it’s easy to lose a lot of time mass murdering goblins with a buddy.

The previously announced 4 player co-op has been whittled down to two for the full retail release. This is disappointing, as some of the support oriented classes seem more geared towards 4 players. However Silicon Knights hasn’t ruled out the possibility of 4 player support being patched in.

In the end, despite its flaws, I’m having a blast with Too Human. The looting and leveling is incredibly addictive, and if you let yourself dig a little bit you’ll find a surprising amount of depth in the combat system. However I can’t help but feel like the game isn’t living up to it’s full potential. Hopefully with a couple more layers of polish, and a few additions, the sequel can achieve the level of greatness that the series should be capable of. The story is primed to explode in the next game, and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds. Until then, I’ll be combing the frozen wastelands for the last couple pieces of my epic armor set.

Written by
Wombat lives by the code that if you are playing a game from this year, you are doing it wrong. His backlog is the stuff of legend and he is currently enjoying Perfect Dark Zero, Skies of Arcadia and Pong.

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