Review by Drifter2k
"A Fun, If Flawed Experience"
No other game I can think of in recent memory has had such polarized opinions about it as Too Human. The brainchild of Denis Dyack of Silicon Knights, creators of cult hits such as Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, and Eternal Darkness has undergone a long and arduous conceptual and development saga, switching platforms several times and even going into hibernation for some time. This long cycle has allowed Too Human to gain it's own cult following of fans, but at the same time has brought with it many detractors. Is this game ultimately worth the wait? Does it have the legs to carry on the next two games of it's proposed trilogy? Read on to find out...
You are placed in the role of the Norse God known as Baldur. Unlike what you would expect when given this role (think something along the lines of Beowulf) players are instead thrust into a setting more akin to The Matrix than the famous epic poem. Baldur is just one of many Gods known as the Aesir who have for centuries battled against an unending tide of machines created by a race known as the Ymir who's only purpose is to destroy humanity.
What sets Baldur and his kin apart from the normal humans who worship them are extensive cybernetic implants (sometimes called golden apples) designed and fitted into them by the Goddess Idunn. Anyone with a solid knowledge of Norse mythology will automatically pick up on many of the similarities, which take an age old set of myths and rather seamlessly blends them into a dark science fiction setting.
As Baldur the player is thrust into the front lines of this war against the Ymir's machines. Along the way you'll see interactions between Baldur and many famous figures of Norse mythology such as Thor, Freya, the Norns, Loki, and many others. Each of these characters is creatively carried over from ancient legends and fitted into the sci-fi world of Too Human in ways that are very sensible and often times rather creative.
Overall a gamer who has enough knowledge of Norse mythology will appreciate the conversion and those who do not may have a bit of trouble picking up on who's who and what their purpose is. The most obvious characters are clearly defined, ie: Baldur is good, Loki is bad; but many supporting characters aren't always explained entirely properly. One such example is the God Mimir; whom is a disembodied head. We are only given small snippets of why he's in such a state and what his purpose is. Much of this may be further explained as the trilogy progresses but for now the player is left wanting when it comes to many of the characters.
Lastly in the story category is the ending. Without spoiling anything specific; it should be noted that the game really doesn't feature a proper ending. As a planned trilogy Too Human takes the low road and leaves the player hanging instead of giving a satisfying conclusion which still leads into the next title.
Too Human is by no means an ugly game, but by the same token it's by no means breath taking either. A switch in the game's engine probably 3/4 of the way through development shows in some places. Most noticeable of these places are the faces of characters and the overall look of the environments.
During cut scenes you'll often be treated to a close look at the faces of Too Human's various characters. Although none of these faces are particularly horrible to gaze upon they're certainly not at the level of a game like Mass Effect or Heavenly Sword. The faces show no real signs of deeper emotion beyond the obvious concerned/angry/happy, and the transitions between these seem very stiff and sometimes artifical. Baldur himself seems to be in a perpetual state of annoyance. Heimdall always looks strangely amused, Freya rather concerned or worried, and Loki always grins slyly. Perhaps it's just me but many of the character's faces seemed to be stuck on one emotion the entire game no matter what they were feeling.
The environments that Baldur quests through are varied in their looks but overly flat feeling. Many of the combat centric areas are either white and snowy or brownish grey and moody. None of these areas are particularly eye catching but most of the time you'll be more focused on the army of robots you have to slay mercilessly to be sight seeing. Some areas have a few different colors such as purple and red to help keep things from looking too depressing but overall the variety just isn't there.
Contrasting the dark and grim feeling of combat areas are the NORN's realm of cyberspace; which in Too Human lore is a depiction of the world's former glory that Baldur must often traverse to make headway in the real world. Cyberspace is a lush and green forest area which is certainly more eye catching than the game's other areas but even then you'll quickly notice the flatness of the foliage and invisible walls which impede your progress where you should seemingly be able to pass unhindered. Cyberspace is attractive but ultimately in a generation of games like Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion they don't stack up quite as well.
One of Too Humans calling cards is the thousands of pieces of unique armor and weapons that players can collect when they're randomly dropped by fallen enemies. Although you'll obviously see some repeating, the game features a surprising amount of different and rather cool looking designs. Adding in the ability to purchase runes of certain colors to help color coordinated gamers like myself keep things matching is an added bonus and smart idea.
You'll be putting those armor and weapons to good use against a range of enemies. Although each variety (Goblins, Dark Elves, Trolls, and Undead) has a few different types to keep things a bit fresh you'll be slaying mostly cloned waves of the same enemies each level. Different effects (known as polarities) are applied to foes to mix things up making some enemies explode upon death, while others freeze you when struck; but in the end each enemy class usually has around two different types give or take. I would have liked to have seen a few more enemy classes to keep things fresh myself.
Overall Too Human is a fairly attractive game that isn't hard to look at, but certainly lacks that wow factor many gamers expect with the current generation of consoles. A bit more polish and the visuals may have stood out a little better.
Much like it's visuals, Too Human's sound doesn't offend or impress. The overall music tends to fit the mood whether it be the more soothing sounds of cyberspace or the frantic tempo of blistering fast combat. You almost would have expected something that better blended the game's two distinct influences (Norse mythology and dark sci-fi) but really only get a rather generic soundtrack. Nothing about the sound is bad per se, but no one track will ever be the sort of thing I'd find myself humming in my head during a slow day at work.
On the voice acting front we're once again treated to a pretty down the middle listing. Everyone is voiced well but no one really stands out or has so much personality that they steal their scenes. Any avid gamer will likely recognize voices like John Cygan (of Canderous Ordo fame), Quinton Flynn (MGS's Raiden and various other games) and I believe Steven Blum (Wolverine in X-Men Legends, and MUA). It's nice hearing some familiar voices even if most of them are relegated to small roles as human soldiers. Human soldiers who's banter can be sometimes witty and other times rather annoying. Some lines are rather chuckle worthy while some fall flat. Many of the more dramatic lines are tinged with a sort of almost medieval flavour. Some of these work well and add dramatic effect, while others can sometimes feel out of place and forced. Overall the voices work well with the writing most of the time.
The sound effects themselves do their job well enough to help highlight the action. The clash of Baldur's melee weapons against his metallic enemies is rather satisfying. The one particular highlight for me is the actual sounds of the enemies as you encounter them. Trolls let out a bellowing roar that crosses the line between being a machine yet sounding like a living being. Other enemies let out piercing shrieks as they race wildly toward Baldur and scream as he cuts them down by the hundreds while missiles explode with a thundering crash all around.
Too Human's sound goes a long way to making things seem more intense. Where the musical score left me feeling a bit flat the sounds of Baldur crashing his way through legions of robotic foes really pulled me into the fast paced action. The sounds of battle are thick and overall one of the game's biggest highlights for me. Often times you'll only have to hear the sounds of the enemy to know what you're about to be facing.
This is where things begin to get tricky. Too Human boasts a rather under utilized combat style where the right analog stick functions as the attack input instead of the face buttons. Simply tilting and holding the right analog stick in the direction of an enemy causes Baldur to attack that particular foe. Unique to Too Human however is the sliding system which goes a long way to speeding everything up. If an enemy is multiple paces away from Baldur when you tilt the stick he'll slide across the ground like he has rockets on his boots and strike them. Quickly tilting the stick away from that enemy after striking has him slide to the next essentially turning him into a living pinball.
To spice things up tilting both analog sticks in the same direction makes Baldur use a fiercer attack that causes more damage. Quickly tapping the right analog stick forward two times allows him to launch enemies into the air which can lead to ariel combos should you jump after sending them sky high.
For me this way of combat was a very refreshing change of pace. It took only a few minutes to get used to using the analog stick for attacks and not much longer to get a steady stream of attacks going. At times you'll tilt the stick towards a certain enemy and attack another due to accuracy issues but overall I feel the system works very well, allowing for quick attacks in large mobs of enemies.
Baldur can also unleash different abilities which are mapped to the Y, X, RB buttons. Aside from the bumper move each of these skills are unique to each class and differ depending on which branch of the class tree you progress through. All of them are within easy access and never leave the player hammering on buttons trying to figure out which is which.
One of the great flaws in the overall control scheme is that of the camera. Since the right stick is dedicated entirely to attacking you don't have much control over the camera position. Using the D-Pad lets you switch between different camera modes but actually changing camera direction is relegated to LB which automatically swings the camera behind Baldur's back. It can be frustrating in the heat of combat when enemies are launching missiles from behind you and you can't get the camera right where you want it. This doesn't break the game, but in all honesty it does cause moments of major frustration.
The other big problem is ranged combat. Holding down on the left or right triggers causes Baldur to use his selected gun and automatically locks onto the nearest target. The problem is switching between targets requires you to quickly tap the right analog stick twice in the direction of the new target and pray you lock onto the right one. If you don't lock on you're stuck waving the gun around madly as the camera remains locked in the same position; sometimes throwing you off completely.
Like everything else about Too Human the controls have several bright spots which shine through but are hampered by a few issues that leave you feeling like more polish couldn't hard hurt.
At it's core Too Human is a hack n slash dungeon crawler akin to Diablo. You fight your way through hordes of enemies gathering randomly spawning loot and gaining experience with which to level. The action is broken up by various cut scenes to move the storyline forward, cyberspace excursions to get past obstacles, and time at the two shops buying and repairing your gear. Anyone like myself who becomes utterly addicted to this type of gameplay will find a lot to like here. Someone looking for a bit more variety may very well be left wanting.
Players can choose between five different classes which have a wide range of strengths and weaknesses. For example: the Berserker is a melee combat machine who can wield a weapon in each hand but doesn't soak up damage to well. The Bio Engineer is capable of healing himself and allies but doesn't fare too well in prolonged combat. Class choice is very important as each must be played differently in order to be successful. Proper placement of runes and use of charms is also often an essential part of survival. Having a clear idea of what you want your Baldur to be is an important aspect of the game.
Each class also boasts it's own skill tree which branches into three different paths before intersecting at the end, as well as an alignment tree (human or cybernetic) which helps add some depth. You won't find the depth or balance of Diablo 2 but there's enough here to satisfy most loot hungry fanatics for a few playthroughs.
And honestly Too Human is designed for multiple completions. A single run through the game (which takes around 10-15 hours) will likely leave the player near level thirty if they spent a reasonable amount of time killing and questing. With a level cap of fifty and a horde of unique and powerful items any gamer who's looking to outfit him/herself with powerful gear and max their skills will have at least another run through of the game to look forward to.
Don't think Too Human is going to take it easy on you though. Enemies level with you and areas become even more populated with vicious mobs as you progress to higher levels. A level fifty character could be looking to face wave after wave of exploding goblins flanked by arrow shooting dark elves and supported by three to four trolls all at your level in the same area. This may be too intense for some gamers as things can become very hectic but getting to levels high enough to experience this are entirely optional and not forced on you in any way so this sort of scenario can be tackled only if you're feeling the urge for it.
Dying, which you most certainly will do at least once, brings with it a unique problem. Aside from your combo meter dropping to zero you'll be forced to watch a small cinematic of a valkyrie descending from Valhalla to retrieve Baldur's corpse. This cinematic is probably in the neighborhood of ten to fifteen seconds long and CANNOT BE SKIPPED. Each and every time you die you'll be faced with this. Although I honestly didn't mind it many will become frustrated, especially if they die often. On the bright side you'll respawn near your place of death with everything exactly as it was when you died; so there's no need to re-kill that entire mob all over again.
The strength of Too Human's gameplay is largely decided on if you want to sink hours into looting and leveling with your character over the same areas. For any gamer without the interest or patience to do so Too Human's gameplay will very likely come up short. Anyone who loves slaying wave after wave of creatures trying to find all the elusive pieces of that armor set will find a lot here to love.
Too Human does many things well, some of them very well. However it also has several glaring flaws that can hamper an experience which in the end is rather average. Those able to overlook the flaws and get used to the rather unique control style are likely to get a few hours of fun here. Anyone who loves gathering items and collecting armor will get even more time out of it. In the end Too Human's loot gathering and experience grinding will be what pulls the gamer looking for that kind of experience back, not it's storyline or amazing graphics. It's a game that has a particular audience in mind, and for my money serves that audience rather well despite it's obvious problems.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 08/26/08
Game Release: Too Human (US, 08/19/08)
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