Review by XCommander

Reviewed: 09/02/08

Human, all too human

There are many games out there that never get past the development cycle. This can be for whatever reason, whether it be funding, lack of fan support, losing key members, or the publisher backing out. For a while, Too Human was thought to be one of those games. Developer Silicon Knights originally announced the game for the original Playstation back in its latter days; it was to be a five disc epic action-adventure romp. That never pulled through, even though there were screenshots and everything. Then, when Nintendo announced its new partnership with Silicon Knights, sometime around the first major showing of the Gamecube to the public, the game was among those shown. It was debuted right alongside Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, a game which was eventually released by Silicon Knights. Alas, this is coming from Silicon Knights, a company notorious for their delays from director Denis Dyack trying to perfect games. They’re almost as famous as Rare for this aspect.

Finally Silicon Knights announces that they’re looking for more systems to release games on and are becoming more of a third party as opposed to a second party for Nintendo (even though they only released two games for the Gamecube). This brings another announcement that believe it or not, Too Human is still in development and is going to be released for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 as a trilogy of games. There is great fanfare, even though there is a lingering thought in everyone’s mind saying that this game will probably not even be released. Well, here we are today and the first Too Human finally gets a release. Needless to say the gaming world has some great expectations for such a game with a protracted development schedule.

Does the game live up to its hype and supposed polish? Well to be honest no, but it’s not a really bad game by any stretch of the margin. To many Too Human hopefuls (such as myself) the initial reviews for the game were such a downer. The average was something like 55 percent at one point. That’s not good, especially for a developer with as much credentials as Silicon Knights who everyone knows put a lot of effort into their games. Knowing this I still followed through on my preorder of the game and I was somewhat rewarded I would say. This is not a bad game, just a troubled one at times.

Saying all that, you would expect that the game would have some incredible production values and an epic feel to it. This is certainly true. The game is based off of both Norse mythology and science fiction. It’s an interesting combination. I can’t really tell if this is the very distant lost past or the far future. I have a feeling it’s the latter. There has been a war going on between the Ymir machines bent on the destruction of mankind, and the humans and Gods who are protecting what was lost in the world. Basically the Gods in this world are cybernetically enhanced humans. You’ve got the whole crew here too, Loki, Freya, Thor, Tyr, Heimdal, among others. You even play as one, Baldur. Basically the gods are all part of the Aesir Corporation based in Midgard intent on rooting out the cause of humanity’s plight and the reason why the earth is encased in Nuclear Winter, the Ymir. It’s a decent enough background for the story, and it even follows the Norse sagas to an extent (well, it definitely deviates considerably). But the story isn’t all its cracked up to be.

For one the game focuses on infighting among the Gods. Loki and his daughter Hel have abandoned the ways of the Aesir and are subsequently shunned. Hel is stuck in her realm of Helheim and Loki is locked away in Midgard. These two are the main villains in the game, besides the machinations. There is also talk about a machine that eats human flesh possibly for nourishment, and is the reason why Baldur is sent on the first mission to fight the monster known as GRENDL. Yes GRENDL, not the Beowulf Grendel, but some huge machine monster. I won’t go any further in discussing the storyline, but I will complain about one thing. The story is incredibly short in this game (four missions), and it ends on the most interesting part. Despite that, I still kind of look forward to the next installment.

With that being said, the game is pretty hokey. The great Thor is turned into a big-boned buffoon with a long ponytail; Loki is a sociopath Sephiroth wannabe. Heimdal would be decent if he didn't have this stupid visor hes always seen wearing. It detracts from anything cool about him. The only characters you'll end up liking are Baldur and maybe Freya.

With all that talk of what the game is about, just how does the game play? The game itself can best be described as a story-driven loot-collecting action-adventure/RPG game; yes, I needed the three hyphens. You follow the storyline, fight in different areas until you reach a boss, and collect loot along the way to improve your character’s strength, armor, and other things. Your character can equip up to six slots of armor, a rifle, and a melee weapon. Monsters and such drop various weapons and the like that you can equip to your character improving his stats. There are also six different classes available to pick, plus the chance to download more classes. The classes basically harbor different gameplay focuses, whether it be up close and personal combat, to healing, to using a rifle for faraway combat. In addition to the class, you can pick at one point either a human or cybernetic alignment determing what weapons and such your character can equip. It also deals with the skill trees which I will talk about later.

The game's main way of combat is via the right analog stick. It's an interesting mix of action and reflexes, kind of hearkening back to the days of Robotron: 2084 and its dual analog setup. This allows for the game to produce lots of combos, but not for your character to directly control the combos. Basically you can move your analog stick in the direction of the enemies to slide to them and attack. I rather enjoy this method of combat, it allows for great control especially in the swarms of enemies that plague Baldur most of the time. The only major drawback is the fact that it allows for a lessened control of the camera at times, requiring you to center it around your character. Centering the camera is pretty much all you can do to control it.

The dual analog setup allows for a multitude of different combinations of attacks and special moves to use. One is the ability to launch your enemy up into the air by double tapping the stick in the direction, jumping and attacking in the air. It lets you build your combo meter. By reaching a certain point in your combo meter you can launch one of two devastating effects. The most common one you will use is the ruiner which allows you to launch some energy around you destroying all enemies in your vicinity. You can also use your battle cry which I believe ups your offense and defensive capabilities for a limited time. There are others which you will eventually find out in the game.

When you kill enough enemies in this way your character will level up. This is done in a matter similar to most role-playing games. This game isn't your typical RPG, but it certainly has elements of it in the game. First of all, leveling up allows you to equip better equipment as certain items have level minimums needed to equip them. More notably however, is the skill tree and the points it gives you. Your skill tree is a path you can take that allows you to customize what skills you want your character to have, and what strengths and weaknesses he wants on top of his benefits from class and alignment. There is some great depth here, maybe a little too much for some to truly understand but it's certainly there.

But alas, there is little more to do than this. What I basically described was the game in a nutshell, and there is nothing really new here besides the dual analog control. The game is also incredibly short for a game of such magnitude. It can easily be completed in about 12 hours, maybe even less if your fast. It can be replayed in an essential new game plus mode, but multiplayer aspects, but the main story is only four chapters long with five bosses to defeat.

I also can't review the game without mentioning the death sequence and the stigma around it. When Baldur dies, he is shown being taken up into Valhalla by a Valkyrie (who is a feminine machine entity in this game). After a rather long and somber cut scene showing this, he is then simply respawned at the beginning of the particular room or area with all damages and such still in tact. This is also apparent even in the boss battles. What does this mean? It means the game is simply impossible to lose. The only major downside from dying is the fact that the state of your armor goes down, get down to zero and the value decreases until you get it repaired in Midgard. Another thing regarding death is how frequently it happens. The game is incredibly difficult if you're looking to play through it on one life, it's almost obnoxiously so. It's not exactly a good mix, they have here. It should have been less easy to die, but with more negative impacts with death.

With a game as highly produced as this one, there can be assumed to be some polish in the game done as far as aesthetic qualities are concerned. This is definitely true here. While not boasting the greatest graphics this gen so far, it certainly has some great graphics. They're visually appealing and are definitely fitting with epically proportioned environments, vast multitudes of enemies with very little slowdown, if any at all, high polygon count characters, and Baldur's look changing with every equipped item he has on. There are also some very pretty FMVs, and the graphics look so good that its hard to tell whats FMV and what's real-time rendered. Points are lost on the fact that some of the character and enemy designs are quite ugly. I mean come on, THOR? Are you kidding? But overall, pretty beautiful. The cut scenes that deal with the story are hard not to like as well. Well, as long as they're not showing the really dumb parts of the story.

The sound in the game is also top notch. In fact I think it's the part of the game that's the least plagued with something wrong with it. The soundtrack is incredibly epic and boastful. You'll want to play some bosses and groups of enemies just to hear the epic and beautifully pretentious musical score. Yes I said beautifully pretentious. The minor concern hear is the music cutting out when your a certain distance away from the heat of the battle, it gets slightly annoying at times, but I guess it kind of makes sense.

In the end what we have hear is just a strange title. The game is fairly good. It will probably make due for people who like customizing their characters after a long hard battling session. Theres also a slight lack of depth in the battle system, as it feels like the same thing over and over again. The lack of a significant effect with death detracts somewhat, along with the high frequencies that deaths happen. Though, the graphics and musical score are both top notch to say the least. Probably the biggest deterrent for the game is the incredibly stupid storyline. It has aspects of a potentially good storyline, but is ruined by both bad scripting and hokey characters. The game was supposed to be godlike, but ends up being way too human.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Product Release: Too Human (US, 08/19/08)

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