Review by electricdoguk

"Baldur's Fate"

Too Human is a unique action-roleplaying game from Silicon Knights, perhaps best-known for the dark horror storylines of Legacy of Kain and Eternal Darkness. This game, however, is worlds apart from that genre, drawing instead on an intriguing fusion of cyberpunk and Norse mythology. The storyline and setting are interesting throughout, with some very distinct (and yet somewhat familiar) characters.

As the first part of a proposed trilogy, Too Human takes some time introducing its world and characters, although not everything is revealed. First, a choice must be made as to character class. There are five presently available in the retail version of the game, with more promised in downloadable content. Each of the classes is rated in their aptitude for melee and ranged weapons, their overall health, and the amount of armour. Each class also has its own unique ability; the Berserker can wield two weapons, while the Bio-Engineer can regenerate lost health, for example.

After an impressive in-engine introduction that is particularly attractive in high definition, the game starts in the first large dungeon of four, the Hall of Heroes. A brief but clear tutorial explains the control method: unlike the majority of action games, in Too Human the right stick controls melee combat rather than the camera, with the left controlling movement. The triggers fire ranged weapons, while the face buttons allow you to jump, dodge, or activate special abilities. The right bumper, finally, activates an area-effect attack known as a Ruiner. Ruiners, and some other abilities such as Battle Cries (see below) are activated by use of a combo meter, which is built up with consecutive attacks in quick succession.

More information about the backstory and your mechanical foes is revealed as the first dungeon proceeds, and game concepts are explained in more detail. Particularly notable among these is cyberspace; this is a realm which has the appearance of the real world before the nuclear winter, and yet actions in this world (using four powers -- pushing, lifting, walking on water, and casting fire -- which are unlocked progressively throughout the game) affect the real, though sadly (in this instalment at least) this is largely limited to unlocking doors and creating new paths, and it feels like some of the potential of this idea went to waste.

Graphically, the game is impressive, especially in high-def. The characters are well-detailed, and one particularly notable feature is that in cut-scenes, the main character is always shown in the armour he currently has equipped. Early on this can look awkward as armour is acquired piecemeal, but later in the game colours can be bought to unify the look of armour and weapons. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the graphics is that there is little to no slowdown, even when the screen is filled with enemies, projectiles, and explosions.

Various items can be acquired throughout the game. Melee weapons (in the form of swords, hammers, and staves) and guns (pistols, rifles, and -- later in the game -- cannons, each of which fires either Plasma, Slug or Laser ammunition, though all guns have infinite ammo) are available, as is armour, for six areas of the body -- the head, body, shoulders, arms, legs, and feet. In the style of online games such as World of Warcraft, these items are ranked by colour: grey items are the weakest, with no special attributes; green items are enhanced at a low level; blue items are mid-range, usually with reasonable stats and some enhancements; while purple and orange items can only be crafted from blueprints, using a universal 'bounty' resource which can be obtained from enemies, containers, or by recycling unwanted equipment. The rarest still are red items, which are one-of-a-kind and extremely difficult to come across.

Also available are Runes and Charms; the former come in the same rarities as regular items, and can be installed on equipment with an empty slot granting further enhancements -- though they cannot later be removed -- while the latter are a little more confusing. Charms must first be equipped, then their quest must be completed (ranging from 'kill X of a certain enemy type' to 'find X secret areas', and so on), and finally specific runes must be inserted to activate the charm. With the arguable exception of the top-level charms, these are largely more trouble than they are worth.

Again showing similarities to online games, as your level progresses in Too Human, abilities are unlocked via a Skill Tree, unique to each class. These have three paths enabling various powers, including (for all paths) a Spider skill which turns the robot mounted on the main character's back into a form of attack or defence, and a Battle Cry, which can have a very wide range of effects.

Once the first dungeon is completed, a decision must be made whether to continue the game as a Human, or to use the power of Cybernetics. The former gains a more powerful Ruiner and more customisable weapons, whereas the latter gets a health boost and access to powerful cannons. Each alignment also comes with a skill tree, though it has only two branches and is generally lesser in scope than the class-based tree. Many items can only be equipped by one alignment or the other (or, in the case of dual wield melee weapons, only by certain classes), but this does not become an issue except in co-operative play.

One thing that has been mentioned as a downside of this game is the frequency of character death. While this is undeniably the case, and it might have been nice to have the attractive but repetitive dying animation be skippable, it often provides a welcome pause in the otherwise frenetic action -- what Jeff Minter refers to as the 'toke break'. Another complaint that has been levied is the uneven difficulty, and this indeed can be an issue. In some parts of the game, it seems like you'll die every five minutes or less, where at other points -- even on supposedly more difficult dungeons -- you can go for a long time without dying once. These to me however are minor flaws; the only real issue I had was that the majority of the game's albeit interesting storyline is told between dungeons, and that this story only really gears up in the last quarter of the game.

It's worth mentioning co-operative play at this point. In testing this was found to have some issues connecting, even with the same characters and players, at different times. However once the connection was made, few problems presented themselves. Interestingly, it's almost as if the game has two versions of each dungeon: in co-operative mode, as well as in single-player once the game has been cleared once, the dungeons can be played without cut-scenes and with a different array of enemies.

Characters can reach 50th level in this part of the trilogy, and in testing it seemed that it was necessary to play through all the dungeons nearly three times in total to reach this goal; this replay value is part of the reason I've marked this game as 8/10 rather than 7. Levelling up and acquiring better equipment is, again like online games, extremely compelling, and a good proportion of the Achievements can only be unlocked by playing through the game more than once. Similarly, on subsequent playthoughs all the cyberspace abilities are available, which means that previously unreachable items can be accessed.

Overall, Too Human is an enjoyable game with a good storyline that's accessible to both the average player and the hardcore. It's at its best when fighting large groups of enemies and cutting them down left and right, and can instil a feeling of great power. At worst, it can be a frustrating experience with all too frequent deaths. On the whole, the good well outweighs the bad, and I'll be interested to see where the series goes from here.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 09/30/08

Game Release: Too Human (EU, 08/29/08)

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