Too Human: Ten Years In The Making

August 27, 2008

How many games can we think of that have been in development for around 10 years? We can only think of a few, and Too Human is one of them. Beginning life on the original PlayStation, this loot-heavy hack-and-slash has some huge expectations to live up to, but has all the time spent in the incubator resulted in a spry chicken or an old hen?Mixing steam punk with Norse mythology doesn’t sound like a great idea, and if Too Human is any indication, it probably isn’t. You play as Baldur, one of the leaders of a group that has pledged to preserve the human race in the face of a mechanized onslaught. But even these humans aren’t completely organic. Supplemented by cybernetic implants, the game attempts to tell the tale of man’s eventual struggle to remain human despite the technological advancements at his disposal. It sounds deep, but the story is dripped out in such miniscule quantities that it never manages to get interesting until the very end, but by that time the rest of the game’s shortcomings make it feel irrelevant.

In some ways, Too Human is the most simply designed game you’ll play, and in other ways, it’s the most complicated—particularly if you predominantly stick to the consoles. On the simple side, you’ll never be confused at what to do next. Despite a few forays into a virtual world to collect loot or unlock some doors, you’ll be herded down an obvious path from one confrontation to another. It’s about as straightforward as games get. You walk through an empty stretch of a space station, encounter a group of enemies, destroy them all, a door becomes unlocked, and then you repeat the whole process again. There are no curve balls, and no change-ups.

Where the game becomes complicated is customizing your character. There are five classes to choose from with each having the expected attributes. On one end of the spectrum you have melee monster and on the other end you have a master of projectiles, with the middle three being various combinations of the two. From there it’s all about managing the plentiful drops. Destroy an enemy or smack a container and they come flying out like a piñata bursting with candy.

From there the drops can be used in myriad ways. Obviously, new weapons and armor can be equipped provided your character is at the appropriate level, and then attribute-enhancing runes can be assigned to both if there are open slots available. Then there are charms that provide even further buffs. The interface can be confusing at first, but eventually you’ll get your head around it, but that doesn’t make the system any more enjoyable. If it’s possible, the game simply gives up too many upgrades. You’ll just begin to build a relationship with a weapon when you’re given a new one that’s much more powerful, and since the enemies scale with the drops it’s completely irrational, and frustrating, to stick with the old one.

Aside from the loot, there’s also a skill tree to manage as you gain levels and experience points to spend. The path you take is entirely up to you, and in a nice twist, you can always trash your current path and completely rebuild it for a slight fee. The flexibility is nice, but it’s also basically irrelevant. Due to the scaling enemies the level of challenge never fluctuates provided you’re constantly equipping new items. And that’s where the real show-stopper rears its head. You simply spend far too much time in menus manipulating your character and too little time in actual combat. Considering the game barely stretches past 10 hours, there’s not a lot of actual game here to work through.

It’s extended somewhat by two-player online coop that omits the drab story sequences and mixes up the enemy encounters a bit. It’s much more enjoyable to play the game with a friend, but it’s not balanced based on both character levels, so rooks should be prepared to die…a lot. The only other way to extend the game is to finish it with all the different classes, but there’s so little difference between them that only the most dedicated will even bother.

Too Human employs an interesting, and ultimately broken, control scheme. All melee attacks are mapped to the right analog stick, and it never provides a steady flow to combat or the ability to smoothly link your singular attacks into intentional combos. You’ve heard of button mashers before, but this is the first game that can be described as a stick masher.

It’s supposed to be simple. You point the stick in the direction of an enemy to attack it. That works most of the time, but you’ll also find Baldur aimlessly flailing his weapons into thin air. At the end of the day, you simply swirl the stick with reckless abandon and the game takes care of the rest. You never feel like you’re in complete control of the action, but luckily the enemies doggedly rush in, begging to be turned into scrap.

The other half of the equation is the projectile combat, and it’s even worse. When wielding two pistols, each trigger represents a hand, and when using two-handed armaments the left trigger acts as alternate fire. Either way, the god awful lock-on system ruins it. It never knows which enemy to lock onto, sometimes even lingering on enemies that have already been defeated. There are some instances where the two can be combined after launching an enemy into the air, and this is undoubtedly the most satisfying aspect of the combat, if there is one.

More than anything, you just never feel the power behind the weapons. Sure, enemies fly back, but the sense of weight and inertia just isn’t there. Enemies hardly react to the guns at all, with a dwindling health meter the only clue that damage is being done.

The final elements of the gameplay are the spiders and ruiner attacks that are triggered using the bumpers and face buttons. The spiders can provide turrets or bombs depending on how you develop them, and while they’re fun to use, they’re not really necessary. The ruiner attacks are incredibly powerful—taking out several enemies in a single blow—and are governed by a meter replenished with successful combos.

Playing Too Human just doesn’t feel satisfying. You never feel like you’re in complete control of the melee combat and the weapons feel more like BB guns than ultra-futuristic tools of destruction. Tack on a god awful camera with no reasonable way to control it and playing Too Human is one repetitive, even grind from start to finish.

Too Human is a handsome game, and one of the better-looking examples of the genre. Like the theme, the art style is a strange mix of the future and the past that never quite meshes. The game runs at a steady clip most of the time despite dozens of enemies littering each scene. It’s just a shame that there are just a handful of different types to tackle, with the occasional boss battle undoubtedly being the highlight. The environments eventually become one cavernous, gray-sprayed room after another. The character models get the job done, though the animation during cutscenes could certainly benefit from more emotive mo-cap actors.

Much like Silicon Knights’ earlier game, Eternal Darkness, the voice acting is incredibly strong with the actors injecting just enough emotion into each scene. The sound effects aren’t as successful as they fail to convey the power of each attack. The musical compositions are appropriately epic, but plenty of sound glitches ultimately mar the sonic offering.

Despite being in development for so long, Too Human could have still benefited from even more time. Much of the game feels half finished, and while the franchise has been designed from the beginning as a trilogy, if all three installments had been stuffed into one release the chances of it wearing on the player would have been lessened. It’s an incredibly repetitive game that has a lot of depth on the surface that becomes irrelevant once it’s put into practice. Fans of dungeon-crawling loot hunts should rent, but everyone else will tire of its shortcomings even before its brief campaign is complete.