Game Description: As the cybernetic god Baldur, you are thrust into the midst of an ongoing battle that threatens the existence of mankind. An ancient machine presence has forced the god's hand. In the first part of a trilogy, Baldur is charged with defending humanity from an onslaught of monstrous war machines bent on the eradication of human life. In Too Human, players experience a nonstop barrage of action powered by the integration of melee and ranged firearms combat and fueled by breathtaking visuals enabled by the Xbox 360. Battles unfold in awesome scale as players engage with vast numbers of enemies.
HIGH Fantastically creative re-imagining of Norse myths.
LOW The repetitive, soul-crushing flatness of the gameplay.
WTF Why does each part of the game feel like it doesn't fit with the rest?
If you've ever listened to the GameCritics podcast, you've undoubtedly heard mention of Too Human. It's come up dozens of times thanks to our host's mad affection for it. In fact, it's come up so often that it's almost a running joke. Although I had never played it, my limited knowledge of Too Human was that it was a disaster on a disc, and we never missed an opportunity to crack a joke at its expense. However, in the interest of fairness we eventually decided to put the punchlines aside and really take a good look at it.
My personal verdict? It wasn't nearly the train wreck I expected, but that's not the same thing as saying it was good.
This infamous 2008 release is a third-person dungeon crawler with lofty aspirations of being an epic sci-fi trilogy thanks to a foundation of Norse myths repurposed to fit a cleverly futuristic mold. Quite a bit of effort was put into fleshing out the conceptual side of things, and if you ask me, this highly imaginative interpretation of ancient legend was by far the best aspect of Too Human.
Although I'm no expert, I have a better-than-passing familiarity with the subject matter. It was quite intriguing to see cyberspace presented as an ethereal Faerie world, trolls and elves become assault robots, and the Midgard serpent recast as a massive assault vehicle. The gods themselves (main character Baldur, Thor, Heimdall, Loki and so on) are no longer supernatural beings, but highly-enhanced cybernetic warriors. They remain "gods" in a sense, but not as they've been traditionally known. This premise is dripping with potential, and the story had no problems keeping my attention.
Also of interest was the way Silicon Knights took a different slant on Too Human's control scheme. Rather than pointing towards an enemy and mashing a button as most dungeon-crawlers do, attacking is mapped to the right stick of the controller. Simply point in the desired direction, and Baldur will launch toward the opponent and unleash a combo. It's unconventional to say the least, but I do think there is merit to this "shorthand" approach—if nothing else, I was grateful for not being required to mash my thumb into paste. There were aspects of this setup I'd like to see tweaked, but I appreciated the attempt at innovation.
So, that was the good. What was bad? Everything else really, but the most damning failure of Too Human is that despite the extremely creative concept, the developers completely, utterly, and totally failed to craft an engaging play experience to match.
The adventure is divided into four main areas, with each section being little more than a linear hallway that goes on at least three times longer than it should. In fact, trying to clear the game's second area was like some kind of endless death march—after two hours, I was starting to question whether it would ever end.
Puzzles or other non-combat tasks don't seem to exist in this game's world, and interesting architecture or noteworthy features that might have spiced up the environments are extremely few and far between. Making progress is never more complicated than eliminating every enemy in sight, and I often got the feeling that the developers cut and pasted whole sections repeatedly for no other reason than to pad out the playtime—in my book, a cardinal sin.
Making matters worse, there is an extremely small assortment of enemy types—no more than four or five for the first three quarters of the game. Players can look forward to slaughtering (literally) thousands of the same type of robots over and over and over and over and over again, with essentially no variation between encounters. Dungeon crawlers have never been known for the variety in their gameplay, but Too Human takes it to an absurd, almost unbelievable extreme. I simply can't conceive of how gameplay this flat ever got a green light.
With the play reduced to a mind-numbing, sloggy grind between cut-scenes, the only possible hope of gameplay salvation lay with Too Human's loot drops and systems of equipment and skills. Unfortunately, Silicon Knights completely dropped the ball here, as well.
While it's true that pieces of armor and new weapons drop nearly every time an enemy is felled, I found that the frequency actually detracted from the experience. I never became attached to any particular sword or chest plate since I knew I'd find something better in the next few minutes, so the perceived value of items was practically nil. Rather than being excited when awarded a new piece of gear, I simply equipped whatever had the highest stats and pressed on. In fact, I don't even understand why the developers bothered to include a damage/repair system or stat-enhancement for the gear. Players collect such an ungodly amount of equipment that the idea of keeping something long enough to invest in or repair it strikes me as bizarrely out of step with how the drops are implemented.
To be fair, I do want to emphasize that I was enamored with Too Human's premise, and I did find the story interesting enough to see it through to the end. I can't say that about every game I play, so kudos to Silicon Knights for that. However, the game design and underlying systems at the heart of the experience are so disjointed and poorly-implemented that I wouldn't blame anyone for bailing on the game long before it was over. In my estimation, there's about three hours of good, solid dungeon-crawling here—unfortunately, the developers have taken that three hours and stretched it beyond all reason into nine hours of painful, soul-crushing tedium.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately 9 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. No time was spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood, language, mild suggestive themes, and violence. While there is comparatively little story in relation to the length of the game itself, the cut-scenes and dialogue are of a very adult nature, and would be quite inappropriate for young children. There are a few scenes of graphic violence, but in general players are attacking robots and not other humans.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: You should be aware that while there are no significant auditory cues during gameplay, the subtitles are haphazardly implemented. Even after checking several times to make sure that the option was enabled in the menu, I noticed multiple occasions when dialogue was not captioned on-screen. In a game like this where the only reason to push through is for the sake of the story, such a slapdash effort at subtitling is unacceptable.
So Monday Night Combat is out. If you haven't taken a look, check out the free demo available on Live.
Despite having one of the longest and most tiring days in recent memory, I was able to get a couple hours in before falling asleep. While I'm usually a solo player, this is definitely a game that benefits from having real teammates, and I was fortunate enough to jump into a group where almost everyone knew each other.
To be sure, the meat of the experience is had in the 6-on-6 Crossfire mode. Having live players to go up against while trying to take out the enemy's money ball was a great time, and although I tend to favor the Tank class, I was having quite a bit of fun with the Sniper. I hope to spend some more time with it this week, but based on my experience this evening, I would really only want to do it with people I knew. I can't imagine it would be half as fun with strangers.
Then again, that's pretty true for just about any game, isn't it?
In what is likely to be the biggest, most unexpected surprise of the year (for me, anyway) GameCritics Podcast host @TimSpaeth finally convinced the rest of us to partake in a group play/discussion on 360's Too Human for an upcoming episode.
What was the surprising part? I actually liked it.
If you've ever listened to the podcast, you've probably heard Tim talk about Too Human, or at least mention it. In fact, it gets brought up so often that it's basically a running gag on the show.
The rest of us have ribbed him about his love for the title dozens of times, and he's always taken it in good humor. However, I think that we all assumed he was slightly crazy. After all, Too Human took a serious critical beating when it was released, to the point that it was almost an industry punchline. A large part of that had to do with a general reaction to Silicon Knights' head man Dennis Dyack on a personal level, but it's still common to ask people what they think of the game apart from Dyack and get a negative response. The words "garbage" or "worthless" are descriptors that come up a lot in conversations I've had.
To be perfectly honest, I was dreading having to play the game after hearing so much bad about it. I figured I'd put in a half an hour, vomit in a bucket, and then think up some more jokes at Tim's expense. However, that's not what happened. Not at all.
While the game is certainly unconventional in several ways, I have to say that it didn't have much difficulty grabbing my interest and I was actually quite fascinated with some of the choices on display—things like the new take on a classic hack-and-slash control scheme, or the way the game has reinterpreted Norse myths into cyberspace metaphors. It's pretty clever, really.
Oh, and the loot? It falls like rain in a monsoon season.
Too Human's a perfect example of a concept that should appeal to a lot of players (Norse myths as cybertech—in a hack-and-slash!!) but I can understand how the final, gotta-chew-on-it expression of that concept would catch some people off guard. However, after putting three hours into it, I was actually wondering how so many people who reviewed it ended up being so negative. It's certainly different, but I haven't seen anything that was outright bad or wrong. So far, anyway.
After having said all that, I do feel as though I owe both Too Human and Tim an apology—I'm definitely a believer in trying things before you talk and I've spent my review career giving underdogs the benefit of the doubt, but this is absolutely one time when I was too complacent. In Too Human's case, I was content to trust the consensus and go along with the crowd, and that was wrong. I'm certainly not proud.