Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Too Human Review (Xbox 360)

Do not buy Too Human. Let me get that out of the way as quickly as I can, because you deserve to know well in advance that this is not a good game. What on paper and in theory should be an incredible adventure ends up being a game that is so frustrating and complicated that any of the time you put into it will feel like a complete waste of time. The worst part is that you can see the potential right there in front of you; the developers of the game just did not focus on the right aspects and in the end everyone suffers.

In order to get any understanding of Too Human you have to have some knowledge of Norse Mythology. If you lack that you will have no idea on the history of the characters of the game and the future titles to this planned trilogy. While there is an introduction to the game prior to the option menu, it still does not give you enough background on the main character in the game, Baldur, your main foe Loki or anything in between (eg. Ragnarok). The game takes place in a futuristic world where these Norse gods use technology to their advantage as they act as the protectors of humans against the rise of the machines. While they try to protect humans there are problems within the Gods and this will eventually lead to the battle of Ragnarok. Outside of little bit of information here and there, you get nothing from the off-set and only bits and pieces are revealed in the first game.

Too Human is a 3D Action-RPG. Take the non-stop action of Diablo and Baldur's Gate and you get what Too Human is trying to achieve. You have your wave upon wave of enemies; your containers of items; plenty of customization with weapons and armour and five different character classes to choose from. Each character class is different enough that it does create some variety to the game, and is especially good for the multiplayer aspect of the game.

The problems of Too Human start right from the moment you being with its horrible control scheme. In 3D action games, your right-analog stick is always the camera control, but Too Human goes against that. Rather, they decided to map your melee attacks to it. While it's nice in principal, it has been successful with other games (PS2's Rise to Honor). To control the camera, you need to hold the Left Bumper button then use the right analog stick, but often the controller doesn't recognize this and you continue to swing your weapon instead. Also, the game relies too heavily on the cinematic camera perspective, in which the game wants you to admire the game's large areas. Again, nice in principal, but often can be really annoying and can cause your character to get stuck in some areas. The camera's problems continue by making it harder to target and manoeuvre during fight scenes. The game's auto-targeting system is never accurate and will often still track dead characters when you should be attacking the enemy right next to you.

There are four main quests in the game's story, each taking about 2-4 hours to play. To be honest, the actual length is short, but thanks to the issues that plague the game mentioned before and continuing on will force you to complete the game in about 10-15 hours depending on your character class.

The problem with the length is that every level is the same. While they look different, they have the same formula. You walk for a bit, fight a wave of enemies. Defeat them, walk a bit more to fight more enemies. This time you also will fight a sub-boss, which is followed up with more walking and treasure hunting. This pattern repeats itself over and over again until you finally reach the stage's boss battle which each will take you approximately 30-45 minutes to beat with two of them requiring you to chase your foe to different parts of the level.

What adds to the problem of the length is that dying is a certainty. You may be a God, you are still extremely weak against your basic enemies. With death comes a Valkyrie and you will see a lot of this in the game. When you die, a Valkyrie descends from the heavens to lift you up to Valhalla (which is according to Norse Mythology, Eden and where Odin gathers fallen soldiers for the battle of Ragnarok). But of course, you don't actually die, but are re-spawned only to fight some more. There are two cases when you re-spawn. One, you will be spawned far away and must run back to the action or two, you will be spawned in the worst possible spot only to get attacked as soon as you start.
While you do fight with a group, your group is there for show as the enemies know to attack and love to 'gang-bang' you. Since you have to fight so many enemies at once, you will continue to die.
Attacking the enemies can be done with your melee attack or with a ranged attack. Both are good but neither stands out as you are almost suggested to use both to fight. Use your melee to lift the enemy then finish them off in the sky with your ranged weapon. As a bonus, if you attack for a long period of time without, your bonus attack bar fills up and allows you to use either your Ruiner or Battle Cry attacks. These you unlock as you progress and level up your character. These are extremely effective, but hard to get when you really need them. If you die, you lose them and must rebuild that bonus bar. One of the problems I faced with the enemies is that once you hit them they are immune. So if the enemy touches the ground, the1-2 seconds it takes for them to get back up, they are invulnerable and any strikes you make on them are useless.

Since this is your 3D-crawler, you do have a lot of items that you pick up. Weapons, Health, Rune and other pick-ups should help you along the way, but rarely do they make a difference. Enemies level up with you, so as you get stronger as do they. I completed the game with a Level 27 Bio-Engineer, but apparently, you can reach well past the 40th character level, but it won't matter as your enemies will get that strong as well. You really don't feel that gaining weapons means anything since you are collecting so many different weapons and each one is better than the last. You can add Runes to certain weapons which make them stronger, but it doesn't really show. The only interesting part to the weapons is that their strength and value deteriorate over time. It's nice since it does remind you that you need to upgrade your weapons after a certain amount of time.

The game's graphics are good but not great. Baldur doesn't look anything special but most of the other characters do look fairly nice. The environments are nice in the beginning, but once you see the same area time and time again, it does start to get boring. The Valkyries are stunning and their scenes are nice, but again, once you've seen them 50 times, you're impression of them starts to wane. Aesir is really nice but you spend very little amount of time there. Enemies are ok, but suffer from the previous repetition problems.

The sound is also a mixed bag but definitely better than I give the rest of the game credit for. The score is fantastic and really helps the game, but there were often times where the music goes wonky. This occurs often during boss battles. Since they take so long, the music needs to repeat, but it wasn't looped properly so it sounds really out of place.
In one battle it is really distinctive and becomes really annoying that you may want to play the game without sound.
The voice work of the characters is top-notch, and probably the best aspect of the game. The only problem I encountered with the voice-work was in non cut-scenes where too many people are trying to talk at the same time. There will be times when Baldur is speaking only to be talked-over by various Humans who are trying to comment on the situation you are in. If anything of importance is mentioned there, you won't have the slightest idea what is going on.

Too Human could have been a really incredible game. Ignoring the whole 'this game was in development for ten years' aspect that is greatly misquoted, you can see that Silicon Knights wanted to do something different but just did not properly manage the game to its full potential. The developers tried too hard to try to make the game a cinematic experience as well as a unique one but failed to work out the quirks. Another problem the game suffers is that they wanted to make this a multiplayer game. Originally, Too Human was intended to be played by four players cooperatively, but that was then dropped to two. The difficulty shows that it was still built for four players. It is hard enough to get two people to play so getting four would have been next to impossible. If you want to go through this adventure on your own, you should be prepared for a challenge. The multiplayer does make the game easier, but games like this should be made first to work properly for one person, then tweaked for Co-Op play.

I cannot recommend this game to anyone regardless if you are a fan of the Dungeon-crawler RPG games that were once so successful on the PC. It really disappoints me to say that because I really wanted to enjoy this game. It had a lot of promise and it even starts off on the right path game-play wise. Once the difficulty kicks into full gear, the enjoyment factor drops and the frustration goes through the roof. The game ends on a cliff-hanger but we already knew well in advance that this is a planned series.

I do believe there will still be a sequel even with the problems of the first. I really feel that there is a true gem under all this dirt and with a little bit more work, Too Human 2 can be really incredible and make up for the mistakes of the first. Right now is what matters and Too Human is just not a game that will get people interested in the series or genre.

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