I'm Brad Nicholson. I've been around, but Destructoid is where my dawgs at. You can see my work here, at MTV, at Giant Bomb or other great places around the Internet. I also run a podcast called The Electric Hydra and work out a lot in my spare time. Yeah. I keep busy.
Too Human, Silicon Knights’ long-awaited action role-playing game is a schizophrenic offering. I was initially compelled by the ideas and traits of which the game is composed, but after a few hours of play, I was driven mad by its incoherent plot, action, and gameplay devices. The game is certainly flawed, but its flaws don’t arise from any one place. The plot is severely stunted by poor writing and especially dreadful dialogue. The gameplay is hindered by both poor response times and control. The visuals look dreadful, with clippings issues abound. The levels are uninspired and devoid of character. The camera positioning is terrible and the game is incredibly short.
And even though the game is a mess, I find myself drawn to it. There’s a specific charm to Too Human that not many games explore. The first thing that keeps me looking at the title is the Norse influence. While a game like Max Payne utilized Norse mythology as a way of defining tone and dramatic flair, it’s interesting to actually play the mythos out in a cybernetic alternate future.
Too Human is the story of Baldur and his quest to find out what actually happened to his dead wife. At least, this is what I surmise that Silicon Knights wanted me to think when playing the title. Like most things with Too Human, I was always confused as to what I was doing with Baldur. Was Baldur searching for reasons, grasping at the opportunity to find out the cause of her untimely death? Or is Baldur simply a god who works for the Aesir and obeys orders? The game tosses around both of these ideas freely, switching them without real conflict or confrontation. The cut-scenes past the first hour of the game lack flair and, at times, context. It seems as if Too Human was a large puzzle, with intermittent pieces thrown together in a loose collage of story elements. It’s a big turnoff, and really hurts what could have been an excellent retelling of lore.
And that’s the thing - Too Human’s world is brilliant. The scattered seconds that you get to experience the city from afar, or even notice the local wildlife and its cybernetic construction, are an awesome thing – but Too Human doesn’t hold you there. Instead of creating interest, it just breaks it by tossing you in another level with hordes of monsters running at you from every direction.
It’s the hordes of monsters that really start breaking the game, and it’s unfortunate considering that killing and collecting is what Too Human is all about. Rotating and pushing the right analog stick in the direction of an enemy initiates combat. When pushed, Baldur goes through a short animation that represents an attack. The animation doesn’t actually coincide with hitting the monster, as most attacks clip through the monster instead of making solid contact, but the creature’s HP bar will decrease regardless. By rotating the stick, or pushing both analog sticks toward the monster, combos are created. These “fury” attacks are often seconds long, but can quickly finish off a singular opponent. Also included with the fighting system are a few face button attacks that can be unlocked by using the tech tree provided by the game. One button activates an attack called a “ruiner” that does damage in a radius, and another gives Baldur an enchantment that strengthens his base attack. Although these skills are unlocked, a combo meter has to be filled before they can be used. That means it’s up to the player to fight and kill around five creatures in stunning fashion before gaining access to the powers that can actually help navigate the tons of monsters on the screen. Baldur even has access to a little device on his back called a “spider” which can deal damage or stop missiles for several seconds upon deployment.
In the first few hours of the game, players will be fooled by the ease of the combat system and its meddling combo meter. The enemies come cheap and easy to kill, and the game is an enjoyable experience. Later, when the auto-leveling monsters begin to get harder and faster, the player will find that achieving combos begins to get ridiculously challenging, especially with a weaker class like the gun-oriented Commando.
This is the oddest thing about Too Human, because the first few hours are wonderfully fun to play. The game really clicks when the monsters die quickly and easily, as you go between singular monster focuses amidst the torrents of enemies. The most dramatic and well-scripted cut-scene arises within the opening of the game, as a god watches a machine devour a patron and introduces the player to the world of the game. These nice feelings are quickly washed away as a direct result of stronger enemies and lackluster controls required to dismiss the bad guys to their shadowy, cybernetic gods.
In fact, past the first two hours, Too Human becomes one of the worst action/RPGs I have ever played. I would be willing to bet that I spent more time stuck in the Valkyrie death animation than I spent actually playing the game past the first portion. The cut-scenes begin to get scattered and incoherent. The narrative breaks completely as new things are introduced on the fly with little flow, and the new enemies pop up with little explanation, nonetheless any flair.
Combat is supposedly all about streaming together sliding attacks with dramatic air juggles, but really it’s all about watching your health plummet. There is no blocking mechanic and even while suspended above battle, giving a creature one of the game’s longer fury specials, enemies can still do melee damage to Baldur. The most infuriating thing is catching on fire or getting poisoned from one of the many exploding enemies in the game. If you aren’t a BioEngineer, you literally just have to watch yourself die. It’s sick, considering that most loot-based games like Diablo give players an opportunity to heal themselves regardless of class. Instead of just offering healing potions, the game expects you to kill enough enemies to be rewarded with health drops, but often they aren’t available when needed the most.
What Too Human does somewhat correctly is hand out loot to collect and assemble on Baldur. Unfortunately, the game dumps tons of loot with the most important drops completely random. Killing better monsters does not necessarily equate to earning better loot. A normal creature can spill decent things whenever the game decides it to be so. Also, there is a megaton of loot to navigate through, which makes assembling a complete armor set completely impossible since new loot constantly outstrips the old or what player’s may have been holding onto to create a better looking set of armor. I found myself playing the game for just the opportunity to create a cool suit of armor, and I never got that. Instead, my Baldur ended up looking like a Christmas tree with all his odd nuts and bolts attached to him.
It’s important to note that all of the armor and weapons dropped in the game can’t initially be equipped either. Some monsters drop “blueprints,” which can be assembled from the game’s equipment screen. The equipment screen is an annoyance during gameplay because of its slow load time and unintuitive way to apply skill points and assemble armor. Although always easy navigate, it draws players away from the experience of the game for minutes at a time as they search through the ridiculous amounts of loot and assign skill points that don’t feel like they make a difference.
The game has a cooperative play function, and while it can be a fun experience at times, it is still weighed down by the total package of Too Human. Going through menus to upgrade weapons or armor while a buddy is on standby gets boring, and the action goes too quickly at times as two guys hack and slash their way through the game. Also, the Valkyrie doesn’t disappear during this mode, which can be extremely aggravating. The long death animation makes the walks back to the other cooperative player epic and boring if they have already dispensed of the enemies in an area. All the beaten levels in the single-player are available in the cooperative mode, although all of the story elements have been stripped.
Visually, the game looks supremely dated. Textures are often unrefined, flat, and bland. Characters are uninspired and the cut-scenes look dreadful. The game looks woefully unpolished, especially when swords push through a character’s armor, or the Valkyrie’s feet dips down through the level. The game also has a few performance hiccups. There were a couple of times during my play of the game where I found sound and monsters stripped from certain sections of the level. The sound isn’t much better, although I really enjoyed the pounding of my subwoofer every time Baldur made contact with the ground. I was also disturbed by the terrible voice-acting, and equally poor timing of the delivery of lines.
I’m fairly certain that a person could write forever about Too Human, and I believe I almost did. Bottom line is that Too Human is a severely hindered game, despite its good ideas. Combat becomes terrible, the loot becomes too much, and the story takes a dramatic slide from the opening cut-scene. These three traits are things that should define an action/RPG hybrid, and they all fall flat to some degree. When the game is really clicking and you’re inputting the commands perfectly, it can be fun, but more often than not, you’ll be staring at the Valkyrie’s eyes and wishing you were playing something else.