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ups: I really enjoy the combination of Old Norse Mythology and technology, Deep customization, Here Tech-trees grow like weeds, Graphics look nice when in game, Gameplay was pretty fun, Story seems interesting so far, Controls are somewhat intuitive...
downs: ...and also somewhat clumsy, camera can be annoying, Menus are labyrinthine

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First Impressions: Too Human
preview
game: Too Human
posted by: Chris Martin
publisher: Microsoft
developer: Silicon Knights
genre:
platform:
keywords:
date posted: 04:44 PM Fri Jul 18th, 2008
last revision: 02:02 PM Sun Jul 20th, 2008



Click to read.There was a time when I loved Diablo.

Not liked: LOVED. I'm talking Diablo 1 here, before that damned barbarian and those clever necromancers came along. Diablo was, to me, a model for multiplayer games--players existed in a single world and quested side-by-side through layers of epic dungeons, slashing demons that could have been designed by the legendary Stan Lee. There was the addictiveness of finding new loot. Loot, as we all know, is carried around by demons until it is cleaved from their hellbound hides. There was, and this I cannot stress strongly enough, the sensation and satisfaction of building your character and "skilling" their "skill tree." My friends and I played quite a bit of the first Diablo. Some of us came out alive. Some of us went on to bigger things. Cows, some say.

Cows.

I've no idea if Too Human has cows. I doubt it. But after playing the demo, I'd like to put forth that cows are something it needs. This is the thing that seems to be missing in Too Human: a sense of humor. Too Human, as games are want to do, takes itself seriously. Very seriously. So damn seriously there is a separate menu for "Advanced Combat," which seems to run contra many of the game's quirks.

First of all, you kill things. Not just things: mechanical goblins and enormous robot hammerhand-trolls. You do this with giant swords and pistols with unlimited ammo, you summon mechanical spiders from your back as if lethal satchels with legs. You journey to
"Cyberspace" by touching "wells"--there you find cascading flora and waterfalls (as you probably imagined). You are a God, your name is Baldur. In this world, robots suck blood, blood runs cold, shit's going down and it's up to you to find out why. Too serious? Too Human.

Comparing Diablo to Too Human is pretty easy. Both of them are action RPGs centered around finding loot, killing enemies, and co-oping through dungeons. I can see myself loving Too Human in the way I loved Diablo, however, because of some odd gameplay mechanics, the two games are vastly different, in their execution and design philosophy.

One is fun, and this "other" might be fun too. I had felt something while playing the Too Human demo. It might have been fun; it might have been "joy." I think, actually, it was the promise of the fun to come later on. There is a kind of thrill in plundering dungeons. It might have, actually, been some kind of nostalgia for the Diablo experience and, secretly, the hope that another company (besides Blizzard) could reinvent Blizzard's sought-after formula. I was a little wary of my feeling of nostalgia. Nostalgia, after all, that narcissistic feeling you get that the past was better because you'd experienced it.

It's difficult to argue this one point: Blizzard's Diablo set the bar very high in 1997. So high, in fact, that gamers are still playing it today, even though the game had spawned a sequel and an expansion. So high, the bar has only been moved--nudged, actually--by another Blizzard game. But here we are, in twenty-oh-eight, with essentially a new Diablo (or a clone thereof) in Too Human, created by the company who brought GameCubers the very innovative Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem. What we have is not Diablo 3D with Norse Mythology; what we have is something completely different. And it's good, but I wish it didn't take itself so goddamn seriously.

In Too Human, you control Baldur. No, not Baldr from the Poetic Edda. Not the Balderus as told by Saxo Grammaticus, where Balderus, rival of Hotherus, is driven away in battle and then slain during a later rendezvous with said rival. Perhaps this Baldur does, in one way or another, contribute to the destruction of the Gods as in the Poetic Edda. But, from a first impression, this Baldur, brainchild of creator Dennis Dyack (Would that make Dyack an Odin?), just seems to kill a lot of mechanical goblins.

There's nothing I like more than when a game simulates the motions of a swing of an axe, the fall of a greatsword...the force of those motions. I'm talking feedback here. Rumble. Impact. Etcetera. As far as we have come in the videogame industry, the Wii is the closest thing gamers have to simulating the feeling of doing what they are seeing on screen. But 1-to-1 it is not, yet. Most of us are satisfied with the pedestrian thumb-to-button, which has worked pretty well in the past. Some of us even enjoy shaking a SIXAXIS--some of us. Point is, we like the feedback, like to feel the small controller jerking in our hands. It feels like we're being rewarded with sensory input. That's what videogames are nowadays, right?--sensory input?

Unfortunately, Too Human says "fuck sensory input", and opts for the simple thumb-nudge on the analog stick to swing your melee weapon. To say that this "feature" is underwhelming is like saying the Flash is pretty fast. A gentle push equals a viscious swing on-screen, but the sensation just isn't there. Sure, there's some rumble when you actually connect with your sword, but it's dramatically unconvincing. All you do is ask yourself "what do I want to kill now?" and push the stick in the chosen direction. It feels like walking around with only one shoe on: not quite right.

The theory behind assigning a primary attack to the analog stick is a sound one: after many, many hours of pressing a button to "attack," a gamer would likely get tired, bored, and put the game down. The idea is to make things easy (read: dumbed down, simple). It's like catering to the casual gamer in some ways, but it's also like catering to the guy who thinks pressing a button is "so last year." Given the fact that most of Too Human is about as hardcore as games can get (and by that I mean endless level grinding and fitting weapons with charms) I'm a little shocked that this option has been implemented to solve the fact that the 360 controller just isn't a keyboard and mouse. This control scheme is easy, yes, but it also feels lazy, and unresponsive. It makes me, the gamer, feel lazy, and it makes the swing of an axe feel "phoned-in," weak, and phoney.

But just at first.

Thing is, the more levelled up and badass you get, the better combat feels. And after the first thirty minutes or so of playing, you forget about the control scheme and just go with it. After a while, I actually didn't miss the days of click, click, click. I'm afraid that most of the demo only gives the feeling of the early hours of play, not the "fun" hours where you've had time to upgrade and get some badass loot. Not, most certainly, the hours where your guy can launch enemies several hundred yards away with a warhammer.

Thanks to the design of the X360 controller, however, squeezing a trigger always feels good. So the dual pistols that Baldur gets to weild are very satisfying. Aiming is done, while firing, by using the right analog stick to direct the angle of his arms. Shooting two enemies at once, which is very cool, can be done simply by pressing the analog toward one enemy, then another. Anything beyond this technique is automated, like everything else in Too Human, which, for better or worse, keeps things simple.

I guess that's one of my biggest complaints about Too Human so far: it hasn't convinced me that the design decisions made are both good decisions and fun for the gamer. I almost think that it will only be really good after you go up about ten levels--like, strangely, in an MMO--where you can get to the bigger battles, the tougher enemies, and the better loot. I can imagine that being the case, but I don't want to have to imagine it, I want to be able to see that that's the case.

Killing and Then Some

When you're not killing things like a biologically enhanced John Rambo, you're solving some neat puzzles. Yes, there's puzzle solving. One we saw has you going into "Cyberspace" and using a found ability to force push a rock to open doors. It was a nice surprise; I'm interested in seeing how the game's puzzles work in the harder levels.

Speaking of level, in Too Human there's, apparently, no way to "die." Yes, you can fall in battle, but you won't die forever. You're hardly even punished for dying, and only lose a few points to the durability of your weapon and restart at the entrance to the same room in which you died. The only thing that really will hinder gamers from dying is the fact that each time you do die, you're forced to watch an irritating cut-scene of a Valkyrie who descends from the sky to carry your sad, lifeless corpse to Valhalla. It's a little disappointing, I know, but when the game isn't coddling you in pampers, it's actually pretty enjoyable experience. I'm just a little worried that this dying mechanic eliminates all challenge the game might have, and places the focus squarely on the story.

Yes, there's a story, too.

There is, as far as I can tell, a pretty interesting story. The intro has your squad members (wolves they call them) and you being dropshipped on an icy planet a la Aliens. Through flashback you learn that your expeditionary force was reluctantly sent to investigate the robot menace. The cutscenes are pretty neat, voiced nicely (although sometimes the voice acting is a big slice of cheese). It's too early to form any strong opinion about the story, seeing as we only have about ten minutes of it in the demo, but from what I've played, I'm intrigued to the point of wanting to know more.

The Hard and the Hardcore

Too Human, if anything, is hardcore. Thing is, the game just takes time. Time to get into it; time to get leveled up. It's not a pick up and play kind of game. And in a short 1 hour demo, you're not going to get into the real meat of the gameplay.

Before things get too negative, let me say that I actually really enjoyed the Too Human Demo. I know! With all the reservations I have about some of the quirky design decisions, what Silicon Knights has done with a game like this is really quite brave, and, actually, refreshing. The tone, albeit serious, at least is done like they mean it. And the combat does seem to improve with the upgrades and weapons one acquires. It's addicting to find new weapons, although they're little more than sprites on the battlefield until you pick them up. And I could go on forever about how cool the tech tree stuff is, but that's nothing new. And it's going to be awesome to play online with a friend.

There are some things that Too Human does so right, which are almost enough to forgive it for what it does wrong. For instance, there are moments of "Holy shit, I did that?!" when I accidentally move the right stick (the game's primary attack) in such a way that sent a goblin flying into the air, myself with him, and hacked him before he fell lifelessly to the ground. This moment of brilliance follows the strange realization that I did said move "accidentally." My attempts to recreate this legendary "air-slash" involved so many failed attempts that I could hardly believe that I'd succeeded the first time around. The actual move involves, in case you were wondering, an upward-slash to send the goblin into the air (Tap right stick toward enemy), a jump into the air (A button), followed by multiple taps of the right analog toward helpless enemy. It's as complicated as Dennis Dyack has been saying it would be; take that as it sounds. Moving the analog stick, then switching to a face button is cumbersome, to say the least, and I found it easier (and more fun) blasting goblins from afar with Baldur's dual pistols. Your preferred method of slaughter may differ.

The 'Look'

Moving on to graphics. The game looks good, but not great. It has it's own unique visual style: imagine Gears of War mixed with Fable 2. But, honestly, it's not quite as "pretty" as Fable 2 (that is, from the videos we've seen), and the textures aren't as sharp as in Gears. It's no Mass Effect, either, but what is? Still, it's an aesthetically pleasing game, especially the levels, which show off some really nice artwork. The cutscenes also show quite a bit of detail, such as zooming in on glasses of 1s and 0s, quirky facial expressions, and some of Baldur's neat battle scars. During cutscenes, and somewhat in-game, there are a few moments of slowdown. I'm not sure why games always have to slow down nowadays in cutscenes, but I'm glad it's less prominent in the game than in the cutscenes.

The camera is a fickle thing in Too Human. It seems to have a mind of its own.

I'm glad Silicon Knights decided to include several view points for controlling Baldur. There are a few close ones, some intermediate, and couple far, including one called "Iso" and another called "Strategic." I'm not sure what's so strategic about this "strategic" viewpoint, but it seems to want to do its own thing most of the time, making it difficult to really control.

It's too bad that all of the view points seem to work "less than perfectly" and the one that gives the player a view of most of the battlefield also hinders that player from seeing what's directly behind Baldur. Luckily, a quick press of the Left Bumper (awkward?) can shift the camera right behind Baldur, getting it where it's necessary. It has to be toyed with a little too much for comfort, but luckily it's not as bad as Ninja Gaiden's camera. Luckly. (Note: the Left Bumper doesn't seem to work all the time. In-game cutscenes, for instance, only let you manipulate the camera from set angles and by pressing a trigger and clicking the Right Stick. Also, dramatically tight corridors sometimes give the camera trouble, and the camera tends to shift at dramatic moments in-game.)

Still, even with some issues with the camera, it's no deal breaker. And after playing the demo a second and third time, the camera just felt more natural, less irritating, and I even began to ignore it.

It's the "getting to this point" that will turn most gamers off, I think. This game is pretty damn deep with customization. But the controls are fairly unorthadox, and there's little to orientate you with the deeper game mechanics except a difficult to read Adv. Combat tab in the menu (text in this game is all fuzzy on a standard def. tv). It's been said that casual gamers can go through the game without using Charms or fiddling with one's loot, but that's like asking someone to watch "Wall-E" with half the screen covered.

Too Human appeals to the hardcore gamer in a way that few games before have. It rips "best-ofs" from other games as casually as a confidence man. The tech tree system and loot system from Diablo I and II are here, as is the targeting system from Advent Rising, and even a DPS (damage per second) counter from World of Warcraft. Modified to fit it's use, these "innovations" are great to have, only they're not innovations made by Too Human. That's the cold, hard truth of the matter. And if that turns you off, there's little else in Too Human that might sway you back to it. Pulling from popular Blizzard titles, Too Human is very obvious in its origins, but the question we have to ask of Too Human is: does it bring anything new to the table?

Apart from the Norse Mythology, I'm not sure it does, to be quite honest. Although, it's enjoyable for what it does do.

Of course, I again forgive Silicon Knights because once into the game, provided you've not let these nagging things destroy your interest, Too Human is a surprisingly fun, surprisingly intelligent game, for those who give it enough time.

That might be a tall order for some gamers. The graphics, while pretty, are a little unstable during cutscenes. The controls, while effective and natural after about an hour, are initially unwieldy and bizarre. The camera works best when you're not fiddling with it. But when it comes to uniqueness, and a pretty interesting plot (the demo only gives a few droplets of it), the long-term customization options, deep, deep tech trees, and promise of co-op play reveal Too Human's strengths like the armor Baldur wears. Too Human is an investment in the most basic sense of the word, like padding your Orange account with a monthly percentage. It seems like something gamers will either dedicate great amounts of time to or dismiss entirely.

We hope you'll give it an open mind, and the old college try.

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