Too Human Review
Too Human’s checkered past is well documented; I even covered it here at AtomicGamer in my hands-on preview. So now that the title’s actually in player’s hands, I’ll skip the history lesson, and sum things up simply by saying Too Human has arrived to high expectations and even some haters. But, flame-wars and drama aside, how does it stack up solely as a AAA, Xbox 360 exclusive? Well, it won’t become a system-selling Halo-like juggernaut, but it should still stretch a smile across the face of any gamer that enjoys hacking, slashing, loot collecting, and character customizing. It falls short of greatness in a couple of significant areas. However, these flaws will barely register for those just looking for a fun, fast-paced dungeon crawl.
Of course, its premise is a far cry from the usual medieval fantasy fare; there’s no dragons, treasure chests or loin cloths here. No sir, Too Human tweaks the stale action/RPG aesthetic with an ambitious blend of Norse mythology and galaxy, far, far away type stuff. Players take up the role of Baldur, son of Odin—an Aesir God—whose cybernetically enhanced followers are responsible for the protection of all mankind. Taking place in a bleak future, the human race has been whittled down to a few million, living in fear of menacing monster-like machines. In a neat little Beowulf nod, the game opens with an enormous cybernetic troll—named Grendel, of course—tearing through a local tavern where patrons are enjoying brimming steins of mead. In a scene that could give Han Solo and Greedo’s cantina showdown a run for its cinematic street cred, Baldur shows up and blasts the baddie’s arm off. The scene has style to spare, and effectively sets up the playable protagonist as a card-carrying badass.
The action-heavy gameplay that follows mostly does justice to this slick story-setting opening, allowing players to unleash hell on endless hordes of mechanical nasties. After choosing one of several warrior classes—berserker, champion, defender, commando, bio engineer—each with their own strengths and weaknesses, players embark on a quest that primarily involves seeking revenge for the death of Baldur’s wife. That tasty bit is revealed right away and, without spoiling anything, it’s worth mentioning the narrative packs plenty of twists, supported by top-notch cutscenes, that’ll keep you interested in Baldur's hunt for answers. When you’re not uncovering a wicked secret or double-cross, though, you’ll be dug deep into the battlefield, utilizing Too Human’s unique approach to combat. The twitchy action is driven by your skills behind melee and ranged weapons; the former uses a unique right thumbstick-controlled scheme that takes a bit of getting used to, but pays off pretty significantly once mastered. By pointing the stick in the direction of your target, Baldur races towards the enemy with a satisfying metal-on-metal attack. The key, though, is chaining combos that see Baldur essentially sliding from one enemy to another in quick succession. Add to this the ability to perform juggles, and you’ve got some combo-crazy kills ahead of you. And then there’s the ranged weapons—fired more traditionally with the triggers—adding another level of bad-assery to the battles. With a bit of practice, players will seamlessly switch between the two, chaining minutes-long melees and leaving heaps of smoldering metal in their wake.
As cool as all this is, it’s also where the game takes its most significant stumbles. First up, right-stick melees means no controllable camera, so those used to directing the view with that stick are in for some frustration. The game’s cinematic camera (which can be centered behind the player, and fiddled with a bit for different views) frames the action pretty well most of the time, however, it’s no substitute for full-on control. Additionally, as much as I enjoyed the unique take on melee combat, I don’t think it was worth sacrificing the camera for; the combat would've been just as satisfying had it been mapped to face buttons. Making matters worse is a weak targeting system that makes choosing specific targets a bear. This would be unforgivable in an FPS, where precision aiming is key, but here it didn’t sap the fun so much. Mostly because the screen is so cluttered with enemies, you’ll almost always be hitting something that deserves to be hit. In most cases—those few where you’re still shooting dead guys withstanding—laser, plasma or slug projectiles won’t be wasted regardless of where your reticule lands.
Aside from these flaws the combat is endlessly addictive in the way hack-and-slash battles should be. And the addition of some peripheral offensive items only makes it better; battle cries give a temporary boost to your team, ruiners add a bit of magic to your arsenal, and spider-bots quickly become your best friend. Using these items in concert with the basic melee and ranged weapons provides the game’s most adrenaline-amping moments. There were a number of times where I found myself relying on all available ass-whupping options to turn the tide of battle. One especially satisfying combat scenario played out as follows: With my health dangerously low, I cued a battle cry ensuring my men did more damage, waded into the mob for a few quick swipes with my enormous hammer, then unleashed a fiery ruiner that created a foe-flying wave attack. With a little breathing room, I retreated, sent in my slug-firing bot to finish the job, then went in to collect the loot (including a much-needed health pack.) This, and many similar nail-biting battles kept what easily could have become repetitive combat from ever reaching grind territory.
This surface strategy stuff is only the beginning, though; Too Human’s customization options, buoyed by ridiculous amounts of armor and weapons, are through the roof. In addition to being a loot-lover's dream, it offers further modifiers through runes and charms, some of which can actually be embedded into your equipment. Further more, blueprints can be collected to craft even more goodies. Not enough options for you? Well, use your leveling points to tweak your skill trees for an even more personalized experience. It’s a testament to Too Human’s depth that I played through the game twice, enjoying entirely different experience each time. My first—and less satisfying—run-through took a long time because I went nuts customizing my character with every gauntlet, chest plate and helmet I came across. I also fiddled with the blueprints and consulted with the craftsman back in Aesir’s hub. The thing is, I’m not into the real deep RPG stuff, so, on my second playthrough I took a more balls-out approach, and let the computer take care of the nitty gritty stuff—auto-salvage options and colored stats make it easy to identify the best items—while I focused on showing baddies the business end of my battle hammer.
There’s a lot to like about Too Human if you’re an action/RPG fan. However, if you’re not, it does little to bring new fans into the fold. You just get the impression it could’ve come closer to perfection with a bit more polish. For every great idea, like low-penalty deaths that don’t force you to replay sections, there’s equally flawed ones, like the lush, alternate-reality cyberspace you occasionally visit for light puzzling, that would’ve best been left on the cutting room floor. Similarly, it’s fantastic that we’re not subjected to load times, but do we have to watch a 25-second, unskippable cutscene—with bad collision issues—every single time we die. For me, my love of the genre, solid combat mechanics, and a new take on an old story, totally saved this sometimes overly ambitious effort. But for some, its flaws may prove so glaring that its engaging elements won’t sufficiently gloss over them, leaving me to wonder if this planned trilogy will ever see its second act.