After years of development and console side-stepping, Silicon Knights finally revealed its freshest role-playing game for the Xbox 360 console: Too Human. While close to a million gamers downloaded the demo over the Xbox Live Marketplace, there was some disparagement seen throughout its initial user reviews. While that's not to say that some, or even most, didn't enjoy the initial demo, there seemed to be something lacking. This fact, coupled with the pre-release ride that had the president of Silicon Knights dishing out promises and the game's developers sweating bullets, made even other gamers wonder if the juice was worth squeezing their wallets for.
In the long run, and with the game's final release date nearly two months behind, it seems that Silicon Knights has delivered Too Human the way it promised. And it's looking pretty good.
The story of Too Human reveals itself throughout the duration of the game in miniature cinemas, something the developers wanted to do to increase the game's movie production feel. Humanity has suffered a huge blow from the Children of Ymir, a race of machines that is bent on destroying the planet. After a war wrought from nuclear and anti-matter weapons, a war that saw the planet ensconced in frigid, unlivable terrain, the few million humans that are left have walled themselves within the safe haven of Midgard, far away from the deadly winter and, hopefully, just as far from the Children of Ymir. To ensure their protection, the humans have turned to the Aesir, their gods.
Baldur is one such god. A son of ODIN (yes, the gods within Too Human are based on Norse Mythology, and ODIN is but one of the well-known figures seen throughout the game), Baldur has a cybernetically advanced body that allows him to see humans as nothing more than mortals, and dish out some serious heat in the meantime. Unfortunately for Baldur, his Aesir peers see him as barely passing the grade when it comes to his cybernetic abilities, which is where the game's title is certainly derived from.
Even though the player is forced to play as Baldur, they can pick between five starting warrior classes, including Berserker, Champion, Commando, Defender, and Bio Engineer. These classes rely on a certain type of combat, most of which players will instantly pick up on. For example, the Bio Engineer class leans towards healing oneself and one's teammates, while the Berserker and Commando classes rely on dealing massive amounts of melee and long-range damage. The Defender class is mainly for those that don't like to die as it provides the player with extra armor and health, as well as permitting the use of shields. Your well-rounded class, the Champion, is just like it sounds, with a focus on air attacks and critical strikes.
But Too Human's customizability doesn't stop there. As you progress throughout the game, you will be able to outfit your character with new weapons and gear, as well as some neat trinkets called Charms. The weapons and gear are of your standard role-playing fare and include everything from maces and swords to helmets and boots. There are also some science-fiction-esque weapons like pistols and rifles. But no matter what your choice of poison, there are a lot of these items to be had, as Too Human is like something out of a loot hoarder's wet dream. Most of the smaller enemies throughout the game drop health restorations and Bounty, but almost all of the tougher enemies drop something of value. Then you have the countless destructible crates throughout the game that contain even more loot. And to top it all off, there's the goodies found in Cyberspace.
Cyberspace in Too Human is pretty much the antithesis of what most would imagine in their minds upon hearing the word. It is a dimension full of lush forests and mountaintops, and is in clear contrast to the claustrophobic hallways and technology-enforced caverns seen throughout the "real world". Three mysterious entities known as the NORNS rule Cyberspace, and they eventually grant Baldur the ability to lift and push within their realm, as well as create fire later in the game. This is where players can find advanced loot and blueprints--design schemes that require a specific amount of Bounty before the item can be built--but not without first solving a puzzle or using an ability. This is also where some of the replay value for Too Human comes in, as players may need to return to an earlier Cyberspace area in the game to unlock a puzzle that required a higher-level skill.
All in all, there is a lot to be collected in Too Human, and the payoff is pretty much worth it. Despite the occasional feeling that a seemingly excellent locked piece of armor is worthless when the player actually reaches the appropriate level to use it, there are other customizations that improve Baldur's abilities overall. Most of these customizations come in the form of Charms, trinkets that require a specific accomplishment (such as killing so many of a certain level of enemy). When the achievement has been met, players must then insert a variety of Runes to use the Charm. Although they require the player to spend a hefty amount of game time in the Equipment Menu, Charms are the only way to increase significant stats and become strong with Baldur's cybernetic being within.
The combat within Too Human is relatively simple, and mainly requires the use of the right analog stick. Considering most players are fond of using the right analog to control the camera, it may take some time getting used to, as the only camera option in Too Human is to tap the left shoulder button to bring it in behind Baldur. This is fine for general exploration, but backtracking or cutting tight corners can cause the camera to become finicky. Once you have Too Human's controls down-pat, holding the stick in the direction of an enemy will allow Baldur to slide towards them, at which point he can toss them into the air to perform devastating air attacks or finish off with a powerful move like Ruiner or Finisher. Baldur also attains other skills, like the use of the Fierce attack, an ability that uses a melee weapon to damage and knock down a target. Unfortunately, as the player collects armor and customizes Baldur to their liking, most of these combo moves seem moot. More often than not, simply holding the right analog stick at an angle will allow fluid movement from enemy to enemy. Since melee attacks are generally more powerful than ranged attacks (depending on your class, of course), this holding of the right analog suffices throughout much of the game.
Hand in hand with the simplicity of the combat is the fact that the player never really dies. When Baldur falls in battle, a holy being descends from the heavens and whisks him into its arms, then places Baldur at a previous saved location. It is the same scenario when one of Baldur's squadron dies, and it's generally disappointing because the enemies remain in the same state they were in no matter who bites the big one. While this, sort of, helps the flow of the game commence in a cinematic nature, most players will find the game less like a challenge and more like a grind fest to the game's finale.
Despite the lack of consistently-challenging game-play, Too Human has a lot to offer in the visual and audio departments. The environments, both in Cyberspace and in the "real world", are outstanding, and the player really feels the contrast between the two landscapes. The effects seen throughout battle are on-par as well, and some of the special moves glow and pulse as if the game were a blockbuster movie. Visually the game looks great, but some credit should be handed to the audio as well. War themes are the highlight of the game's score and add adrenaline to some of the more intense fighting scenes. Also, weapons clang and swish as they are drawn or used in battle, and Baldur sounds believable enough in his role as a god. The only downfall here is the constant chatter between Baldur's squadron-mates, which persists even after they have died. They're mainly a coup of incessant whiners and are likely to drive you to drink if you aren't careful. Too bad there's no way to slaughter them mercilessly, unless you consider leaving them to wolves as you sit back and enjoy the aforementioned drink a merciless slaughter.
They say it is unwise to look a gift-horse in the mouth, but some players may do just that to Silicon Knights after a few hours with Too Human. Considering the many-year struggle the game has been through (it was originally slated for a PlayStation release), Silicon Knights had time to polish the game and send their brainchild into the fray with its shirt tucked in and its hair combed. Despite falling short, Too Human ends in a way that suggests there will be future games made, which will thus permit the developers to take what they got wrong and make it right. That is, of course, lest they consider themselves "too human".