Who wouldn’t want to be a total warrior god badass? Sounds appealing doesn’t it? Exclusive Xbox 360 title Too Human has combat sequences that are so enthralling and intoxicating that all you can do upon completion is stop, take a breath and gush at just how much of a badass you truly are.
In fact if the rest of the game matched the quality of the combat this could have been the shortest review ever. 5 stars! Why are you still reading? You should be already on your bike going to get this game! Much to my chagrin this is not the case and in fact becomes a recurring theme whilst dissecting Too Human. Let’s take a closer look.
Too Human is a retelling of Norse mythology where technology is a part of everyday life and the gods of the Aesir are fighting against an army of machines (not unlike The Matrix; but just the first film. The last two are four hours of my life I will never get back). You’re not really given any more background than that, watching the mockumentary videos of the Goblin Man of Norway give you a little more insight into the concept. The story is one of loss, betrayal, cybernetic augmentation, facial tattoos and drunken nudie runs. Come to think of it, these gods sound a lot like football players. Same thing I guess.
You play as the character Baldur, one of the Aesir whose back story slowly unfolds through a series of flashbacks and plot revelations. The gameplay actually seems to detract from the narrative due to the length of the levels. There is at times an eternity between cut scenes and it is easy to lose track of the plot. At completion of the game you can replay all of the cinematics which I found gives you a greater appreciation of the story, but it is disappointing this is required. At no point does this universe ever feel fully fleshed out; it simply raises more questions than it answers. The story doesn’t really become interesting until the very end but then after finally sucking you in you’re left with a tease for the sequel. My greatest sense of regret however is regarding the demure blonde goddess Freya. During one particular cut scene it is revealed she is the Aesir version of the town bicycle but Mr. Super Serious Baldur has no interest in her affection. Where’s Commander Shepard when you need him? We all know he can close the deal.
At the start of the game you choose one of five character classes. There is an all round class and then two variations of defensive and offensive types. As you defeat enemies you earn Experience Points (XP) which over time causes you to level up. As each new level is reached, you can spend points on your skill tree which is different for every class. You can improve abilities such as melee and ranged combat, spiders (small robotic drones which aid in combat), ruiners (summoning of spiritual attacks), and so on. This features a lot of depth with many choices, each class has different paths and you will never have enough points to max every skill. Additionally at any time you can reset your skill tree and spend your skill points all over for a small fee of loot. I highly recommend this once you get a feel for how you best play your chosen class.
The gameplay is a fast paced mix of melee and ranged combat. You will enter a level with some NPC’s and as you progress through a level are swarmed by hordes of enemies which you must disperse before proceeding. As you vanquish enemies items are dropped. These consist of loot (money to spend on equipment), new weapons or armour, blueprints (plans for weapons or armour which can be constructed for a fee), runes & charms (new powers) or health orbs. This brings us to one of the many contradictions of Too Human. It’s exciting to acquire new equipment to trick out your character, but there is so much of it that you get tired of constantly accessing inventory. Some equipment can’t be utilised until your character reaches a certain level and by that time you may already have a better piece of kit anyway. It gets to a point where you can’t be half-arsed looking at any items because the pacing of the action suffers greatly if you do.
The combat is hands down the strength of Too Human. What at first appears to be mindless button mashing is actually an extremely deep and rewarding experience with numerous strategic options which can be tailored to the strengths of your character. As you put more time into understanding the combat system the action becomes more and more satisfying. I would go so far as to say at times the combat experience is unrivalled on Xbox 360. The only explanation I can offer for numerous agencies labelling the action one dimensional is that they didn’t spend enough time learning the advanced combat moves. Maybe their skills are better tested on something like Kung Fu Panda.
Developer Silicon Knights has to accept a sizeable portion of the blame for the lack of appreciation however. The game is not user friendly in any shape or form. Surely a developer should be going out of their way to make a rewarding experience accessible to the masses. We want to have fun with these games people, not feel like we’re putting together something from IKEA (cursed dowel joints!) The only assistance exists in the form of text boxes that appear occasionally detailing a new move or power, never to be seen again. You can go into the controls menu of course and review the moves available, but crazy me thinks it might be a good idea to instead make it fun and enjoyable. This game actually caused me to pick up the manual and read through it on more than one occasion. The last time I did that was probably whilst playing a game on the Sega Mega Drive console. Implementing some tutorials into the gameplay would have removed a lot of frustration that you need to overcome before truly enjoying the experience. It also could have lengthened the single player experience which is decidedly short. The game seems to be designed for multiple replays, but I think for a lot of gamers there would be little reason in doing so. I do recommend first playing the game in single player because it is the only mode where you will get the cut scenes and story.
Too Human's co-op mode is far more enjoyable than its single player. There are big payoffs for choosing skill classes that compliment each other. A mate and I had a lot of success with him as a Berserker (Offensive Class) and yours truly as a Bio-Engineer (Defensive Class). As we got better and better at coordinating our attacks and choosing our skill points wisely we became extremely proficient at laying waste to hordes of enemies in the blink of an eye. These passages of play are truly exhilarating; the only thing that was missing was for Baldur to exclaim “This is Sparta!” upon their conclusion. The opportunity for my mate and I to congratulate each other on the extreme level of hardcoreness just displayed was irresistible. At its best, Too Human is flat out one of the best co-op experiences on Xbox Live.
But for every excellent moment there is a matching moment of head-against-a-brick-wall frustration. In some instances you encounter a certain type of foe who is only slightly different in appearance from the garden variety type but whose attacks render you from full health to dead in the blink of an eye. This may have followed passages where you have slaughtered foes for minutes on end and appeared invulnerable whilst doing it. At these moments the game does not feel balanced or consistent. It is only after numerous unskippable death animations that you learn how to avoid their overpowered attacks through some very tedious trial and error.
Another point of contention is that the gameplay and its classes seem tailored for co-op from the ground up but there is no story element to the co-op and you both play as Baldur (yes, you both play the same dude!?). This leads to a lack of immersion and it does start to feel a little pointless. The only thing that is left is to chase the achievements (not that there’s anything wrong with that). If the story and characters had been built around the co-op a la Gears of War this could have been something special. There are some technical issues as well, during co-op we were unable to complete any level without the second player being disconnected at least once on every level. This becomes frustrating while attempting the achievements for completing a level without dying.
By this point you should be gaining some appreciation of the Too Human experience. There are moments of top shelf action that you’d be hard pressed to find better examples of on any platform. Matched point for point with moments so frustrating or lacking in polish that it had me fantasising of shoving bamboo under my fingernails for a good hour. Cooperative play alone gains this game an extra star and is its saving grace.
The game is supposed to be the first part of a trilogy; it had enough redeeming features that I will be looking forward to the next instalment with some genuine excitement. My time with the game ended with an overpowering feeling of ruing what could have been. The developers had better learn from their mistakes though if they want any chance of me making it to number three.
So should you buy Too Human?
I can recommend if you can tick two boxes;
Failing that, the game is very achievement friendly and you could probably extract 500+ points from it in an overnight rental.
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