Too Human Review: Dyack's Human TooS

Too Human is neither as good nor as bad as many have made it out to be. The action role-playing game, nearly ten years in the making, built up quite a storm of controversy and expectations as it tumbled its way to completion and release. The game tackles a retelling of Norse mythology with a cyber twist and works to reinvent the way people play button mashers. In the game the most loved god in Norse mythos, Baldur must contend with enemies on all sides and balance his desire for revenge with thoughts of the greater good.

Too Human set out to be epic and it delivered on at least one level: Denis Dyack's painfully personal reaction to the previews and reviews made for a soap opera drama of epic proportions on gaming forums and websites international. But what about the game, did it deliver on the same epic level as Dyack's wounded ego?

Loved:
May I Have This Fray?: Too Human is a button masher free of button mashing. That's one of the things the action title does so well. Initially, playing with very few button pushes is strange, even unnerving. But as you master the art of double thumbstick combat, the rolling dungeon brawls become more about spacing, tactics, timing, then they do about tapping A over and over again. Combat becomes almost terpsichorean as you slip from attacker to attacker, unloading powerful blows that some times launch them through the air.

Bountiful Armor and Weapons : Too Human is packed to the gills with different weapons and armor, hundreds of thousands of them. While the Too Human naming convention can result in some pretty goofy titles, the sheer volume is a role-playing gamers fantasy. Throw into the mix that each looks quite unique, that you can collect sets, and the fact that you can augment almost everything with Runes and you turn equipping almost into a mini-game.

Unique World: Silicon Knights' blending of Norse mythology with cyberspace initially comes off as a bit hackneyed (especially when you're introduced to a seemingly random taste of Beowulf), but it grows on you. The concepts are all solid, and some are even sublime, like the body snatching Valkyries and robot goblins, trolls and dark elves. It's a peculiar take on a familiar world that doesn't try to take center stage to the game but still manages to slightly bewilder you in its delivery.

Diverse Skills and Alignment Trees:Running there right along side that mammoth, almost never-ending selection of weapons, armor and runes, are the ever branching skill and alignment trees. Each of the five classes in the game have more than a dozen skills to choose from and build up, running along different paths. Players are also asked to choose an alignment a bit into the game, giving them another nine skills to work on. It's all lends itself to a high level of customization in the way you want to play the game and plenty of tweaking, almost reminiscent of a pen and paper RPG.

Hated:
I'm a God Not A...:Mountain climber, or hiker, or guy who likes to walk anywhere that isn't strictly defined in the game. Come on! Baldur is a God, why can't he walk the less traveled path? It's down right annoying that I can't make my way though a collection of shrubs in the middle of a map, but that each of this god's mighty leaps results in the sound of rolling thunder.

Graphic Glitches: When I played through the preview of Too Human I was struck by how beautiful the game can look at times, but I was more struck by how many graphic glitches and annoying little visual and audio bugs there were in the game. Then when I received the review code I saw much of the same issues, so I waited for the retail code. Guess what? Still there.

CyberWTF: I get what Silicon Knights is going for and in many ways I like it. The modernization of an ancient mythology is very tantalizing and gives gamers a lot of meat to chew on. But the element of cyberspace, however good it might look on paper, feels like a time-fluffing waste. Instead of opening a door I have to go to a well, walk twenty steps, push a button, walk back, leave the well and open a door. I'm sure the developers will better explore this concept in future games, but that's no reason to punish gamers now.

Epic Confusion: Too Human sets itself out to be an epic tale, one so vast it needs to be told in three games. I buy that and actually can't wait to dive into the second game. But the first felt like a plunge into the middle of a story that I wasn't even sure I wanted to care about yet. This sort of starting in the middle approach might work for some, but Silicon Knights just doesn't have the chops to pull it off. The result is a storyline so convoluted that a gamer's initial pass is likely to leave them more confused than caring.

Character Development: If you want to sell a game with its story you have to make characters people care about. In Too Human the main characters are so flat, so underdeveloped that it's hard to feel anything when they start dropping like flies. The same can be said for game lead Baldur, who with a complex back story and conflicting motives should be someone you easily empathize with. But that connection never seems to happen.

Multiplayer: When is multiplayer co-op not multiplayer co-op? When it's delivered in bite-sized chunks that strip out the cut-scenes and plot. Multiplayer gaming is supposed to be about the act of mutual discovery, experiencing something together. But the fact that characters of any level, no matter how disparate, can make their way through the game in any order they want turns the experience into more of a treasure hunt than voyage.

The most exciting part of Too Human is its ending. That's not meant to be a back-handed compliment. I'm not saying I relished not playing the game anymore. I'm talking about that final cut scene, one that delivers more hope, more possibility than almost all of Too Human managed to muster in its relatively short play through. The fact that it excited me, though, also means that over the course of the game I guess I grew to like Too Human and become a bit fond of its idiosyncrasies. I'd hate to suggest a game based on what it's sequel might deliver, but that's what I'm doing.

The absurdly diverse reaction Too Human is more a product of expectation than any major flaw in game design. Sure it could have used some more polish and this first game in a trilogy, perhaps, should have kicked off at a more interesting point in the overarching story, but it wasn't a bad game.

Too Human, developed by Silicon Knights, published by Microsoft Game Studio and released Aug. 19 for the Xbox 360. Retails for $59.99. Played through single-player campaign using review code once and final, boxed retail code once. Played through more than two chapters in multplayer matches.

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