It's puzzling to think that Silicon Knights has been plugging away at Too Human for well over a decade now. Sure, it's been planned as epic stuff from the get go, back when it was a PlayStation title and boasted of a scope that would require four game discs over 80 hours of gameplay. It later became a GameCube title, a transition that obviously required much of its previous iteration to be scrapped.
But as I hacked my way through the Xbox 360 game's first six hours of the single player campaign - putting me at about half-way through, according to the game's own Stats ticker - I became mostly puzzled by what it was the team was doing with its time. Too Human seems surprisingly unpolished for a game that's been in some form of development for a decade, delayed multiple times, and one due to be released in less than two months. Granted, the letter that accompanied our preview copy of Too Human did warn that our pre-release build was not "final retail code" and may have gameplay bugs that "will be addressed in the final retail game."
That was certainly taken into consideration as I completed Too Human's first two chapters, but some of the core issues I had with the game aren't the kinds of things that will likely be ironed out in the final thrust of development.
After going hands-on with Too Human for the first time at GDC, I was primarily concerned about the game's combat mechanics. They certainly take some getting used to. The player will use the right analog stick for melee attacks, simply pointing in the direction of the enemy to target it. While that may sound straightforward enough, being trained to use the right stick for aiming or camera control by previous action games may lead to some initial awkwardness.
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You can spice up your attacks by lobbing robotic foes into the air with a double tap of the stick, keeping them aloft with gunfire, but that tactic felt largely pointless. As a Champion class character, bullets and laser-fire are no match for my hammer or sword, so I found myself doing it only out of obligation, occasionally an attempt to break the monotony.
It seemed more appropriate for me, as a Champion, to limit myself to melee combo chains and air attacks only, in an effort to raise my experience bonus and build up a cache of Ruiner moves - those screen clearing attacks that are accompanied by a light show and, later, a spirit animal (mine's a raven!). This leads to same rather repetitive gameplay. Adding to that repetition was a limited bestiary, some rather mundane puzzle solving and long stretches of slogging through wave after wave of enemies.
Too Human isn't just about swordplay and shooting, it's also about the hunt for loot. One of the more addictive aspects of titles like Diablo, World of Warcraft or Phantasy Star Online is the finding of something precious. Silicon Knights looks to have added loot in spades. There are swords, staves, pistols, rifles, leggings, helms and much, much more, all with various attributes and upgrades to collect. You'll regularly find, buy and build stuff that's better than what you're currently equipped with.
The interface for dealing with your massive amounts of loot is handy. Items that have better stats than your current equipment are shown in yellow. Less favorable stats are listed in red. You'll be able to salvage your unwanted goods from any point, no trekking back to a retailer to resell your outdated chest piece. Just hit the "Y" button. There's a hitch there, though, there's no going back to "town" until you're done with the quest at hand. That means item repairs will have to wait. There's also no way to stock up on health potions or green herbs or whatever one needs to heal their wounds. You'll have to settle for random Health Orb drops.
That means, unless you're of the self-healing BioEngineer class, you might die. You might die a lot. My character, Shin, has died 23 times in six hours. That's 23 times I've had to watch the rather long, unskippable scene of a gleaming white Valkyrie descend from the heavens and revive me. Good thing there is almost no tangible penalty to death... or is that a bad thing?
You might consider your in-game deaths bad if you expire because of Too Human's frustrating camera system. There are something like seven camera styles to choose from - like standard, near, far, iso and strategic - but all have their share of quirks. It wasn't uncommon for the camera to be pointing just slightly in the wrong direction, with something important out of sight. There's no free look while in motion either, you must pause the action to look around. One can reset the camera behind Baldur's back with the left bumper, but at times the game will override your chosen camera angle or simply refuse to reset it to your liking.
There are plenty of rough edges in Too Human, from questionable interface choices to the oddly placed voiceover to some very unattractive graphics. Some of the game's visuals are strong, others are just plain ugly. Too Human's mechanical beings look fine, but its flesh and blood humanoid characters can look downright ugly. Animation is stiff, lip synching is clumsy and never is the uncanny valley more prevalent than in some of the game's cut scenes. Character models have obviously been given a great deal of detail, but even in the game's major players, faces have sharp angles and poorly rendered hair, visual blights that do a disservice to the games cinematic portions.
There's much more to be explored in Too Human. Obviously, there's the second half of the game's core campaign, the cooperative multiplayer mode, and the game's five character classes. And we have yet to touch on the game's storyline. We'll have more hands-on impressions of these aspects of the game throughout the week.