Players: 1-2
Price: $59.99
Platform(s): Xbox 360
Developer: Silicon Knights
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
ESRB: Teen
Website: Too Human

No one more eagerly awaited the release of Too Human than me. Not because I was excited by the game, but because I was goddamn sick of hearing people declaring it undeniably brilliant or irredeemably horrible before they even played the game. Now, finally, it's arrived in stores and it's time to find out which forum monkey faction was right.

I don't want to spend too much time analyzing the story because well...I don't completely get it. According to the game manual, though, the human race is locked in a futuristic battle with an army of robots and the only thing standing between them and total annihilation is a group of cybernetic Norse gods. After playing the game through, I'm still not completely sure what a cybernetic Norse god is but that's what they are. The mixture of mythology and science fiction isn't a bad idea but unfortunately here, it results in space marines who say "By Odin!". The main character, Baldur, ends up being a lot less bad-ass than you'd expect for a cybernetically enhanced Norse god; he's a permanent sour puss, as is every other character in the tale. I guess the whole "on the brink of extinction via robot army" situation would make anyone depressed but not one character is either likable or at least watchable.

The game does a very poor job of inserting you into this setting and story they've constructed. Often I had little clue what exactly my actions had to do with the flashy cut scenes sprinkled throughout the game. The four main levels of the game are basically you blasting/cleaving your way through a series of dark, futuristic-looking hallways filled with enemies until you reach the boss. There's no objectives within these levels other than to kill whatever is in your way so you can get to the next area. One of these four levels is a relatively meaningless prologue where you hunt down a giant robot - this sort of pacing really didn't help the story situation. I really didn't feel like I was the center of the plot until the fourth level - and even then, only at the end.

Your character fights with a mixture of ranged and melee combat and the concept is pretty straightforward - you rack up enough hits, you'll be able to unleash a special attacks. You'll also get some special abilities (such as laying proximity mines) as you level up. The most striking thing about combat is that you use the right analog stick to swing your melee weapon. I enjoyed being directly in control of the arc of my weapon because it makes it easier to fend off the hordes of enemies surrounding you. It's less awkward (and more gentle on the wrist) than other games that make you cycle through melee targets with right trigger button and then mash the A button until they're dead.

That being said, I did sort of miss having the right analog stick for controlling the camera. The camera has a tendency to swing around on its own for no good reason and often you'll end up looking at the front of your character in the middle of combat. The camera also pans around in odd ways to appear "cinematic" while you're running through the labyrinth of hallways and it gets annoying quickly. The right analog is also used for aiming your gun in ranged combat, which really doesn't work well for picking specific targets. You end up just twirling the analog stick back and forth experimentally until you're shooting at your enemy of choice. Free-swinging melee doesn't work so well in the boss encounters when you're attempting to aim for a very specific point on the boss's body, either.

It seems appropriate that earlier this week I played Braid - it's a stark contrast to Too Human. While Braid's gameplay evolved throughout the game, Too Human stays exactly the same. I guess that's the nature of hack-and-slash games but it would have been nice if, as you gained levels, you gained new abilities that changed your playstyle. The character advancement trees, unfortunately, are pretty shallow in these game and you'll only add a couple new special abilities into your repertoire. The detailed inventory system doesn't help stave off boredom, either. There are no situational items - you'll just equip yourself with whatever armor/weapons have the best stats and call it a day. You can add runes to your equipment to boost their statistics or craft additional equipment by finding blueprints on enemies but it's all about just maximizing your statistic numbers.

Online cooperative mode makes things a bit more fun but that goes for any game, doesn't it? You'll also die a lot less, so that's a plus. There's a couple co-op Achievements but the game isn't made new again by the presence of a friend. You can toss mobs into the air for your partner to pummel but there aren't many any other team dynamics to speak of.

To add to the monotony of the game, there's probably only about seven kinds of non-boss enemies in this game (half of which are in the last level alone) and they all employ the same tactics: either they blindly swarm you or they shoot you from afar. The game throws in a few "special" enemies that blow up kamikaze-style, freeze you or poison you but these are all things we've seen before in other games and none of these "special" enemies cause you to deviate from your hack-and-slash strategy at all.

In order to bypass obstacles, occasionally Baldur has to enter cyberspace. I had high hopes for this feature but it turns out to be completely useless. A typical trip to the digital realm goes something like this: after finding a locked door in the real world, you'll walk over to the fountain next to it and get warped you to cyberspace. While in cyberspace, which looks like a giant forest, you'll run over to a glowing circle on the ground and press a button to open a nearby wooden gate or some such. Then, after leaving cyberspace, the previously locked door will now be open. That's right, cyberspace is essentially a fancy room with a lever in it. I had hoped that the cyberspace segments would involve puzzle solving or any kind of gameplay for that matter but no dice. Enter cyberspace, walk onto the glowing circle, hit the button, exit cyberspace - that's it. While the time spent here is a nice change of pace artistically from the drab hallways you're normally running around, the beautiful graphics don't make up for its complete worthlessness as a game feature.

The death system in Too Human gave me a similar "What the hell is the point of this?" reaction. When your character dies, some sort of cybernetic angel girl-thing swoops down in a pillar of light, picks up your corpse, and then floats back into the sky. After this is done, you'll respawn nearby. It looks cool at first but every time you die you'll have to sit through this same cut scene. While I understand that the developers don't want you to respawn instantaneously, there's no point to making us sit through this cut scene over and over again. The only cost to death, aside from the respawn timer, is that it causes damage to your items. You can return instantly to your home city - Aesir, probably the best-looking environment in the game - at any time through the options menu in order to visit the armorer and repair your items. What's the point of this whole charade, though? Like cyberspace, the whole damage/repair routine is just adding steps to the game without actually enhancing gameplay. I'm beginning to think developers make death so painless in games so they don't have to tune the difficulty at all. Instead of making death cause item damage that I can go instantly repair, why didn't the developers just make boss fights that didn't require me to throw myself at the mob over and over until their health bar was worn down? Aside from the Achievements you can unlock for making it through an entire level without dying, there's just not much incentive to playing carefully.

We like to think that when a studio takes an extremely long time to produce a game, it's because they're making such a ridiculously good, polished product and the delays are just due to their perfectionism. However, with Too Human, it seems like the game was ripped apart and put back together many times during those years and it ended up with a lot of vestigial or half-finished features from the various versions. It's possible you might enjoy it but overall it's a hard game to love. Now that Silicon Knights finally released the game and the monkey's off their back, maybe they'll bring a clearer vision to the planned sequel.

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