Too Human has been in development for nearly ten years, and in that time has undergone a great many changes. It's almost as legendary as the developer's recent commentary about the innovation of the game. However, what I'm about to say probably won't win me many friends in the camp of Too Human love. But I'm not going to jump right in and decry Dyack at all for what he and his team at Silicon Knights have done.
The story is one that is delivered throughout the game via sparse cut-scenes and doesn't really get going until near the end, and this is a short game at around ten hours of gameplay with some replay, that is apparently the first in a trilogy. You are Baldur, a Viking god, except that Too Human has techo-future-vikings and nano/cybernetic technology. Mankind is at war with machines, which are given names from Norse myth, such as goblins and dark elves (svart alfar). Even Grendel makes an appearance.
Silicon Knights have attempted to be innovative by permitting you to have a modicum of control during certain in-game cut-scenes, for example, an early scene showing a goblin's eye view of Baldur allows you to charge forwards, guns blazing and actually kill the creature as the scene ends. Yet the game doesn't tell you this, you discover this by playing. A bit like the first time a door opens and you wonder why your character hasn't walked into the room and you discover that you have to move him yourself.
The problem with Too Human is that it's trying to be innovative, but it draws from numerous games that have come before it, uses an MMO style loot system and you spend far too much time in the game's menus. It's the perfect game for people who loved Diablo and getting tonnes and tonnes of virtual loot. The game features no camera control and it could be described as a 3rd person action/rpg with the emphasis on repetitive action against hordes of monsters that scale to your level and the loot that's dropped.
I'll say it here too; you use the right stick for combat!
Gamers who are used to using the right stick for camera control will find they end up attacking at first, it takes some getting used to not having this feature. When you're finally used to the fact that the right stick attacks with a drawn melee weapon, you press the left and right triggers to use your guns and the right stick is used to aim them in different directions. It's not a bad system of control; it's just slightly flawed in places. With various movements of the left and right stick you create combos and chain together a series of fairly impressive attacks. By quickly tapping both sticks in the same direction you can perform a finisher, a devastating acrobatic combat move. Add to this the Ruiner, a showy area effect spell like move that kills everything in a certain radius which is triggered by pressing the right bumper when you have enough combo meter to do so.
Yet it lacks the immediacy of the traditional button hammering, often sending you way too far forwards into a mass of enemies that proceed to cut you to ribbons. It's Ok however, since you're a god, you can die and wait in an un-skippable in-game cut-scene where a Valkyrie comes and takes you to Valhalla...or rather they don't, you appear back on the level, back in the fight and sometimes you're right in trouble since the enemies might have followed you when you tried to run away and conserve your health. The only penalty for dying is that you take some damage to your items, which then need to be repaired by using bounty.
There are no healing items, only one of the five classes has regeneration and whilst there's an expansive skill tree, having a lack of health restores and scaling monsters means that you never feel like the god you are later on and all you feel is particularly mortal. Talking of the five classes, you have the melee focussed: Berserker and the Defender, the balanced: Champion, the ranged Commando and the tech focussed Bio-Engineer. You can start a new game with any of these but there's no real lure to play anything but the Champion unless you want the regenerative powers of the Bio-Engineer.
The skill system is decently done, you can put points in a variety of skill trees and give your character bonuses and extra buffs. Battle Cries buff you and the AI cannon fodder that's sent with you, the spider is a useful tech device that can act as a gun turret or so on. If you don't like a particular specification you can re-spec the current skill tree and give yourself a whole new set, this costs a fee in (Bounty) the game's currency. (Ed. I can't help think of chocolate bars now).
There is a plethora of weapons and armour to experiment with, you almost have too much and you just get used to using a weapon when suddenly there's a new weapon available for you, even better and with even more enhancements. It's the MMO style loot system that will appeal to fans of World of Warcraft the most. Yet it doesn't allow you to build any kind of rapport with your character as he is constantly evolving. There are armour sets, but what's the use because in ten minutes you're going to be wearing a new one.
You can equip charms (bonus items) that require a quest (kill x of this, or find a secret area etc) to activate. There are runes (enhancement bonuses) to go into weapons and armour. There are even colour runes (MMO style again) to allow you to customise the look of the armour, but what's the point (see above). Most of my time in Too Human has been spent in the menus, tweaking things, making sure I have equipped the latest of everything just to deal with the scaling enemies.
There's even a crafting system when you can find blueprints of new weapons and armour, you can make them. Dyack has said time and time again that his game is innovative and anyone who doesn't understand this just doesn't get it. This isn't me failing to understand anything; this is me looking at a feature I've seen in a dozen games before it. The workbench from Kotor 1 and 2 for instance, the craft system from World of Warcraft and so on. Perhaps I'm failing to see this on a wholly spiritual level that Dyack is obviously active on.
To sum up Too Human's gameplay in one word, one would have to use: repetitive. To expand upon this, linear and it harkens back to the days when a bunch of keys were needed to open doors like in DOOM and so on. Except this time SK's innovation seems to extend towards, keys = monsters, buttons and so forth. Killing monsters to open the way, sounds like Devil May Cry to me and buttons to open doors are a staple of many a game.
Just to innovate (Ok, I promise this is the last time I take a dig) a little further, you can open some doors by entering a virtual world and doing something there that affects the REAL WORLD! You just walk up to one of the many wells, press A and you're transported into a lush paradise that the NORNs call their home, here you can find loot, solve simple puzzles to open doors and unlock the way. This has also been done before and it's the staple of many cyberpunk flavoured worlds, from the works of William Gibson to the Matrix within the pen and paper game Shadowrun.
There's nothing particularly deep about the combat, the game's story or the game in general.
The graphics for Too Human showcase the Unreal Warfare (2) Engine quite nicely, but they feel somewhat unpolished and have a rough edge around them, especially for next-gen console graphics. The shadows and the light effects are nice, the textures are sharp enough for the most part but they fall into blurs sometimes, there's the odd frame rate glitch and texture pop-in too.
The animations aren't bad, though there are some issues with the main character's walk. This is a personal preference thing; he doesn't so much strut like a god as move as if someone rammed a stick up his backside. Either that or he's seriously constipated. In combat the animations are a lot better, they're fluid and the finisher moves with the various weapons are pretty nice. However, it's nothing that hasn't been seen before in some other game and done better (Onimusha series Ed.)
The level designs are pretty decent; the architectural design of some places is nice and whilst there's nothing that's particularly mind-blowing to speak of, it's not too shabby. The Aesir Corporation's main hub is rather well designed and it feels like it's a Hall of the Gods.
The music isn't jarring; it's of a good quality and ebbs and flows with the action. The sound effects are of good quality as well and the voice acting varies between solid to downright laughable for some of the dialogue. Most of the performances however are solid and I've heard worse, much worse from video games in the past (Two Worlds, Ed.) few decades.
Too Human does have a drop in drop out kind of co-op, the story scenes are cut and it's pretty much a third person loot-fest/hack and slash romp with a friend. This can get highly unbalanced since the monsters scale to the highest level character, so expect to die a lot. It's a nice little addition but feels like it was tacked on to appease the ever-growing co-op crowd, of which I'm a part. It does have a high level of teamwork and with the right mix, of say, a ranged and melee character you can wade through scores of enemies if you have a decent strategy. Online co-op is fun enough, it doesn't seem to have many glitches and most of all they included it, so I can't grumble in that respect.
However, for a game that's been in development for ten years we expected much more than we got, an average game by many accounts that isn't as innovative as Dyack would like to believe. It has a contrived techo-viking story which takes most of the game to finally get going and leaves you wondering just where SK actually went wrong. Its' Ok to be passionate about something, but Too Human isn't the game that we hoped it'd be, it's as if someone borrowed the concepts of numerous other games before it, slapped on the word innovative as an excuse to rehash these things and then wondered why after such a long wait the game got a Luke-Warm reception. Too Human is at best a renter, whilst you wait for something else worthwhile to wander along.