Good intentions can only take you so far.
Trapped in development hell for nearly 10 years, originating on Sony’s PlayStation, shifting to the Nintendo GameCube and eventually landing on Microsoft’s Xbox 360, Silicon Knight’s Too Human has not had an easy life. Dated, delayed, embroiled in legal issues with Epic Studios and awash with bad press post-conference, the Norse-inspired action-RPG finally hit shelves after a decade-long tour, but found none waiting with open arms.
And it wasn’t due to a mis-informed public, or a mis-interpretation of what Silicon Knights aimed for. Despite an interesting premise and a desire to break a number of traditional role-playing archetypes, Too Human shot for the moon, but haphazard controls, a flimsy skill advancement system and a slew of oft-occurring gameplay frustrations keep this sci-fi epic’s feet firmly planted on the ground.
Set in an alternative universe where cybernetic versions of the Æsir (Norse gods) exist to protect the human race, Too Human places players in the role of Baldur, an evenly tempered deity on the path to unraveling a series of events which could lead to Ragnarök, the end of times. Mingling mythology with technology and a keen take on ancient legends in a post-modern setting, Silicon Knights primes a canvas ripe for elaboration and exposition but fails to apply anything more than a base coat.
“Silicon Knights primes a canvas ripe for elaboration and exposition but fails to apply anything more than a base coat.”Players are given a short prologue to the game’s events and then are thrust into the thick of it, battling dozens of robotic minions with short stints of dialogue and explanatory cut-scenes thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately the quick and easy character introductions and background chatter from NPCs does a minimal job of ever truly opening up this densely populated world, forcing players to become better acquainted with Wikipedia if they seek a broader understanding of the elements at play.
What should have been Too Human’s greatest strength instead becomes a shallow relay of characters, places and events adapted to a new setting, but not properly expanded upon within the game itself. Sadly this sense of a rushed component doesn’t hold to just the plot and characters, but within the leveling system and character expansion as well.
At the start of the game players are given the choice of Baldur’s class, from a ranged focus to survival and close-combat. As the game progresses each particular class opens options for character advancement through a three-pronged tree of skill sets to which points can be assigned as Baldur climbs the numerically-defined ladder. While there is a sense of customization to play style, each tree consists of only a handful of skills, most of which are unavailable once you decide on a particular path. The later option to infuse Baldur with cybernetics, or instead opt to remain “too human”, opens a new set of options with which to stack points into, but also feels vastly under-used.
While the ability to re-spec at any point gives some flexibility to players keen on experimentation, leveling feels less like a real advancement once you’ve completed a skill set halfway through the breadth of the game, a time I placed at the four-or-so hour mark.
A varied historySilicon Knights is best known for their Playstation title Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, which spawned the Soul Reaver series. The Canadian team also created Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes and Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem for the GameCube Too Human is a very short game, which is something that can either be taken up as a genuine complaint or the misfire from a critic who hasn’t grasped that time does not always tell. Length is a very subjective matter in regards to video games, as titles like Portal have taught us, and a few hours of fun can at times be worth the price of admission. But Too Human feels truncated, in so much that when players reach the fourth and final dungeon, it comes as a great shock.
A lot of things changed between the original incarnation of Too Human and the current release, one being the expansion of the title as a trilogy once the product was set to be published by Microsoft. This definitely feels like a game that suffers from the dreaded “first chapter” virus. However, it isn’t always easy to tread through 60+ hours of gameplay at times, so perhaps I should be grateful that I wasn’t forced to re-live the oft-discussed Valkyrie death scene for any longer than the requisite 10 hours that the game spanned.
This brings us to the game’s first of many shortcomings. You will die in Too Human, and often, and each time you do will be forced to endure a 15+ second cinematic of a Valkyrie lifting a lifeless Baldur to the heavens, who then respawns at the last checkpoint. Every time. No excuses. No, it cannot be skipped, and yes it will happen often. It is intensely frustrating at times, mainly because 15 seconds isn’t long enough to actually do anything aside from sit and wait for the hero to be reborn. I almost wish that the scene were lengthened, at least then I’d have enough time to run to the kitchen and make a sandwich.
The main offender in these all-too-constant death scenes is the battle system, which can be enjoyable and hectic at times and a clunky, club-fisted mess others. Baldur can alternate between ground, air and ranged combat with the press of a trigger or flick of the battle stick, and moving between the three is fairly easy. Unfortunately Silicon Knights’ approach to how this system operates on the battlefield misses on about a dozen marks.
Baldur will move about with the left analog stick, and attack towards the direction players tilt the right stick based on an auto-targeting system that is anything but workable. Aside from the now-and-again frame rate drop during the action, and despite a list of combos and techniques in the menu, controlling a battle-ready Baldur consists of swirling the right analog about in an attempt to hack as many robotic dark elves as possible before eventually being murdered from afar by ranged enemies.
You see, Baldur cannot block. He also cannot heal himself unless you are the bio-engineer class or happen upon a health item from a downed enemy or nearby pot/statue/weird monolithic thing. He can, however, roll, which looks utterly absurd when it takes throwing oneself head-over-heels down the entire length of a hallway just to avoid gunfire from enemies. It also looks ridiculous due to stiff animation and a very plain visual style.
The game makes due with the proprietary engine Silicon Knights had to construct when the legal matter concerning the Unreal Engine 3 arose, but fails to impress style-wise. While environments can be breathtaking at times, the character models range from mediocre to downright ugly, and NPCs and soldiers all look like one another. The armor upgrades Baldur finds throughout the game keep our hero’s look varied, but most pieces just look awkward and mismatched.
“While environments can be breathtaking at times, the character models range from mediocre to downright ugly, and NPC’s and soldiers all look like one another.”Armor in itself seems like an afterthought in Too Human. Players are warned of the dangers of death in regards to wear and tear, but Baldur equips a new piece every 10 minutes, making the fear of dying a matter of wading through repetitive cut-scenes rather than worrying about item integrity.
Aside from the noted problems there are about a dozen or so glitches and bugs which rear their ugly heads on occasion. Too Human will have issues loading textures in time with the rest of the level, enemies will somehow continue to attack Baldur from beyond the grave, and certain battle themes will re-loop without a transition. Lesser but still irritating issues include NPC’s which repeat the same line of dialogue consecutively, a slow loading menu system and an onscreen display that constantly tilts and wavers for the sake of style but instead comes off as somewhat disorienting at times.
It’s not to say that Too Human is without merit, as the game does have a few shining moments amidst the muck and gloom. Battle-royales with a couple dozen enemies are mindless but great fun at times and seeing the interaction between the gods is genuinely interesting in the few short intermissions we’re given between dungeons. Sadly these nuggets of coherent gameplay are quickly drowned out by a targeting system that just doesn’t work well enough and a camera system that is non-existent save for a button to center the view.
There is online co-op, but playing with another person does little to remedy Too Human’s problems. While staying alive is somewhat easier the game is still riddled with all of the glitches from the single-player mode, allowing friends and colleagues to experience the bitter frustration that comes from cheap deaths and clunky controls and animation.
Too Human had a lot to live up to after 10 years of imaginings and re-imaginings, and it’s sad that a game which was slated for greatness fell so far from it. There is a certain point in a game’s development cycle where losses should be cut. Too Human has been on life support for years, technically alive, but without the majority of it’s facilities intact.
Four out of ten
- Interesting setting and plot
- Occasional hack-n-slash fun
- Unattractive, muddled visuals
- Audio and graphical glitches
- Poorly implemented control system
- Oversimplified battle system
- Stunted character development and leveling