Silicon Knights has fought an uphill battle to break the misconception that Too Human is just another third-person “hack and slash” action game after its poor hands-off debut at E3 2006. Their concern is understandably warranted. The RPG customization options in Too Human are deceptively deep and have a noticeable impact on the effectiveness of Baldur, the cybernetic Norse God who’s the game’s primary character, as he levels up. But only so much time can be designated to allocating XP and choosing armor and weapons before it’s time to confront the “hack and slash” concerns straight on.
Too Human begins with a multi-minute cut-scene introducing Baldur in a bar where he witnesses a mechanical “Grendel” devour several patrons before escaping. Hunting down and destroying “Grendel” becomes Baldur’s obsession and objective in the game’s opening chapter. Before Baldur can begin, one of five class options must be selected: Beserker, Bio-Engineer, Champion, Commando and Defender. Each class has its own set of advanced offensive and defensive attributes, except for Champion, which is split right down the middle.
Once the first chapter is completed, Baldur visits a Cybernetics Lab and must choose between Human and Cyborg, which introduces another set of attributes designed to affect his skills in combat. Humans are quicker and carry unique smaller weapons, while Cyborgs carry long-range weapons but lack access to skilled combo moves. To experience both sides of the coin, a player would need to replay essentially the entire game twice.
Building Baldur’s strengths is achieved by spending experience points on a Skill Trees with three paths each. What’s unique is that at any time you can send your cash, called bounty, and “re-spec” where points were allotted. This action wipes out all your assigned points and lets you rebuild the tree from scratch. The caveat is each subsequent “re-spec” will cost more money than it did previously, so there are financial consequences for having a change of heart.
Like with any RPG, the majority of attributes built upon will only be reflected in how much health you take off an opponent with each strike, or how much health is subtracted with each blow taken. RPG veterans are well accustomed to this trait, but newcomers more familiar with action titles might become frustrated at continually assigning points without recognizing the fruits of their efforts until dramatic enhancements appear later in the game.
Too Human’s combat design is both its greatest strength and most-glaring weakness at the same time. Baldur’s smooth close-quarters directional melee moves are executed with the right analog stick, enabling layers to target enemies from all 360 degrees. These combat mechanics are easy to pick up and learn, and they’re fun to piece together. Unlike Diablo, which Too Human will inevitably be compared to, Baldur “slides” across the floor for attacks rather than leaving the ground, aiding in the simplicity but subtracting from his attack options. The face buttons only come into play to evade by jumping or rolling away.
Capping off rounds or swinging a giant blade in melee is the extent of Too Human’s combat design. Forget about “The best offense is a good defense,” unless defense is running for safety when health is dangerously low. Confronting wave after wave of relatively redundant cybernetic badguys only offers two options: do I shoot my guns, or attack with my sword? Rinsing and repeating this basic decision over the course of multiple hours can grow tiresome — with or without the benefit of a deep RPG character management system or playing co-op online.
There is a savior in the form of a reward for battling through what at times feels like endless swarms of enemies while slowing running through massive environments without the benefit of a sprint button. Ten years in various stages of development awarded Silicon Knights ample opportunity to polish the narrative, aggressive and immersive 5.1 Dolby Digital audio and high-def visuals to a level befitting a next-generation console. The models, both in-game and during cut-scenes, are expertly rendered with minute detail and always realistically lit like you’d find in a Gears of War game. The only downside is an impassable 30-second death cinematic where a mechanical angel scoops up Baldur’s limp corpse and carries it into the sky.
In many respects Too Human’s character and level design are more representative of what’s to be expected from a PC game, not from a console. That speaks highly of the finished product Silicon Knights has put forth and strengthens the comparison to PC stalwart Diablo.
Is Too Human a dismissible “hack and slash” best eternally shelved with the likes of Kingdom Under Fire as reported from E3 2006? At times in the thick of battle it sure feels like it. But even when staleness creeps into combat and urges to “save and quit” grow, there’s the enticing payoff of leveling up one more time in the quest to reach level 50 or trigger the next extensive cut-scene unraveling a story on-par with, or better than, most of what you’d find running on the Sci-Fi Channel. Diablo may continue to skirt around ever appearing on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, but Too Human is finally here and has a legitimate shot at successfully picking up some of the big production action/RPG-on-consoles slack.
- Score: 7.9
- Often the cut-scenes are more compelling than the gameplay, but the game does ultimately salvage itself from being the eternal butt of Xbox 360 jokes from this point forward.
— Dan Bradley