Too Human Review
Review By Steve Farrelly @ 12:21pm 18/09/08
Dennis Dyack, Silicon Knights' outspoken lead designer is clearly a man of passion. He's passionate about literature, passionate about history, passionate about sci fi, passionate about game design, and - most importantly - passionate about his games.
We first saw this with Eternal Darkness, a GameCube survival horror/action/adventure title that proved Silicon Knights had foresight and a penchant for incredible story-telling in the interactive medium that is videogames. So few developers can claim to utilise the interactive element of games to truly tell their story, relying instead upon lengthy cut-scenes or the like to get their plot foundation across, but Silicon Knights seemed to know how to create an all-encompassing rich experience of interaction and narrative as a unified concept with Eternal Darkness. The tail-end of this, however, and most certainly Silicon Knights' Achilles Heel, is their inability to truly utilise or get the most out of technology. Whether it's due to their ridiculously lengthy development periods or just a general lack of understanding (or caring); the tech just always seems to come second.
In many cases this isn't such a bad thing. There are countless games on the market at the lower end of the graphical or engine spectrum that are more about fun and gameplay than looking gorgeous or sporting the latest high-end textures and lighting. But with most Silicon Knights products, their vision, scope and ambitious nature tend to truly need an accompanying visual marvel to complete the overall point. It's an odd place to be in as a developer, but one Silicon Knights tend to find themselves in because of the company's clear-cut passions.
Too Human is a game that has suffered this awkward juxtaposition to the nines. On the one hand, the game's plot (though perhaps a bit 80s/90s sci fi in delivery) is more than intriguing - not giving too much away in the early throws, but revealing just enough to keep story seekers more than interested, while on the other, you can see that this game has been in development for simply too long. There's nothing attractive about the game, and it pains me to say this impacts the overall product, because I've never been a graphics whore, but it really does.
You'll find yourself walking through massive, empty halls and wondering where the filler is. Oftentimes these conflict places (or dungeons, because ultimately this is a dungeon-crawler) have a storied background and have long since been abandoned, but when each and every one you crawl through shows the same hollowed art direction, you have to wonder what these guys were thinking.
Obviously the next step when crafting a game like this with huge halls and plains is to fill them with enemies, and Too Human does do this with a clear nod to series such as Diablo, but it all just looks and feel archaic by today's gaming standards.
To set it all up for you though, Too Human takes place in a distant future havocked by nuclear winter. For some reason, a higher class of human, the Aesir, rule the world, and seem to equally hide behind a veil of Matrix-esque lies. They're cybernetically enhanced which is why they're considered gods and it's their duty to oversee the protection of humanity. In the other corner are an advanced underworld of machines who, ironically, have started feasting on human flesh. This has obviously caused a stir among the Aesir, and it's your job as Baldur, favourite son of Odin, to get to the bottom of this unbelievable turn of events.
Initially Too Human gives you very little, dumping you instead in the wastes of a great hall with nothing but robotic sword and gun fodder coming at you – there's almost no reason or explanation for you being there until the very end, but this pacing does work in favour of the game.
The unique concept of creating a hybrid story that draws upon much popular science fiction alongside the tantalising Nordic mythology of the ancient Vikings is kind of odd, but easily grows on you as you progress. This is the first chapter in a planned trilogy, and while it did take close to 10 years for the first to reach our hands, Silicon Knights have said the next chapters won't take nearly as long.
As a dungeon-crawler, one of Too Human's biggest draws is loot (or phat lewts, if it's your pastime). You'll pretty much pick up gear after each cluster of bad-guys you take down, or the adventurous explorer among you might find them hidden in crystalised rock or by activating various towers hidden in levels. You can set much of the loot gathering to auto, where the least profitable stuff is left behind, or you can choose to manually sift through the absolutely huge amount of stuff on offer.
Decking your character out in new gear is as easy as trawling through a menu and just checking out what's more powerful here or there. You'll have an alignment to either Human or Cybernetic you'll need to choose (and this is a permanent choice), and this alignment will then offer various buffs and the like based on gear, skills and class. Obviously certain items can only be donned by characters of a particular alignment, potentially offering up some replay value for the greedy types out there. That said, the five initially available classes (more will be made available as DLC, according to Dyack) equally offer up a more differed experience, and so anyone willing to take the game's myriad of character creation and modifying options on in full-force will likely find some real value here.
For everyone else, setting the game to pretty much automate most of its more complex parts will reveal something not entirely worth your energy. The story is pretty neat, if a little over-the-top, and there's a reasonable amount of intrigue if you're into that sort of thing. The hardest part though, is swallowing the repetitive gameplay between arcs - you'll earn some fairly powerful weapons, runes (which can be used to power equipment and weapons up more), armours and the like, but you're still pretty much going to be doing the same thing. Whether your wielding a two-handed blade or two single-handed blades, the game doesn't alter its path of ready cannon fodder much beyond some arbitrary puzzle-solving that's as about as deep as turning on a light switch.
What all of this does then, is bore the hell out of you, and to add insult to injury, the time it actually takes for a Valkyrie to come and revive you, once fallen on the battlefield, is as annoying as an ad-break mid movie.
You'll always have help on missions, and oddly enough the game - every once in a while - encourages you to feel for your AI teammates, however, such worry is superfluous when these guys die and respawn like cockroaches. Tangent cut-sequences mid horde onslaught with one solider dying just doesn't seem right given the type of game this is.
Obviously with influence like Diablo in its corner, the one area you would hope Too Human does excel is in coop through each dungeon, and it does deliver a fairly solid experience for you and a few mates. Unfortunately, beyond being competitive in areas of loot collection and combo counters, you're really still just walking through the same hollowed hallways I mentioned earlier. And as a game that was nearly 10 years in development, Silicon Knights' "hollowed halls" really do look pretty terrible.
It will be interesting to see what will happen with both DLC for this title and where they [Silicon Knights] go with the planned sequel and third games (or even if we'll see them at all this generation).
At this stage, while ambitious in scope, too long in development and not enough emphasis on variations in gameplay (especially when it comes to puzzle-solving) have marred what could have been something great. Then again, the repetition found throughout most of the game's bridging mechanics may have been poised to sink this ship all along.