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October 2018

Too Human

Platform(s): Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Silicon Knights


Xbox 360 Review - 'Too Human'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Aug. 19, 2008 @ 9:00 a.m. PDT

As the Cybernetic God Baldur, players are thrust into the midst of an ongoing battle that threatens the existence of mankind. An ancient machine presence has forced the God's hand. In the first of a three part trilogy, Baldur is charged with defending mankind from an onslaught of monstrous war machines bent on eradication of human life.

Genre: Action/RPG
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Silicon Knights
Release Date: August 19, 2008

Too Human places you into the role of the Baldur, son of Odin and one of the more popular figures from Norse mythology. The title doesn't occur in a classic Norse setting, but is a bizarre, futuristic look at the world of Midgard in which a war between humanity and a race of machines has left behind a nuclear-scorched wasteland. The machines dominate most of the world, unbothered by radiation and the few remnants of humanity are housed in Aesir, a city under the watch of the Norse gods, who have enhanced themselves with cybernetic parts to battle the machines. The story follows Baldur as he tries to seek revenge for the death of his wife and figure out how the Aesir can defeat the encroaching machine menace before it wipes out all of mankind.

Too Human's plot builds up to two incredibly obvious "twists" that are only a surprise if you're completely ignorant of Norse mythology. On the other hand, if you're unfamiliar with Norse mythology, most of the minor details and references will fly directly over your head, so it's a lose-lose situation. To makes matters worse, the story doesn't end so much as it abruptly cuts off; the credits roll just as the story appears to be building toward a climax, making Halo 2 look like a coherent and satisfying ending. If the big "twist" that occurs before the end is supposed to be shocking to anyone, perhaps Silicon Knights shouldn't have chosen such a well-known piece of mythology on which to base their game.

You begin the game by creating your own custom Baldur from one of five classes — Berserker, Bioengineer, Champion, Commando and Defender — and each has a particular specialty: Berserkers in melee, Bioengineers in healing, Champions are the balanced class, Commandos in gunplay and Defenders in defense. While you should pick a class that fits your playing style, there is no need to stress about this, as most classes play almost identically by the end of the game; classes with good health and defensive abilities tend to be better for those playing in single-player.

After the first level, you also get to choose your Alignment, which opens up a new set of skills depending on if you choose Cybernetics or Humanity. The former is focused on strength and damage, allowing access to cannon ranged weapons, high-powered skills and extra health. The Humanity skill path is based more on combos, giving you access to human-only customizable weapons, additional combo levels, and faster recharge speeds. Despite the advertisements hyping up "looking into the abyss" between humanity and cybernetics, your Alignment doesn't matter at all. You get a different Achievement for beating the game as each Alignment, but the plot doesn't change at all, so pick whichever you want.

In Too Human, you guide Baldur through four different dungeons. They're linear and not randomly generated, so each dungeon is a straightforward path of monster-smashing that will be roughly identical every time you go through it. There are, however, a few advantages to these non-randomized dungeons. For one, the game can support secret areas, which present challenges that must be completed in a single go, such as defeating a powerful swarm of enemies within a time limit. Completing the means you get access to some useful weapons and armor, while failing means that you've lost them until the next time you traverse the dungeon.

Occasionally during your dungeon exploration, you'll discover Wells, which are portals into cyberspace. Unlike the primary world of Midgard, cyberspace is green, lush, and vibrant, but there's almost no excitement here at all. Each cyberspace area is incredibly linear, and there aren't any secrets, surprises or enemies; you follow a preset path and occasionally stop to activate a switch or pick up treasures, and that's about it. In cyberspace, Baldur loses all of his weapons, and in exchange gains four different abilities that he can use: pushing things telepathically, pulling things telepathically, walking on water, and setting Nidhogg on fire. You stand on a glowing block, press the correct button, and a nearby door opens or a path of Nidhogg fog vanishes. There's no thinking involved and all in all, the cyberspace areas feel like pointless game-lengthening trips through a slightly more colorful world. There is a central cyberspace well in Aesir, but that is only slightly less linear, with doors that only open after you've completed the appropriate levels, and each opens its own exceedingly linear pathway to more shiny treasures.

Melee combat in Too Human is exceedingly simply. You move with the left thumbstick and press the right thumbstick in the direction of the enemy you want to attack. Baldur will either slide over and smack him, or simply smack him normally if he's close enough. To perform a combo, you just continue to hold the stick, and Baldur will continue to combo for as long as you do. You can also pull off a few special techniques depending on how hard and long you press the thumbstick. Double tap it lightly when near an enemy, and you'll do a quick attack that knocks him into the air for a juggle. Tap both thumbsticks toward the enemy, and depending on how close you are, you'll do a finishing move that does a boatload of damage, or a fierce attack that hits from a distance.

The problem with the melee combat in Too Human is that it's extremely repetitive, even for a dungeon crawler. You press toward the enemy, they die, and you repeat. The special moves are kind of useless, and you'll occasionally use finishing moves on Dark Elves, but they're too slow for tougher enemies and too strong for anything weaker. Fierce attacks are inaccurate and difficult to hit with, and I could barely figure out a time when it was more useful to do a fierce attack instead of just sliding up and smacking the enemy, especially since sliding does additional damage. Juggling wasn't difficult to use, but being stuck in midair while Dark Elves snipe at you is a quick way to meet a Valkyrie. It works better in co-op mode, but that doesn't help much when following the story.

Beyond his melee abilities, Baldur also has access to guns. Using dual pistols, a medium-range rifle, or powerful and slow cannons, he can shoot his enemies from a distance while theoretically remaining out of harm's way. Switching from guns to melee is pretty simple. Holding down the right trigger unholsters your gun and fires it, and motioning the right thumbstick toward an enemy locks onto them. You can even target specific enemy body parts on Troll-class enemies, which is necessary since you can't defeat a Troll without either destroying all of its body parts, or destroying its chest plate and then climbing up onto it from behind. Pressing the left trigger while doing this activates the weapon's secondary function, which is either the second pistol or grenade. Each gun has an ammunition bar located just next to the Combo Meter, but you functionally have unlimited ammunition. Each shot drains a bit of the bar, and secondary shots drain a lot more, but once it empties, Baldur must spend a few seconds reloading. There are three kinds of ammunition: Slug ammunition is fast but weak, plasma ammunition is powerful but slow, and lasers fire for however long you hold down the button.

Guns are problematic to the extreme. Certain enemies must be defeated with guns, and these tend to be glowing versions of Goblins or the occasional Dark Elf. If you engage them in close-range combat, they'll explode, inflicting nasty damage and a bad status effect. The theoretical way to defeat these enemies is to blast them from a distance with your guns before they get close, but that tends to remain a theory. Trying to force the awkward aiming system to target a glowing Goblin in the middle of 50 other nonglowing goblins is an exercise in futility. By the time you actually convince the targeting system that you want to hit the glowing enemy, he's already in your face. This problem continues for other targeting quirks. You're supposed to be able to shoot enemy missiles out of the air by flicking the thumbstick upwards, but this seems to rarely, if ever, work, although it's a great way to get shot in the face by explosives. Trying to target two specific enemies with the dual-wielding pistols is next to impossible; even the Commando class, which is built around gun usage, can't really make these awkward weapons function well.

Too Human's repetition problem is not helped by its extremely limited selection of abilities. You'll gain exactly four powers throughout the game, and two of those are basically identical for all classes, while the other two come as a linked pair and may not always be useful. The first ability you gain, The Ruiner, is basically an area-of-effect attack that takes a level of Combo bar, and it has a bonus side effect such as inflicting a bad status effect on enemies or restoring health to Baldur. Fenrir, the sentient weapon, is the second ability to which every character has access. By pressing both thumbsticks in at the same time, you send Fenrir to attack all nearby enemies, which basically fills up your combo meter and does damage to nearby enemies. Fenrir is useful, if boring, and has an absolutely obscene recharge time. You may use it a few times during the longer levels, unless you specifically stand around for a long time and let it recharge.

Finally, you've got two custom abilities that depend on your character build. Each character class has three potential skill trees, and each includes a variant of the Spider and War Cry abilities. Spider abilities are bound to the Y button and are single-use abilities that come in one of three forms: gun, mine or shield. When you press Y, Baldur releases a techno-spider that turns into a gun, explodes like a mine, or forms a shield around him. After this is used, your spider undergoes a lengthy recharge time. The War Cry ability is either a self-buff or an enemy debuff that takes a level of your combo meter to activate. Unfortunately, that's it: four abilities, two of which have a length recharge time and two of which share a single energy bar that can only be recharged by combat. Either way, a majority of your time will be spent holding down a direction and watching things die instead of using your character's special moves.

It's worth noting that four of the five classes in Too Human have no way to recover their hit points — no health regeneration, no healing spells, nothing. The only way to increase your health bar is to find Health Orbs, either dropped by enemies or that pop out randomly from boxes. The only class in the game that can heal and regenerate is the Bioengineer, which makes them one of the better co-op classes in the game. This actually isn't very frustrating, however, since Health Orbs are plentiful, and there is absolutely no real punishment for death. You see, every time you die, Baldur is collected (in a lengthy and inescapable cut scene) by a Valkyrie and promptly placed back on the battlefield. The punishment for this is pretty minimal. You lose your built-up combo bar, which will probably be empty anyway if you're dead, and the only really "dangerous" part is losing State.

Similar to World of Warcraft or similar games, you have a State on your weapons that shows how durable they are. Every time you die, you lose State, and if you lose enough, the weapons break. The problem is that the amount of State you lose for death is incredibly small. Most of the armor I equipped had somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 State, and dying usually took away around 100 or so. In order to have my equipment break, I would have had to die more times in one area than I did in the entirety of the game two times over. This also assumes that I wouldn't find better equipment or repair my equipment with a trip back to Aesir, which would instantly nullify the effects of dying. The only reason you wouldn't want to die is because you have to sit through the long and boring cut scene of a Valkyrie coming from Baldur.

Equipment is fairly easy to take care of. Enemies drop it, and you can equip it from the menu screen, as with any good dungeon crawler. Too Human makes inventory management a bit less of a hassle with its "smart" inventory system, which lets you customize it so that you only keep items of a certain quality. You can choose to have the game automatically sell any items below a certain quality, keep everything, or just sell the worst-quality items once your inventory hits maximum. It helps to keep things flowing smoothly, and your coffers remain full in order to get the best equipment. Any equipment over a low quality drops as blueprints instead, so in order to get the equipment featured on blueprints, you have to pay cold hard cash in exchange for the powerful item. You can also sell the blueprints for a good amount of cash in case you're limited on what to get next. Certain equipment is only usable by certain classes or certain alignments, but I found in my playthroughs that equipment for classes and alignments other than mine seemed to drop quite rarely, so that wasn't an issue.

Charms are unique to Too Human for a few reasons: They can only be found in cyberspace, enemies won't drop them, regular chests don't have them, and you're going to need to step into glowing Wells to get them. Each Charm has a unique ability linked to it, whether it's causing buffs to your character or debuffing enemies. These abilities aren't available until you equip the Charm and complete a Charm Quest, which can have objectives ranging from "kill 200 Goblins" to "find three secret areas." You could choose to sell Charms instead, but they're a fairly neat little way to power up your character, although none of the quests require much effort. If you're playing a dungeon crawler correctly, you should be killing every enemy, opening every chest, and exploring every secret area anyway!

Equipment can also be customized by using runes. Each rune has its own effect, ranging from "melee damage + 2%" to "total armor + 9%" to "1% chance of slowing enemy on hit." If any of your weapons or armor has an open slot, you can equip a rune in that slot, although there are a few things to be cautious of. One is that each rune is a one-use item, so if you toss a powerful rune into a weapon, you won't have it around for a better weapon later on. The second is that each rune effect has a cap on how much you can have. You can stick nothing but "total armor +9%" on each of your pieces of equipment, but past a certain point, the game will stop registering it. You can even equip runes onto Charms, although Charms can only equip certain runes, which are listed on their status screen. While not every effect is clearly defined (it took me a while to figure out what "Soothing" was), most are, and optimizing and creating the best armor is as addictive as in any game with crafting.

Too Human's repetitive quality is further hurt by the fairly limited amount of enemies you encounter. Even for a dungeon crawler, this title doesn't mix things up much. Your primary opponents are Goblins and Dark Elves, who you'll easily kill a few thousand of during the game's short runtime. A few miniboss creatures, like Elite Goblins and Trolls, are thrown in to mix things up, but you'll even encounter a boatload of those. There's very little variation between the foes, and they're not very interesting to look at or fight, with the exception of the Troll, who is the most interesting opponent in the game.

Trolls, as mentioned above, are made up of multiple pieces. Shooting off those pieces weakens the Trolls, and if you destroy their chest armor, you can actually get behind them and climb up on their back to play a quick minigame. Successfully complete it, and you instantly kill the Troll. The number of Trolls is few and far between, and most of the gameplay ends up feeling like a poor man's Dynasty Warriors instead of a fun dungeon crawler. To be fair, the final area in the game introduces a handful of new enemy types, but they only appear in that area, most of them are fought exactly like the Goblins, and there isn't a single Troll to be found among the lot. The rest of the sub-bosses are pretty boring, ranging from a shockingly weak spider-like robot that you'll fight constantly, and floating blobs of flesh that have a single attack that is a slightly stronger version of a weaker enemy in the same area.

The end of each area in the game has a boss, and you'd figure that the end-of-area bosses would be kind of impressive, but they're not. The Grendel monster you fight in the first area quickly falls once you direct gunfire at his glowing weak points, you shoot down platforms and then smacking the second boss in the face until he dies, and the third boss is a Troll with more hit points and no instant-death minigame. Even the final boss is uninteresting and is significantly less threatening than the minions that he sends after you. It was so weak and unimpressive that I was certain that wasn't the final fight, but once it was over, I only had a handful of cut scenes to go before the credits.

Once you've finished Too Human, you've got a few options for what to do to increase the replay value, although nothing is particularly exciting. One option is to replay the game's story mode, which isn't exactly a fun or compelling experience. Slightly better is the addition of non-story mode replays through the game dungeons. In these replays, the enemy spawns are changed, and although you're not going to be in for a lot of surprises, it's significantly more fun than fighting the exact same enemy spawns as before. There are some neat and more difficult opponents who normally appeared only in the secret areas, such as Trolls who hit you with an Ice status effect with every attack. While it is a nice addition, it's not quite as good as a randomized dungeon would be, and that is perhaps one of the primary sufferings of Too Human when compared to other dungeon crawlers like Diablo. Too Human also supports downloadable additional levels, but no information was available on them for this review, so we can't discuss how many or how much content they'll have.

Too Human's multiplayer mode is probably the best aspect of the game. It isn't enough to save it, but it significantly increases the fun you'll have compared to the single-player mode. The multiplayer gameplay lets you take on the game's four stages with altered spawns and no plot. Many of the gameplay's more frustrating aspects are slightly alleviated by co-op mode, and some of the useless skills become more useful. It's easier to fool around with the combo system when an ally is holding off other foes, and trying to fight the targeting system is less annoying when you've got a Defender tanking off enemies. It's not great, but it certainly works better, and being able to customize how loot drops is nice to prevent arguments over a Defender accidentally getting the +50 Dual Sword of Awesome instead of a Berserker. There is even an Achievement for tag-teaming a Troll to take it down, which is the most satisfying moment one can have in Too Human.

For a game that was so long in production, Too Human is amazingly glitchy. There are a bunch of noticeable small glitches, ranging from AI suddenly freezing or enemies suddenly spawning over cliffs or models randomly vanishing or reappearing. They're numerous and annoying, but the real kicker is the game-stopping glitches. In my first run-through, which took a total of six hours, I encountered no fewer than four game-stopping glitches. One time, it occurred directly after a cut scene and ended up with Baldur stuck on the eternal grey landscape where the cut scene took place, unable to move or access a menu until I restarted the game. The other three times, however, Baldur either fell through the landscape in Aesir or fell through the floor while walking through a door. These sorts of problems might be forgivable if they were rare, but when they're this common, it can't be overlooked. It's amazing that Too Human has been 10 years in the making and remains this bug-ridden.

Even ignoring the glitches, Too Human isn't overly graphically impressive. All of the character models are exceptionally plastic and inhuman-looking, and what is clearly supposed to be disturbing combinations of man and machine look more like glorified armor. The mechanical enemies are indistinguishable from the Geth from Mass Effect, which is made worse by the fact that Too Human unavoidably causes visual comparisons to Bioware's latest hit, with Mass Effect coming out on top in almost every field. The level design is OK, but never really visually impressive. The best stage of the four is Helheim, but even that quickly becomes repetitive and dull.

Too Human has been in production in various forms for 10 years, but somehow, it still feels like an unfinished game. The plot is half-baked, the gameplay is simplistic, the replay value is hurt by the lack of variety, and glitches are commonplace. While the very basic framework of a fun game is there, it's weakened by all the flaws. In theory, the simple push-stick combat system works great for a Diablo clone, but the lack of abilities means that combat quickly becomes repetitive, and as a result, fights become boring mighty quickly. I wanted to love Too Human, but the end result is just too incomplete to really enjoy. If any of the game's features had been fleshed out a bit more, it would have been a significantly better title, but sadly, that may have to wait for the inevitable Too Human 2 instead.

Score: 6.0/10

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