Too Human – Staff Review

It is a story for the ages, repeated in mead halls and around campfires for generations. It is the story of one who ascends to near-godhood on the driving forces of hype. His armor gleams like the luster of filtered screenshots. His voice resounds with the thunder of a thousand preview trailers. At the pinnacle of his glory, the world holds its breath and waits for his first majestic assault.

Then he tumbles to earth, felled by mighty glitches.

This is Too Human.

At the center of this Norse sci-fi post-apocalyptic epic is the cybernetic god Baldur, one of the elite Aesir who are responsible for protecting humanity and restoring the world. Constantly threatened by destructive machines and turncoat gods, humans cower behind the Aesir and beg for their help. The Aesir battle the machines then toast themselves with mead afterward.

Too Human incorporates the Norse mythos very well, though it’s heavy-handed. It’s all there — the belief that all life moves toward its destiny of death; the world outside the mead hall as cold and full of unknown dangers; the strong patriarchal warrior culture and the clever spiritually-attuned female sphere — basically, what we learned when we read Beowulf in high school.

The actual story of Too Human lacks substance. As the first part of a planned trilogy, this terribly short game barely reveals the plot. It introduces Baldur, throws out some poorly delivered lines, and tries to set the stage for what appears to be a cheesy and cliched tale of unsurprising betrayal and revenge carried out by grunting males who wish they were half as badass as God of War‘s Kratos. There’s just too little, and it’s not that interesting.

Did I leave the stove on?
“Did I leave the stove on?”

In addition to the mythology, the only other good thing Too Human has is its graphics. Environments are massive and rich with detail, and Norse imagery is everywhere in glowing runes, intricate carvings, and hulking statues of ravens, warriors, and valkyries. There’s an incredible amount of elaborate armor and weaponry designs, and the characters and enemies have detailed designs. Unfortunately, sometimes when these graphics are in motion, the quality goes down. Combat animations are pretty smooth, but in cutscenes, the camera staggers and shudders, animations are not fluid, and characters are stiff and a little robotic.

What’s more, Too Human is filled with bad action-movie lines delivered by mediocre voice actors. Wolf Squad, a set of helper NPCs that accompanies you for most of your missions, specializes in spouting off such B-movie-quality gems as “I need a stiff drink, or two, or a dozen”; “Permission to kick ass, sir?!”; “Time to kill something!”; and “Odin, free my soul to Valhalla!!!” — the Norse equivalent of “LEROY JENKINS!” There’s also plenty of corny macho banter worthy of extended eyerolling, such as “I wish I was home with my wife!” followed by “I wish I was home with your wife!”

The music and sound effects aren’t much better. Too Human has possibly the most ear-splitting high-pitched menu sounds of this generation, and the music soundtrack is a mediocre mixed bag of generic grinding rock and pseudo-epic songs with drums and a choir. In addition, damage-over-time effects activate every second, and they are punctuated by a randomly selected grunt from Baldur with irritating canned results: “Oog! Ugh! Augh! Augh! Oog! Oog! Oog! Ugh! Oog! Augh!”

There is absolutely nothing Freudian here.
There is absolutely nothing Freudian here.

As far as gameplay goes, Too Human is a hack-n-loot action RPG with a class system, a skill tree, and linear dungeons. The game showcases a unique control scheme in which you simply tilt the controller sticks toward whatever unlucky target you want to kill. Baldur then slides toward the enemy and hacks away. He can keep sliding and hacking as much as you like, and in crowds of weak enemies, it’s fairly amusing. Among tougher customers, it’s awful and sluggish, which makes the game’s most showy asset rather impotent. There are some other shiny things to try out, such as melee combos, ranged attacks, air combos (“juggling”), and area-of-effect finishing moves (“Ruiners”). At times, however, the overwhelming number of tough enemies hinders combat and causes too many deaths. Outside of combat, there’s also a good amount of customization and stat-tweaking, not to mention playing with all the Mad-Libbed “_____ _____ of _____ _____” loot that you pick up.

But for all its alleged diversity, there’s no actual gameplay depth. Instead of class choices and tree decisions diversifying your gameplay methods and experiences, you make tradeoffs for variations in performance while playing essentially the same way. For example, you can play a Berserker and build him for speed, or you can enhance his damage. You can play a Bio Engineer with slower and weaker attacks but stronger Ruiners and the ability to heal, or play a Commando and have improved ranged weapon use. No matter what you choose, however, the gameplay is still pretty much the same.

Shallow gameplay is forgivable, perhaps, but shoddy controls and annoying glitches are not. As hack-n-loot comprises the overwhelming majority of the game, poor controls can be a dealbreaker. Guns are probably the biggest offenders. You can’t correctly lock on to an enemy right in front of you most of the time due to nonsensical target prioritizing and the fact that you can’t reliably select the one target you need. In fact, in crowds, the gun tends to select the closest enemy, regardless of that enemy’s position. Baldur will actually turn 45 degrees or even 180 degrees to shoot an enemy even though you want to aim at one in the character’s original line of vision. The gun will also stay fixed on a defeated enemy until it despawns, and attempting to retarget will usually cause the gun to lock on the defeated enemy again instead of the actual threat charging toward Baldur.

This is compounded by the parade of glitches and other annoyances that cumulatively frustrate the player. Sometimes enemies get stuck and suspended in place for no reason. Sometimes corpses don’t clear out properly. Sometimes enemies suddenly fade and disappear while they are attacking you. There are also doors that won’t open, levels that won’t properly load, and the ability to fall through floors into eternal nothingness. The automatic camera makes navigation a pain and hinders vision during tight, highly-mobile combat situations. In addition to pinning itself in corners, the camera fixates on whichever enemy it thinks is the biggest threat — an attempt at help that only hurts when you need to push past that large Goblin and take out the ranged attackers that are brutally assaulting you with guided missiles. Sometimes there’s too much on the screen all at once: a melee crowd clamoring for Baldur’s attention, Trolls at the fringes with giant hammers that inflict area-of-effect ground damage, and ranged attackers constantly firing explosive missiles, targeting lasers, and bullets of light. Somewhere in the herd, there’s an elemental enemy that will freeze Baldur in ice for several moments or create a fiery explosion the second Baldur hits it, and with the shoddy targeting system and the fact that the game goads you into mowing through crowds, you won’t always be able to single out this enemy for effective and safe elimination. You can’t prevent or control the onslaught, and once you’re in it, the controls let you down and you die a lot. Every death — along with the 20-second death cutscene of a Valkyrie carrying Baldur to Valhalla and the fact that sometimes you respawn near or in the middle of the crowd that killed you — just exacerbates the frustration. This isn’t challenge; it’s the game ripping the controller out of your hands and clocking you over the head with it.

Combat isn’t the only aspect with troubles. In one spot, a specific cutscene will replay at different points in the game, even though it’s obviously supposed to be a one-time scene. The menu has atrocious lag; in fact, it’s so bad that it’s better to cycle around backwards through several pages and the menu to circumvent the two offending sections than to pass over them and lag the game.

Though it is less of an annoyance and more of an indication of poor programming, the AI-controlled helpers are completely pathetic. Wolf Squad members just stand back and shoot, but they also cleverly allow enemies to mow them down or blast them to bits while they run in place like guest stars in a Scooby Doo cartoon. Thor, your partner for only one mission, prefers to chip away at a lone enemy in the corner or stand completely still and exclaim “When does the heavy stuff start?” while getting a free prostate exam from an obliging enemy robot.

At times, Too Human is just a little bit fun. But with frustrating glitches and controls, a lackluster story, and repetitive and shallow gameplay, Too Human isn’t up to standards. Despite its lengthy development phase, it’s still unpolished. It falls far short of its hype and comes off as pointless he-man chest-beating. Furthermore, as the hulking Baldur stomps through massive dungeons and cuts a swath through hundreds of screeching cybernetic monsters to the sound of grinding death metal, you can’t help but think that Silicon Knights must really be gunning for that prestigious Spike TV RPG of the Year Award. In the end, Too Human is just too full of itself. Hardcore hack-n-loot fans may adore Too Human, but the rest of us should steer clear.

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