Silicon Knights has been fighting an uphill battle trying to break the misconception that Too Human is just another third-person “hack and slash” action fighting game after a critically miserable hands-off debut at E3 2006. Their concern is understandably warranted. The RPG customization options are deceptively deep and noticeably impact the effectiveness of Baldur, the cybernetic Norse God main playable character, as he levels up with experience. Only so much time can be designated towards spending experience points and choosing armor and weapons before the time comes to play and 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 save 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 humans are privy to. To experience both sides of the coin a player would need to replay essentially the entire game twice.
Building Baldur’s strengths are achieved by spending experience points Skill Trees with three paths each. What’s unique to how Silicon Knights has designed the trees is 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 previously so there are financial consequences for having a change of heart.
Like with any RPG game, 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 continually assigning points and not recognizing the fruits of their efforts until dramatic combat enhancements become evident later in the game.
Too Human’s combat design is its greatest strength and glaring weakness at the same time. Baldur’s smooth close-quarter directional melee moves executed with the right analog stick at enemies encroaching from 360-degrees are easy to pick up and learn and 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 which aids in simplicity but subtracts from his attack options. The face buttons never come into play unless to evade by either jumping or rolling away from danger.
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 bad buys only offers two options: do I shoot my guns or attack with my sword? Rinsed and repeated over multiple hours can grow tiresome fast, with or without the benefit of a deep RPG character management system or co-op with a bud.
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.
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 airs 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.
– Dan Bradley