Silicon Knights' Too Human may be one of the most ambitious console games currently in development, a series that has been planned from the get-go to span three full releases, layering Norse mythology on top of a science fiction setting taking place thousands of years in the past. This is epic, universe establishing stuff. What other game kicks off with a Friedrich Nietzsche quote or has the gall to use the mythic tree Yggdrasil as a conduit to Cyberspace?
Too Human also happens to have one of the more epic development cycles, spanning three generations of consoles and, at times, overshadowed by drama surrounding an ongoing legal dispute with the developers of the Unreal Engine. Regardless of the hubbub attached to Too Human's production and the occasional headline-grabbing quote from founder Denis Dyack, it's the game that matters to most of the majority. And we finally played it.
Following an hour long walkthrough of a near final build of Too Human with Dyack, in which he got us up to speed on the game's varied characters and gameplay mechanics, we're fairly certain of one thing—Too Human can be a gorgeous game. As you may have seen from some of the recently released screen shots, the team is capable of some impressive technical feats.
Graphically, Too Human shows that it has the potential to output some fantastic visuals. The game runs in native 720p with four passes of anti-aliasing helping to create a very polished image. It's got all the candies—lovely textures, normal maps, brilliant lighting and expansive environments.
Unfortunately, that level of detail often comes with a price, as whatever in-house engine is now powering the game sometimes chugged under the pressure. These moments of frame rate sluggishness were most prevalent in one of the game's cut scenes, something in which Too Human is not lacking.
That may be because the story, not necessarily the gameplay—though we'll get to that—seems to be Silicon Knights' focus. The team has built a near seamless storytelling experience with Too Human, with Dyack proudly proclaiming at the start of his presentation "Pay attention to the loading screen, because it's the last one you'll see in the demo." It's true (mostly). Too Human bounces from location to location, timeframe to timeframe without a progress bar in sight, as the team has hidden all that ugly disc reading behind in-game cinematics.
If you really want to see some loading, though, you can. Simply skip the cut scenes—as long as they aren't the interactive ones—and you'll see that Too Human is, well, human after all. It's a good trick, though, and they deserve credit for it.
Some of those cut scenes, however, actually seemed to do a disservice to the impact of the game's massive scope. It's clear that Silicon Knights is taken with some of the work it has done and wants the player to make sure he or she notices every last detail. Some of the cut scenes we saw featured awkward zooms to things like holographic glasses(!) and individually rendered eyebrow hairs(!). Others were dripping with cliched, melodramatic action sequences, like when protagonist Baldur dragged his sword along the pavement for spark-filled effect before back-flipping off a wall and slicing off a robot arm in slow motion. This, just after a John Woo-style super duper slo-mo shoot out with a flying buzzsaw menace, was too much cheese to swallow.
We may just be extremely hard to please. Thirty minutes with the title is hardly a good measure of what's planned to be an epic drama, so let's talk about gameplay.
After picking one of five starting classes—Champion, Commando, BioEngineer, Berserker and Defender—each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses, then setting out, it became clear that Too Human has its roots in a handful of classics. It adopts parts of Devil May Cry's shoot and slash gameplay and Diablo's loot-gathering addiction in an attempt to create an RPG that's friendly to action game types.
Like Diablo, combat is fairly simple. It may not be "point, click, kill, drink potion, repeat" but Too Human doesn't necessarily require the finger dexterity of Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden to play. You'll use the left analog stick to move around, with the right stick used for melee attacks, right trigger for your firearm. Right analog stick slashes and bashes can be chained together, simply by pointing the stick in the direction of the enemy you want to attack, then toward the next, then toward the next, ad infinitum. Double tap the stick and you'll knock them up in the air, setting up enemies for combo juggles and breaking up the monotony.
String enough of these together and you'll build up your super move, known as a Ruiner, an insta-kill explosion that can pull you out of a tight jam. These can be pulled off with a quick tap of the right bumper, but Silicon Knights has also included a few dual-stick moves that add variety.
Truth be told, there was a certain stiffness to the combat, something that action game die hards may sniff at. Baldur's constant gliding from bad guy to bad guy looked, well, goofy and the Troll "surfing" combat tactic felt out of place, just different enough from button pressing God of War-style mini-games to not be totally damnable, but close enough to be annoying.
One of the most challenging foes we must mention is the one you'll never kill, is Too Human's occasionally wonky camera. Despite Dyack's assertion that the camera tech is "intelligent" and one that the player need not control, it definitely got in our way more than once. Shooting off screen enemies while getting smacked from behind by Goblins is something we hope that doesn't make it into the final game. Fortunately, the camera can be panned in and out using the D-pad or re-centered using the left bumper.
Silicon Knights' biggest challenge, outside of the technical ones that could still be ironed out before the game ships (no, we don't know when that is) is bringing all these disparate elements from multiple gameplay types together into a cohesive package. Add to that a storyline that attempts to blend Norse mythology, sci-fi cinema, and existentialist and postmodernist philosophy, and Too Human may wind up being a beautiful mess.
However, with a quintet of character classes, a deep skill tree and a World of Warcraft-style loot system—you'll pick up equipment with names like Sacred Tactical Visor of Opportunity and Harrowing Lance of Wrath, some socketable with runes a la Diablo II—there should be plenty of replay value in Too Human, at least for those who don't quibble as much as we do. Add to that a four-player co-op option (that we sadly didn't get to try out) and a crafting system, and we suspect that the game will resonate for a long time with gamers.
Others, however, may find that other games have done what Too Human is attempting to do before (and better) and may just want to wait for the novelization. Or at least until the trilogy is finally complete to enjoy the ride in one epic slog.