First announced in 1999 as a four-disc extravaganza on the Playstation, only the Duke has hopped more eras and platforms than Too Human. Silicon Knight's ambitious epic is now upon us, with the first game given the unenviable task of setting up a trilogy of titles the studio - and Microsoft, who've invested millions - expect can rival Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings saga.
But with its long gestation period, it's constant story and setting adjustments and an even a multi million dollar lawsuit, can Too Human buck the bad omens and deliver on Silicon Knight's hype? Or is it simply a case of too little, too late?
In Too Human's universe, the Norse gods exist. Thor, Loki, Odin, you name it. Only instead of mythical beings, they're cybernetically-enhanced humans with powers no mortal can fathom. In the Scandinavian myths, Baldur is the god of peace. In Too Human, however, he's a cybernetic badass with a big sword, two pistols that fire razor glass and facial scars that glow a lovely shade of blue.
What I can't fault Too Human for is imagination. It's simply overflowing with wonderful techno subversions on traditional Norse mythology. Take, for instance, Mimir, who in the myths is a knowledgeable figure who is eventually decapitated. In the game, he's a severed head kept alive by cybernetic implants who acts as an almost Cortana-esque adviser. Or the Norns, who are a Norse analogue to the Greek Fates, observing the past, present and future. They're renamed the N.O.R.Ns (Non Organic Rational Nano Systems) in the game and track events in cyberspace.
The only problem is, while the story and setting are sumptuously detailed and imaginative, the plot itself is pretty bad and the dialogue is awful. Baldur is a boring, brooding warrior with an arms' length of bad one-liners. Thor is an annoying oaf, Mimir a whining tag-along and even Loki, the god of mischief and Too Human's principle antagonist, is just yet another sneering, snide villain. I won't ruin the plot for you, however, as it takes some interesting twists and turns, but the overall reaction to it is decidedly underwhelming.
Too Many Ideas
With Too Human, Silicon Knights boldly proclaimed they'd merged the hack and slash stylings of the action-adventure genre with the loot grinding of an old-school RPG. Sounds fantastic, right? Imagine, whizzing around as Baldur, carving up robotic adversaries who reward you with all manner of new weapons, armor pieces and upgrades. It also featured an original take on combat, with the analogue sticks employed instead of the traditional face-buttons, a flick here and a flick there hurling Baldur across the screen in a flurry of swipes and slashes.
The problem is, Too Human isn't sure what game it wants to be at times, and the overall system crumbles under the weight of too many half-baked ideas. Take, for example, the combat; on the one hand, you can flick enemies in the air and chain attacks without touching the ground. On the other, however, it's difficult to properly target particular foes, it lacks considerable depth and just isn't as visceral or engaging as pounding the face buttons, however mindless that may be.
Then you have the RPG elements, which fare a little better. You can pick from five classes; the Champion, the Defender, the Commando, the Bio Engineer and the Bezerker. Each cater to a particular play-style, be it the melee wonders of the Bezerker or the ranged efficiency of the Commando. As an RPG, Too Human isn't bad, with a robust upgrading system and generous looting. However, it just doesn't gel with the combat, which is too comparatively simplistic, resulting in a mixed bag of offerings.
I apologize for the headings. I'm only human, too. But I digress. In 2005, Silicon Knights purchased Epic's Unreal Engine 3 to power all their upcoming projects. But when the development kits arrived late, resulting in a disastrous showing at E3, the team abandoned UE3 and began work on a brand new engine from scratch. Too Human had already been in development for six years, and now another two were to be added on.
As a result, a slew of features once promised had to be cut, and the overall game, while at times polished, is a little rough around the edges. It has a terrific art style, blending the stonework of Norse ruins with the techno stylings of cyberpunk. The score is epic and bombastic, the characters, while stiffly animated and poorly voiced, look the part as cybernetic gods.
But I can't help ruing the loss of the once championed four-player co-op, reduced to a stilted two player option which really doesn't live up to its potential. And the lauded camera system, which is controlled by an AI director that chooses appropriate angles to dramatically pitch stages and scenes, just isn't up to scratch. Too Human had so much promise, but just couldn't deliver.
- A terrific take on Norse mythology
- Deep, robust RPG options
- Analogue-stick combat is interesting...
- ... But also unwieldy and simplistic
- Poor story and characterization
- A slew of cut or poorly executed features
The Short Version: Too Human is a cybernetic action romp with a great take on Norse mythology. It suffers from an over-abundance of ideas the team simply can't pull off, and the long wait and numerous controversies don't help matters one bit. For fans of old-school dungeon crawlers it has its appeal, but for those of us looking for the perfect mash-up of the RPG and action-adventure genres, we have to be content to wait.