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Too Human (Xbox 360) artwork

Too Human (Xbox 360) review

"A more optimistic person than myself would probably assume that when a development team spends an entire decade on a pet project of theirs, they’re doing it for the love of the craft, to ensure that the final product is as perfect as it could possibly be. It seems infuriating that Too Human could wind up such a monumentally hollow bore after so much time on the workbench, until the realization hits you that good games only take a couple of years, at the most, to generate. When a ti..."

A more optimistic person than myself would probably assume that when a development team spends an entire decade on a pet project of theirs, they’re doing it for the love of the craft, to ensure that the final product is as perfect as it could possibly be. It seems infuriating that Too Human could wind up such a monumentally hollow bore after so much time on the workbench, until the realization hits you that good games only take a couple of years, at the most, to generate. When a title is continuously delayed over the course of two generations, it demonstrates a severe lack of focus. Years ago, Retro Studios released a nifty-looking trailer for an RPG called Raven Blade. Soon afterward, the team had the good sense to axe the project because it “wasn’t going anywhere.” Poor Too Human was not so fortunate.

After bouncing back and forth on the figurative ping pong table of game development for as long as it did, the Too Human we have today is most likely the result of Silicon Knights running out of steam and becoming desperate to produce something, anything, to bring the project to an end. (Which puts them a step above the Duke Nukem Forever team, and if those are the lofty heights they’ve aspired to, mission accomplished.) It is a game of no unique ideas and no ambition, a conceptual black hole. I'm guessing one could accurately describe the entirety of Too Human in a single sentence. No one could ever just pitch this idea to a design team, because it’s impossible to make the game sound good. Whatever Silicon Knights originally intended for this game is now buried under lousy controls and hazy allusions to Norse mythology.

Ironically, what Too Human most prominently lacks is humanity. It appears to be the product of some sort of experimental futuristic computer program designed to churn out games for profit, one that undoubtedly knows what a video game is but has no concept of entertainment, and lacks the creative spark that separates a man-made project from something this mechanical. Too Human has players venturing through enormous and astronomically flat landscapes, mindlessly hacking through hundreds, thousands of repeated enemies for hours of uninterrupted gameplay at a time. Its few cutscenes have self-serious voice actors playing humorless characters who deliver lengthy monologues with the tone of a Shakespearean tragedy, but without any semblance of dramatic weight. To this computer program’s credit, Too Human is unquestionably a video game. That, I cannot deny. But it is neither art nor entertainment.

Okay, okay: Too Human can claim to be one of the very few hack-and-slash titles to primarily use the right analog stick for combat, something most games tend to avoid, for good reason. This does, first and foremost, leave very little room for camera control, but the majority of you liked Ninja Gaiden and have no right to complain! The camera, bless its little heart, does all it can to keep up with the action at hand and often isn’t as big of a nuisance as you’d imagine, but any time main character Baldur makes a sudden change in direction or gets stuck in a corner, dizzying disorientation takes center stage.

And the combat… oh, the combat. It’s virtually non-interactive, as players must simply use the right analog stick to highlight the enemy they want to kill and Baldur will do the rest, flinging himself forward and unleashing a pre-choreographed combo with virtually no input from the player. Anyone who thinks there’s depth to this approach is kidding themselves, as nearly any battle in Too Human can be cleared with only your right hand on the controller. I think it says a lot when the game itself admits via text prompt that the best way to take on groups of enemies is to spin the analog stick around in circles. Mindless doesn’t even begin to describe it. What can you call a button masher when there are no buttons involved? A “stick jerker”? Yeah, let’s go with that.

There is no discernable strategy to any of this stick jerking. The legions and legions of identical robots are as bereft of intelligent decision-making skills as an opponent ever was, and they can all move much faster than Baldur can, which means that players are literally forced to face their enemies head on, stick jerking their way through the endless hordes of mechanical goons until the level is complete. Yet the game presents the curious scenario of being too difficult for this tactic to be effective. Faceless robotic minions swarm and overwhelm you as their counterparts hide in the background nailing you with ranged attacks that you’re too far away to counter. Since you’re given so little control over how Baldur attacks – and since Baldur stupidly pauses for a moment after many of his weapon swings – the only way to be good at Too Human is to have the lucky item drop of the moment, which is entirely out of your hands.

You may have heard about Too Human’s outrageously long death animation, in which a valkyrie floats S-L-O-W-L-Y down from the heavens to retrieve our fallen hero. The scene is so drawn out, and so frequent given the game’s difficulty, that it is essentially its own punishment, since there are few other penalties for death. But it works to highlight one of the game’s biggest problems, which is that it takes far too long for things to happen in Too Human. The adventure is only four levels long, which doesn’t sound like much, yet all of them are artificially extended with – and I cannot overstate this – hours of trekking through straight, identical-looking corridors and walkways. Even after I defeated the final boss (and won the achievement for beating the game), I still had to fight through several more waves of enemies just to trigger the endgame cutscene. I’ve heard Too Human described as “endlessly replayable,” which is probably true. If you’re not sick of the game by the time it’s over, you never will be.

I’m not sure if “boring” is the right word to describe Too Human, because in all fairness, the game absolutely bombards the player with action. “Mind-numbing” may be more appropriate. The game is just playable enough to keep you from quitting in rage, yet its senseless design is punctuated by senseless enemies and a senseless control scheme. Even the art direction, the one genuinely intriguing thing about Too Human, loses its appeal when it’s recycled to such a degree. Hours and hours of your life go by with no noticeable steps away from the pattern Too Human has set for itself. The game is almost hypnotic in its endlessly repetitious crusade against the notion of fun. It’s not even until the final chapter when Silicon Knights finally introduces new enemy types, be it the exploding kamikaze zombies (because that sounds fun) or the floating commando units who indefinitely resurrect the ground forces until they’re dead. Even that stage’s generic zombie enemies hardly differentiate from the standard robot drones, and just to give you a sense of scale, I won an achievement for killing a thousand of those buggers before the level was even half over.

It’s impossible to enjoy Too Human, but perhaps more importantly, it’s impossible to respect it. The game is so empty, so devoid of life that one can barely detect any human involvement in the project. That director Denis Dyack is actually trying to pass this stick jerker off as art, actual art, is an insult to everything video games stand for as a creative medium. The people responsible for this game ought to be ashamed of themselves, and I’m tempted to say the same about the people who defend it.

Suskie's avatar
Community review by Suskie (October 24, 2009)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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