Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Review: Too Human (X360)

Too Human is worth exploring if you have enjoyed action RPGs in the past, but you will have to look beyond flawed game mechanics and design.

Pros: Sci-Fi twist on Norse mythology; plenty of action
Cons: Broken RPG class & item system; no sense of empowerment; weak level design; many small annoyances; below par graphics and character design

Too Human attempts to blend elements from multiple video genres and concepts: including, Diablo, Halo, Devil May Cry, God of War, Legacy of Kane and Shadowman. However, for each neat idea that has been borrowed, there is flawed execution and questionable design decisions.

The combat is a very good example. The game is designed to mirror the point and click top-down PC RPGs, by using a twin stick mechanic where you point towards enemies to engage them. It is a nice idea, but you are actually left with a very loose feeling experience and limited camera control as the right stick usually assigned camera control in 3D games. Unfortunately the automatic camera doesn’t work too well so there can be some really frustrating moments. The lack of camera control also makes exploring the game world, for secrets and hidden items, needlessly tiresome.

Too Human features an extremely comprehensive item system with many nuances and customization options. However, again, the good idea is ruined by the game forcing you to use weapons within a level or two. You never, therefore, feel any benefit from the new item, as the enemies level up at exactly the same rate. Other RPGs and action RPGs successfully allow the player to use a powerful weapon - to give the feeling of awesomeness from the reward. Unfortunately, Too Human never lets you experience empowerment, and removes one of the key features that make action RPGs fun and satisfying.

Too Human also attempts to blend Sci-Fi with Norse mythology. It should be fantastic but it is less than successful. The narrative is clumsy and crude, whilst the characters are not established such that you feel anything for them. The Norse Mythology was so badly handled that I had to resort to Wikipedia to actually work out what was going on! The game ends with a rather limp cliffhanger too. So much for Dyack’s priority in storytelling?

The biggest problem with Too Human, by far, are the fundamental design issues; particularly the class system. On my play-through, I chose the Berserker class who’s strengths reside in combos and dual welding. However, these strengths are balanced with very weak ranged attack and no real defense. This would be fine except that nearly all the the game’s larger enemies and bosses require ranged attacks in order to expose their weak spots. Creating a game that plays to the strengths of some classes, but makes it almost impossible for others, is a serious oversight. It can make for some very long and tedious battles that could only be accomplished by the (fairly) penalty free reincarnation - provided you can put up with the 30 second death animation..clipping and all.

Every time I felt I was starting to enjoy my play-through of Too Human, another serious flaw would rob me of my enjoyment. Despite that, it is worth playing though the game to experience some of the better scripted moments and occasional sense of accomplishment. I did enjoy the game in places. If only it had another 12 months of development to fix some of the design flaws.