What to say about Too Human, the first in a planned Xbox 360 exclusive dungeon crawler trilogy? We've finished the single-player campaign, tested all five of the game's classes, dabbled in two-player online co-op and levelled our main 'Champion' class Baldur, the game's cybernetically enhanced protagonist God, past level 30, and we're still not sure what we think about it.
Our conundrum is this: Too Human is rubbish and mysteriously addictive all at the same time. It's not as bad as you might have heard, but nowhere near as good as it should have been. It's a game that had us tearing our hair out in frustration, had us laughing at its technical failings and bemused by its ridiculous plot, and yet we played it obsessively for five days solid, and, during that time, actually enjoyed ourselves quite a bit.
Silicon Knights' head honcho, Denis Dyack, doesn't believe a game's development, however arduous, should factor into its review, so we won't mention the fact that Too Human has been in the works for nearly 10 years, has suffered a game engine re-write and generated a ton of negative hype on hardcore forums. Hold on...
Too Human opens with a quote from post-modernist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he doesn't become one himself." Puzzled? Don't be. Set in a Norse mythology-inspired cyber-punk world, the game asks the question: would you sacrifice your humanity in order to save humanity? The problem is Too Human doesn't bother to answer its own question properly.
You play Baldur, the son of Odin and the youngest of the Aesir, a race of cybernetically enhanced humans worshipped as if gods and charged with defending the human race from an army of machines. The story begins with Baldur's rescue from Helheim, a smoke-filled necropolis where the dishonourable dead are sent to rot. We then skip forward nine months to the attack on a bar by a monstrous troll-like machine. A rejuvenated Baldur fends the beast off, dismembering its arm in the process, but not before he witnesses it drink the blood of one of its victims. Back at the Aesir palace, Baldur pleads with Heimdall, the 'watchman' of the Aesir, to allow him to investigate. Heimdall's problem is that the forces of Helheim have declared war on Aesir, breaking a long-standing pact with Midgar, the walled enclave where the last million or so humans reside. But Baldur, being the righteous so and so that he is, convinces his boss to see things his way, and so heads off into the frozen wastes with a few dozen human marines to take it to the machines. Confused? Don't worry, we were too. Too Human's plot, told entirely through around an hour and a half of high quality cut scenes and in-game narration, is bemusing, ill conceived and poorly told.
In reality though Too Human's story takes a back seat to the combat-heavy dungeon crawling. You'll get your first taste of this during the first level, Hall of Heroes, an icy tomb filled with giant stone statues of Norse gods. The game has been compared to Blizzard's massively popular PC game Diablo, and we can see why. You move from room to room clearing out endless streams of mechanised goblins, dark elves and trolls (imagine the troll from the first The Lord of the Rings movie except in robot form) until you reach the end of the level and battle a boss. Too Human follows this dungeon crawler format pretty religiously throughout its four levels, incorporating RPG tech tree based skill spending to keep you occupied as you go.
Your main motivation though is the collection of loot. In fact, for us, that was the only motivation. But that's a strong one for the right kind of gamer. If you've ever spent hours raiding dungeons in World of Warcraft praying for epic drops, you'll know what we mean. Too Human does a great job of getting into your head and forcing you to keep playing in the hope that you'll stumble upon an even better double-handed sword than the one you've currently got equipped, or an even better helmet than the one sitting on your head, or an even better pair of boots than the ones warming your feet. Whenever you land a purple coloured item an epic sounding monk choir 'mmwwhaaaaah' noise blasts from your speakers. Land an orange item and it sounds like Odin himself gets in on the act. Land a red item, the rarest in the game (expect to repeatedly crawl the game's dungeons for at least 20 hours before you see one) and all hell breaks loose. It's probably the coolest thing the game has to offer.
It's a strange thing to get addicted to, especially when you consider that you'll only be able to show your gear off to one player at any one time in the online co-op, not hundreds of jealous virtual avatars in front of the bank in Ironforge. And yet Too Human's addictiveness is unavoidable - a bit like Cherry Coke.