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This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Silicon Knights' Too Human, a long-awaited action-adventure epic that reviews describe as "a game of false starts and unrealized potential."

Danny Cowan

August 20, 2008

6 Min Read

This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Silicon Knights' Too Human, a long-awaited action-adventure epic that reviews describe as "a game of false starts and unrealized potential." Originally announced for release on the Sony PlayStation in 1999, Too Human switched development platforms twice before its premiere this week on the Xbox 360 in North America. Despite the strength of previous Silicon Knights releases like Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes and Eternal Darkness, however, a troubled development history has caused many to question Too Human's gameplay quality in the months leading up to its debut. Critical reaction to the title thus far has been mixed, with Metacritic.com calculating an average review score of 67 out of 100 Stevie Smith at Ferrago awards Too Human a score of 88 out of 100. "Eight years in the making, and far-removed from its original 1999 PlayStation blueprint, Too Human offers itself up as a compelling, all-action dungeon crawler that's equal parts hack-and-slash extravaganza and progressive RPG," he begins. "But, as with any media release left to stew for so long in developmental limbo, does Too Human buckle beneath the weight of prolonged expectation?" Smith admits that the issues present in Too Human's initial demo release persist in the final product, to a certain extent. "What the pre-release demo of Too Human clearly showed was that a divided reception awaited the full retail version of the game," he writes. "For example, initial demo complaints will likely be upheld as many will no-doubt label the game's unique character control and battle mechanics as inexplicably shallow, clunky or unrewarding." However, Smith asserts that with patience, players will find a deep and polished product. "The crux of its actual gameplay success (for it is a success) is largely dependent on the player's choice of character class and also the investment of an appropriate amount of time and effort to evolve the abilities of that particular class," he says. "Too Human is all about investment. Investment of game time, investment of currency (Bounty), investment of patience, and the investment of experimentation." Smith feels that Too Human's faults eventually melt away after an initial adjustment period. "Once beyond level 35, players will find that slashing through the near-relentless rush of undead souls flooding from Helheim becomes almost a ballet of destruction," he praises. "Those who love it will stubbornly plough forward from death to death, ever-reaching for the next level, and the next level, in order to experience the sheer visceral pleasure of directing Baldur in his almost invincible dance of death." Game Informer's Andrew Reiner rates Too Human at 6.75 out of 10, claiming that a ten-year development period has resulted in a disappointing final product. "After all these years and stories, this mythical game is finally upon us," he says. "Like most exposed legends, the truth behind it is a monumental letdown." Reiner finds that Too Human focuses tightly on item collection and character customization. "If your fondest gaming memories consist of reworking skill trees, and enhancing weapons and armor with effects, you'll be pleased to hear that the best parts of this game are all found within the menus," he notes. "You can customize everything. There are tons of weapons and armor to find and purchase, and a dizzying amount of effects you can apply to them. You can even apply a rune that changes the color of your gear so it all matches." "When you peel away the extensive customization and...well...menus, Too Human runs into a world of trouble," Reiner continues. "The main offender is the combat. I like the idea behind the analog-based system, and I did occasionally catch glimpses of why it could be brilliant. But I mostly found it an uncooperative mess that doesn't give the precision needed for specific combat situations." According to Reiner, combat in Too Human is too imprecise to be consistently satisfying. "All you can do is point in the general direction and hope the targeting system highlights your enemy," he writes. "If it doesn't pick up your target, enjoy dying and watching the lengthy regeneration sequence. Standard battles are bothersome for all the wrong reasons, and the boss fights are so poorly designed or overcharged with hit points that they seem like parodies of real boss battles." "In the end, Too Human is all about players sculpting their ideal killing machines," Reiner concludes. "If you enjoy leveling and looting, it's well worth a look. If you only have a moderate interest, Too Human's aggravating gameplay and irreparable plot won't deliver many thrills." GameSpot reviewer Kevin VanOrd gives Too Human a score of 5.5 out of 10, citing balance issues as a major complaint. "Too Human is a game of false starts and unrealized potential that infiltrate almost every aspect of the game, from story, to combat, to balance," he writes. "Its elements feel stitched together, making for a patchwork quilt of a game that's fraying at the seams." Too Human's Norse mythology-inspired science fiction narrative makes little sense in the context of gameplay, according to VanOrd. "Too Human drops you into the world with little sensible exposition," he says. "A good narrative doesn't need to spoon-feed plot points to you, but Too Human would have benefited from a better introduction to its unusual universe." VanOrd finds that Too Human remains enjoyable in its analog stick-controlled melee combat sequences, however. "The good news is that when you are in the thick of combat, you'll find yourself having some fun," he admits. "There are five different classes at your disposal, but regardless of which you choose at the outset, you can use both melee and ranged weapons. Close combat is where the game shines, and in those moments it plays like an action game with a control-focused twist." On the other hand, VanOrd feels that ranged combat comes across as inconsistent. "The targeting system is unintuitive and sometimes broken, failing to lock on to an enemy even if there are monsters in range and directly in front of you," he writes. "Should you try to switch targets, you may target an enemy outside your field of view, or find yourself shooting at nothing at all." As a whole, VanOrd describes Too Human as an exercise in unrealized potential. "There are further idiosyncrasies to note, including awkward camera angles and the occasional glitch (for example, doors that won't open when you approach them, but open if you leave and return)," he notes in conclusion. "These and other issues don't make Too Human a bad game, but they make it a disappointing one that revs its engine only to come to a screeching halt moments later." While some critics feel that Too Human's issues can be overlooked with patience, others find that its repetitive and flawed gameplay makes the experience a frustrating disappointment. Reviewers recommend the title to gamers who enjoyed the previously released demo version, while others are cautioned to rent before committing to a purchase.

About the Author(s)

Danny Cowan

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Danny Cowan is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist for Gamasutra and its subsites. Previously, he has written reviews and feature articles for gaming publications including 1UP.com, GamePro, and Hardcore Gamer Magazine.

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