Addicted to Too Human – Presentation and Story
“Please sir, can I have some more . . .”
©2008 Aaron Bertinetti:
I’ve played the demo upwards of 10 hours. Not the full game. The demo! And as I explained in the first article of this series, it took time for me to come to appreciate the depth of combat and accept the camera. But since then I haven’t been able to get enough of it and continue to find more depth and intrigue on repeat playthroughs. And it seems that many others are being drawn in as well . . .
As noted previously, the purpose of this series is to seek forgiveness for my earlier judgements in far greater detail. My failure was to judge a book by its cover, and by what misinformed others were saying, rather than by the contents within.
Too Human is like a bottle of fine wine! You could drink the glass and complain about some sediment, or you could drink the bottle and marvel at its unique full bodied flavour. We firmly recommend the “bottle approach” (3-4 playthroughs) before you make your mind up and, in my case, become thoroughly addicted (or drunk?).
• You can revisit my take on the Camera and Combat here
• And you can find our Easter Egg guide to the demo here.
But the purpose of this article is to make my next two confessions and eat another very humble pie…
Part 3: The Good, The Average & The Occasionally Fugly . . .
Had I accepted the early word of E3′ 06 and some rather exaggerated claims by a number of more recent sources, I wouldn’t have thought much of Too Human going in. Similarly I didn’t approach it as a Gears-killing, graphical showcase that some may have expected given it’s earlier development history with Unreal Engine 3.
After repeat playthroughs it’s been easy to pick fault and blessings alike, but it’s also become abundantly clear that it’s hard to comprehend why anyone would regard Too Human in either extreme. The reality is that as much as I’ve come to love the combat, accept the camera and become addicted to the loot, there’s no denying that Too Human’s presentation is a mixed bag. So suck it up and let me explain, before you have my head and carry me around like Mimir!
Worst of the bunch are the quality of some character models, specifically the textures and animation of character’s faces in cut scenes. Human characters often stare ghost-like into the distance, or lip animations appear disjointed from dialogue in a strangely Monkey Magic type way.
It’s a jarring experience that is only compacted by some inexplicably horrendous MS paint like eyebrows on pivotal character Heimdal, and some terrible textures on the oldest of the three NORNs in Cyberspace. And whilst it doesn’t have any significant impact on your enjoyment of the actual game, it certainly lessens the immersion you have within Too Human’s otherwise engaging narrative.
There are also a number of areas that whilst adequate seem unpolished.
Voice acting ranges from good to Bruce Campbell comedy. It’s certainly no worse than the overcompensating efforts present in most of today’s AAA titles, Master Chief I’m looking at you, but it’s certainly a notch below the quality seen in Mass Effect and GTAIV.
Too Human is all about depth and as a result the menus are a core vehicle of the game’s hefty RPG elements and players are likely to spend considerable time jumping in and out of them. And whilst I can tolerate a standard Microsoft type font, much like I did Mass Effect’s, the majority of my menu bane is reserved for the inexplicable lag as you switch between sections and the dog-killing high pitch sound that accompanies it. If Silicon Knights doesn’t fix this I’m likely to be tone deaf within a week of release!
Some have also taken issue with the combat animations but it seems this is based largely on mistaken preconceptions of a DMC or Ninja Gaiden type combat experience, rather than the unique combat system on offer here that I explained earlier. And whilst the animations aren’t industry leading, I’m convinced they are a deliberate function of gameplay, with combat becoming much more fluid and free flowing as you upgrade your character’s abilities and equipment, along with your own dual analogue stick skills.
Otherwise there is a lot to love about Too Human . . .
Technically the game impresses and whilst not on the whore-setting level of Gears of War 2, it maintains a remarkably stable frame rate despite the bounty of high res textures, lighting, enemies, vast environments, anti aliasing, the speed of combat and an impressive draw distance. This is in stark contrast to three very notable titles; the incredibly buggy and pop-in king Mass Effect (yet I still loved it!); the occasionally glitch-licious and pop-in friendly GTAIV (loved that to!); and most certainly a mile ahead of the jaggies and bland textures in Halo 3 (I assume my point is made!).
Cut scenes are suitably cinematic with some stunning set pieces, such as your first encounter with Heimdall, that rarely prevent the player from moving within a scene and convey a surprising amount of subtext through more subtle character animations. They also happen to hide the loading screens so that the movement from action to story is seamless, unless of course you skip them. Perhaps the only niggle is the death animation when Baldur is resurrected by a Valkyrie, but treat it as a respawn penalty and it becomes an incentive to plan your combat better.
The art design of environments is particularly beautiful with a diverse mix of Norse architecture and design meeting the technologically advanced machine world. It’s clear the concept artists had a field day and they would surely be pleased by the volume and detail of their work on display here, as giant, intricately-detailed metallic murals compete with equally imposing statues of gods and heroes for the player’s attention.
I should also make special mention of the game’s score. With what I’ve heard so far it appears Steve Henefin’s haunting themes will compare favourably with his Eternal Darkness score and ingrain themselves upon a gamer’s subconscious.
But my real praise is for the loot!
Loot is the backbone of Too Human’s replayability and it looks absolutely stunning. The armour that encases enemies right down to the cannon fodder goblins is equally impressive. Whoever spent their time creating these intricately designed pieces deserves a pay rise, because they’ve ensured that I’ve replayed the demo multiple times just to see what new weapons, armour, runes and crafting blueprints I could find.
From beak-like and horned helmets; to massive golden pauldrons engraved with Norse teachings; and battleskins with armoured six packs; the variety and design of armour is truly astounding! It very much reminds me of the obsessive attention to detail and design by Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop that was awarded several Oscars for its work on the Lord of The Rings trilogy.
No less impressive are the weapons, which vary wildly in colour, shape, style, influence and size. As a result it’s easy to see players sticking with visual favourites despite having more powerful weapons in their inventory. For me nothing has yet exceeded my beautifully designed and hilariously named “Ancient Broadsword of Rooting”!
A behemoth (naturally) of a weapon, with an extravagantly weaved purple hilt from which to wield it. My only hope is that Silicon Knights has a screenshot feature up their sleeves so I can share and show off my character’s loot-based appearance with friends over Live, and that perhaps incorporates the revamped dashboard’s impending party system and photo sharing feature. Alternatively you could just let my Avatar wear the loot?!
Wishful thinking aside, Silicon Knights deserve a heap of kudos . . .
They’ve turned a technically disastrous performance at E3 ’06 into a technically impressive showing at E3 ’08 and in the demo, regardless of who or what was at fault. I find it puzzling that anyone would expect Too Human to be a graphical showcase, when the key here is that the technical chops on offer enhance the gameplay and are well in excess of other titles I enjoy playing in similar genres such as Mass Effect, World of Warcraft and Diablo 2.
Too Human won’t win any awards for best graphics, but the presentation for the most part is successful with the highly impressive art design and detail only serving to further enhance a player’s immersion in Too Human’s very unique world and become terribly, nay pitifully, attached to their most prized loot!
Part 4: The Future of Our Past is Our Future.
Confused? Maybe. Intrigued? Absolutely. And that’s one of the biggest compliments I can give to Too Human’s demo. Not since Bioshock have I and a hell of a lot of other people, been so intrigued by a game’s premise as a result of a demo. Combining the relatively unknown Norse mythos with the rich philosophical themes of man and machine not only provides an incredibly fertile foundation and “story bible” from which to build a great story, but an intellectually and ethically challenging one that the player must deal with as a core part of gameplay.
Repeat playthroughs of the demo have only heightened the sense of an impending conundrum of choice facing a player upon the title’s release. Do I choose a more naturalistic, human path and become a god amongst men, but a man amongst gods? Or should I take a cybernetic path ensuring the embrace of the Aesir who deride me as “too human”, but yet risk becoming that which I fight?
For the uninitiated, you play as Baldur not in the future but in the distant past . . .
A past civilisation far more advanced than our very own today. Baldur is the son of the king of gods Odin, and a favourite of his father and humans alike. His sole duty is to protect the human race from the advancing machine army which is determined to literally consume and wipe out mankind. However, unlike other gods the Aesir (Norse gods) are not immortal and hence cybernetically enhance themselves to combat a machine enemy that is conversely consuming human blood and body parts to become more human.
Baldur is the freshman, stuck in the middle of this existential paradox. He is the least cybernetically enhanced god of all, which in turn endears him to humans but sees him being derided, suspected and mocked as “too human” by his fellow gods. So the player’s journey as Baldur begins as a god more comfortable with the humans he protects, than on the battlefields in which fights to protect them. From there it is the choice of the player of how Baldur shall evolve (that’s the next article!).
Norse mythology is not my strongest subject . . .
But it’s quickly become one of great interest as a result of the demo… and those conspiracy laden “Goblin Man” videos. I want to understand Baldur, the Aesir, the NORNs of Cyberspace, the humans and the machines. Why are machines eating humans? Why is there a nuclear winter?
And what if Norse mythology is actually human history that was simply passed down as such to protect our modern civilisation from something we simply couldn’t comprehend. In Norse mythology we know that Baldur was a crucial element in the changes to the world as we know it, but the how and why are completely unknown and are hence the focus of what the player will explore.
Yet even beyond the dense mythology and philosophy there is a wealth of more personal subtext evident amongst the earlier cut scenes of the demo. Reference is made to an emotionally strained Baldur losing his wife in a tragic event. There is division of human soldiers, with some devoted believers and others derisive cynics of the Norse beliefs.
Personal and political machinations are implied in Heimdall’s initial dismissal of Baldur’s impassioned request to protect the human race and pursue an expedition. And true to the mythology, Baldur appears to be very much the ladies man, with a sexually aggressive and voluptuous NORN competing with the more repressed desires of Freya. And this is all before we are even introduced to the other Aesir, humans, and the masters of their machine foes.
That’s reason enough for me to purchase the game to find out what happens next . . .
But typically, my lack of patience has meant I’ve already started looking for answers beyond the demo. Some gamers have expressed particular concerns about their lack of understanding of Norse mythology, and whilst a digital Norse encyclopaedia would be a very welcome inclusion on the game disc, it’s also a case of “the more you put in, the more you get out”.
So for anyone so inclined I highly recommend you check out TooHuman.net in which gamers, developers and Denis Dyack himself discuss the incredibly rich source material and where Too Human is headed. There’s even an epic thread that has run since March this year trying to decode and work out just what the Goblin Man is and whether there’s any truth behind those enigmatic documentaries. I may be a born sceptic, but the mass of research and evidence in that thread is starting to make me genuinely question my own existence!
Bottom line is the story has me intrigued, wanting more and a little freaked out!
And I certainly won’t be rushing it so I can claim I finished it in the same time-frame as AAA titles such as Call of Duty 4, Halo 3, Mass Effect and the original Diablo. I will be immersing myself in Too Human’s world and if it took me one hour to squeeze that full 5% out of the demo, I can only assume it’ll take close to twenty hours to complete the story and game once through (100%).
Even if it turns out shorter than I expect, I hardly see it as an issue given the quality of what I’ve seen so far and Silicon Knight’s track record as masterful storytellers.