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Norse Code – the riddle of Too Human August 26, 2008

Posted by Chris in Console, Games, Impressions.
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I received a copy of Silicon Knights’ much-derided Too Human through the post today. Well, at least if you believe half the stuff you read on internet gaming forums, you’d think it was much-derided. In fact, Too Human currently sits on a Metacritic average of 68 – hardly something to rival Bioshock or Halo 3, but not quite subject to the critical lambasting some were expecting.

Yet has there been any kind of marketing blitz for this key first-party release? Hardly. Then surely a special edition – the likes of which Fable 2 and the forthcoming Gears of War are being treated to? Not a sausage. Even the game’s manual seems a little flimsy and nondescript – neatly laid out and printed, sure, but that paper doesn’t smell very expensive.

Start the game, and you’ll likely feel equally unimpressed – production values are hardly sky-high, while the lack of both visual and technical polish (stuttering characters, clipping, enemies dying in mid-air and staying there) betray the game’s troubled development. Whatever your opinion on Microsoft Game Studios’ output this generation, few can suggest its games haven’t felt like they’ve had a thorough going over, with the sort of tiny, niggly flaws seen here all but airbrushed out. Yet Too Human’s blemishes and flabby bits are there for all to see.

Yet these eccentricities seem to add a little character to this curious game – there’s something fascinating about how such a strange title came to be. The story seems to take itself almost laughably seriously, but then there are comments in the manual that can’t be anything but tongue-in-cheek. And the equipment names are almost certain to inspire the odd chuckle – I’m particularly fond of my Willful Conformal Pauldrons of Havoc at the moment. The game is hardly an easy sell – it’s a Diablo-esque dungeon crawler with a combat system that seems to posit itself as an RPG version of Devil May Cry, as your hero Baldur slashes away with swords, juggling enemy mechs and shooting them with twin pistols as they fall. And, weirdly, all this is accomplished by holding and flicking the right analogue stick, the camera controls taken entirely out of the user’s hands. Yet it remains curiously compelling – defiantly its own beast, somehow Too Human mixes Norse mythology and nanomachines, fast-paced hackandslash action and messy menu-fiddling, and just about makes it all cohesive. And it’s addictive enough to make me want to continue playing after the first couple of dungeons, so it must be doing something right.

In some ways it’s little wonder Microsoft is refusing to start a fanfare for Too Human, but this plucky outsider seems plenty capable of blowing its own trumpet – if, admittedly, to a smaller, more cult-sized audience than its publisher usually attracts.

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