Too Human was slotted to be one of Microsoft's top Xbox 360 exclusives of 2008. However, it seems unlikely that this action role-playing game, developed by St. Catherines-based studio Silicon Knights, will earn the same legions of fans garnered by other Xbox-only blockbusters, such as Halo and Gears of War. Following an abnormally long development cycle, a nasty legal quarrel with Epic Games, and preview events that left journalists less than optimistic, rumours began to swirl that Too Human was an overly ambitious mess. Now early reviews from the press, which have pegged the game as a middling and convoluted dungeon crawler, seem to be confirming that Too Human is a disappointment.
While I was hoping the Canadian studio would prove the negative publicity to be unfounded (I adored Silicon Knights' previous effort, the deliciously scary and atmospheric horror game Eternal Darkness for GameCube), I have to report that Too Human isn't all Xbox gamers might have hoped for. I spent about seven hours with the game last weekend, and though I wanted to be seduced by its beautiful environments, Norse mythology-infused sci-fi narrative, and undeniably epic battles, I simply ran into too many problems along the way to be properly entertained.
My biggest beef is that my hero-supposedly a god-dies much too frequently. A combination of unintuitive controls and unfair enemy tactics (I was constantly, frustratingly under attack by both long range weaponry and melee warriors) led my protagonist to perish some 59 times in the game's first two dungeons. That's about once every six minutes of battle, according to the game's exhaustive statistics page. And every time he died I was forced to sit through a 15 second animation showing him being raised into the heavens by a valkyrie before being resurrected someplace nearby to re-enter the fray, as though nothing had happened.
In other words, death is an annoyingly regular occurrence with no real consequences. Which made me wonder: What purpose was my god's excessive mortality supposed to serve? Battle drama would have been heightened had he been apt to kick the bucket less frequently but with more serious repercussions-like having to restart at a save point.
There are other things to lament as well-we have almost no control over the game's camera, the good-looking graphics are marred by jarringly inadequate voice work, and there are glitches aplenty (I sat through not one but two disconcerting conversations in which the participants spoke simultaneously)-but the bottom line is simple: Too Human is a let-down. Assuming the gaming public agrees, Microsoft's holiday hopes for big profits reaped from exclusive content now rest squarely on the broad shoulders of Gears of War 2's grunts.
Happily, I've had a much more agreeable time over the last few days playing Capcom's Bionic Commando Rearmed, an Xbox Live Arcade re-imagining of a game first released in 1988 for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
The charm of the original, which has become something of a cult game for old-school NES fans, was a mechanical arm that was shockingly responsive and easy to use. Players could climb and swing through environments with amazing rapidity and precision. It offered a game experience unlike anything else available at the time.
Fortunately, the arm has returned, and it's just as fun to use now as it was 20 years ago. Swinging from one ledge, then detaching, falling, and launching the arm at the exact right moment to connect with another ledge is a remarkably satisfying video game experience. I'm surprised this mechanic hasn't found its way into more games over the years. Heaven knows it's more gratifying than watching the endlessly repeating resurrections of an unfortunately death prone god.