This week, Zero Punctuation dies and is resurrected - over and over and over - in Too Human.
The root problem with Christianity is that their God is supposed to be all-powerful and benevolent. It sounds like an easy sell, but when life turns completely to shit you have to come up with all kinds of wacked-out reasons for why kindly old Jehovah saw fit to run over little Timmy with a combine harvester and leave him in a state of vegetative limbless agony for eighteen years. Ancient cultures didn't have that problem - they knew their gods were a bunch of drunken lunatics who ran around boning their close relatives and turning their goolies into fruit-bearing trees. Consequently they tend to make for much more interesting stories, hence why many video game writers treat mythology as a free idea bucket. So here's Too Human, the game Silicon Knights have been making instead of Eternal Darkness 2, possibly out of a crippling fear of money and success.
It's based on a sci-fi reimagining (a.k.a. copy) of Norse mythology. The player takes the role of Baldur, who in mythology was the Norse god of being a total pussy who got his mum to call everything in the world and ask them to be extra-special-nice to him. Obviously, this would be an awkward character to carry a bad-ass action game, so the whole business with his mummy is carefully omitted while he's poured into the usual suit of magic power armor and turned into Space Marine Hero number five hundred and eighty billion. I have to admit though, the story is to be congratulated for taking the fiery, thunderous personalities of the Norse gods and somehow turning them into a bunch of boring, self-righteous robotic twats with all the warmth and emotion of a glass of water.
Too Human is my favourite kind of game to review because it's bad. None of that wishy-washy mediocrity where I have to admit that the soundtrack was nice or that the gameplay was slightly more entertaining than lacerating my gums on the edge of a rusty tin. This is just all bad, all the time, to the degree where it starts getting rather worrying. It makes me wonder if anyone actually took time out to play it before release, because there seem to be more issues than pixels.
First of all, why can't anyone leave the right analog stick alone? In third-person games, its job is to control the camera - that's what it's comfortable with. You try and work it into combat and it just gets frightened and confused. It's like someone made a submarine out of metal, and the metal submarine works perfectly fine and became the norm, but then someone said, "Everyone makes submarines out of metal - let's make one out of bread!" Here the right analog stick is used for melee attacks leaving you at the mercy of a wild and unfettered camera who has nothing but scorn for your desire to look at things! On top of that, Baldur pauses for a fraction of a second after every single swing, presumably because he's waiting for a round of applause, so melee combat feels sticky and awkward and flows like a river of bricks.
Alternatively, there's gun combat. Baldur, it seems, buys his guns from the same shop as Dante, where the only available ammunition is peas and bits of tissue paper. The most you can do while the enemy is at range is chip away at the health of just one of the innumerable horde running up with intent to rape you in the nostrils. Now, enemy-spamming can make for barrels of fun - games like Painkiller and Serious Sam proved that. But take note that both of those games are first-person shooters. In a monster-spam sandwich, being able to aim at priority targets is vital. Too Human has to rely on an auto-lock-on system that considers a giant, missile-firing robot troll an equal threat to, say, an aggravated baked bean.
Also, in the most erect of dick moves, some of the enemies explode when killed, granting incurable status ailments to you if you happen to be around. And you will be around, because while they're running up to you, your auto lock-on will have you shooting at a vicious looking ceiling tile and did I mention that all of the enemies can run faster than your slow-ass, mummy's boy, knobhead protagonist?
So, you'll die. You'll die a lot. And by Christ, does the game want you to know it. A Valkyrie, who is clearly in no fucking hurry, slowly flies down, picks up your corpse, and ascends gently back into heaven, as if to say, "There, there, baby. It doesn't matter that you're a ten-thumbed cripple who literally can't fight to save their lives. Let's get you tucked into beddy-byes." Then you respawn fifty feet away with no penalties, scratching your head in bewilderment. And this happens every time you die! You can't skip it! No-one could look at this and think "Yep, this will never get old." The only remaining explanation is that this is some kind of test. Maybe if anyone defends this on a forum, they automatically get added to the government depopulation list because their minds are clearly deviant and must be purged.
Too Human is a game that carries the stink of the auteur. A pet project; something that was made for the designer's sake, rather than the player's. It proudly announces its intention to be the first part of an epic trilogy, which in terms of tempting fate, is right up there with a character in a horror movie uttering the words "Everything's going to be all right", then getting their tits out. Too Human: Episode One (or whatever they end up calling it) has a measly four missions, each one fattened up into hours of endless waves of the same four or five baddies in huge, repetitive environments that only exacerbate the frustration caused by Baldur's toe-curlingly slow movement speed (or perhaps I should call it "Baldur's Gait").
If there really is an entire trilogy of this worked out, a better idea would be to combine them into one game, cutting all the missions down to one-third of their intended length. But that won't happen, because an auteur developer would sooner take the trimming scissors to their own eyeballs than their beloved magnum opus, and you're left with a game experience that could be re-created by walking down a wide road in the middle of nowhere, stopping every five steps to crack yourself in the eye with a hammer... And the road is a million miles long... And the hammer is made of wank.
Not human enough: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
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Thank Odin the pre-Christmas release period is coming up