Arriving as the first act of a sprawling sci-fi trilogy, Silicon Knights' eagerly anticipated Too Human is built around a cybernetic future steeped in Norse mythology, in which Baldur, a much-revered God of the Aesir - the sworn protectors of mankind - battles to purge The Children of Ymir, a swarming mechanical menace unleashed upon the world, while also striving to unravel the clouded and tortured mysteries of his own past.
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. 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, or does it reflect the immense faith and belief invested by Ontario-based creator Silicon Knights?
What the pre-release demo of Too Human clearly showed was that a divided reception awaited the full retail version of the game; and it's highly likely that critical and consumer appraisal will again be split when it comes to assessing the final build.
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; while others - mainly self-appointed hack-and-slash purists - will bemoan the lack of intricate multi-button combat combos and the game's core reliance on a single analogue stick to determine attack moves.
However, while both points of potential detraction are certainly evident from the start in Too Human, 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.
Given the five character class choices open to the player (Defender, Champion, Beserker, Commando and Bio Engineer), this reviewer would hazard a guess that most budding Baldurs will instantly opt for the promise of enhanced melee skills and extra Combo levelling that's open to them with the Beserker - and here's where patience and an unshakeable willingness to die come into play.
Specifically, while the Champion emerges as a good all-rounder, and the Defender is a walking man-tank, the Beserker's hugely advantageous close-quarter power is offset by woefully poor defence and a diminished ability with ranged weaponry (a real must-have skill for certain enemies). And, regardless of class selection, the game's 'pros and cons' trade-off structure will ultimately leave the majority of players screaming audibly at their TVs as mechanical Goblins, Dark Elves and Trolls serve up Baldur's armoured ass all-too often across the game's opening four or five hours.
For those doubting Too Human's difficulty credentials based solely on its ridiculously easy demo, challenge scales up alongside character development and helps keeps each successive battle on just the right side of testing. That being said, watching an angelic golden Valkyrie gracefully lifting Baldur's limp corpse towards Valhalla is something players should be suitably prepared for (especially when using the Berserker). Doubts about difficulty should also be put to bed upon learning that reaching the humiliating plateau of 100 player deaths even garners its own embarrassing Achievement called 'Valkyrie's Folly.'
Too Human is all about investment. Investment of game time, investment of currency (Bounty), investment of patience, and the investment of experimentation. Moreover, once a character class and path (cybernetic or human) have been chosen, the player is then unleashed across the first of Too Human's four sprawling missions, beginning their quest to evolve Baldur's abilities, his associated Skill Tree, his weaponry, armour, charms, runes and equipment blueprints. Investment is everything in Too Human and, while it's a cliché, the more you give, the more you get... it really is that simple.
Yes, the combat doesn't flow with any sense of real rhythm at first, and wrapping your head around the wonderfully organic controls takes some getting used to, but levelling up, upgrading armaments, and assigning skill points soon rectifies that as Baldur begins moving more swiftly while wielding better weaponry. And this initial rush of gameplay attachment then gives way to full-on player immersion as branches of the assigned Skill Tree begin to open and specific strengths, special abilities and secondary battle elements become available.
Yes, it's frustrating as hell at the outset, onrushing enemy hordes effortlessly swamp your character far too often, and cutting a clear line of chained attack from one foe to the next can be a futile exercise, but that's simply the game's way of telling you that Baldur isn't ready for the task at hand - it's not necessarily because you, the gamer, are failing to adapt or the game itself is failing to deliver.
If ever a videogame wanted the player to carefully nurture their character, Too Human is it. For example, the opening mission offers up absolutely no equipment upgrades for Baldur to benefit from, and as a result its boss battle finale with the hulking, man-eating Grendel is a surprisingly hard-fought affair that suggests massively testing encounters to come.
However, thanks to the ability to revisit completed missions (a la Diablo) and increase Baldur's level status while doing so, players can replay entire missions or specific sections therein over and over again, becoming steadily more deadly each time while conveniently avoiding narrative progression. This culminates in Baldur later clashing with more difficult enemies and bosses (who always remain more advanced comparatively), but results in him giving a far more impressive account of himself due to a constantly expanding Skill Tree and arsenal.
It's also worth noting that replayed missions often differ in terms of enemy placement, weight of numbers and even environmental layout. The first retread of the game's opening mission sees a snow-blown stone bridge, which was clearly devoid of anything other than enemies during the first play through, now complete with separate guiding walls that lead to isolated pockets of mechanical foes and plenty of resulting goodies. Speaking of goodies, Too Human is bursting at the seams with weaponry, armour, runes and charms that can be either purchased or upgraded through the central hub of Midgard (accessible at any time through the menu) or picked up by accessing monuments peppered across the real world and also that of Cyberspace.