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Hands-On Report: Is Too Human the Xbox 360's Haze?


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319w ago - Last night Microsoft held a little Too Human event, giving the Australian games journalist scene an opportunity to get some hands-on time with the highly anticipated release. In production for a whopping 10 years and delayed almost as many times as Duke Nukem Forever, it is one of 'those' titles that passionate fanboy nutters bring up when they're having those silly console war arguments.

But with PS3 owners smarter at the debacle which was Haze, could X360 fans have a similar embarrassment on the horizon with Too Human?

Three members of the gameplayer team were on hand for the event and while we weren't able to put the game through our usually rigorous preview testing, we thought you might be interested in our first up impressions. You might be surprised by our thoughts.

Adam Mathew- Too Early to Tell: Playing the game last night I was left with very mixed opinions of the game. I have to say that the premise of the plot is something out of the ordinary and it intrigues the hell out of me. For those of you who don't know it; Too Human is set in an ancient past when Norse gods actually existed, but the twist is these 'gods' are actually cybernetically enhanced humans.

The good news is you play as one of these bad arses; Baldur, one of the Aesir (one of the principal gods of Norse mythology). As Baldur it's your duty to protect the human race from an assault of an advancing 'machine presence' that (in old school Skynet style) wants to wipe out humankind.

It's a left field premise which has had a refreshing visual effect on the game's environments, costume designs, and weapons. Everything is an interesting mishmash of Beowulf cave-like dungeons meeting the type of high-tech, light infused metal you'd see in a game like Halo or Mass Effect. Take Baldur for example, he kicks about wearing a Tron-esque suit with shoulder armour and a bearskin cape. Similarly he is packing two futuristic repeating plasma pistols but he is not above whipping out a meaty Thor hammer to pound his pathetic enemies into a fine paste.

But unfortunately the demo wasn't all plasma pistols and meat paste; the graphics seen in the preview were a touch jaggy and inconsistent in places, especially with regards to facial detail in the cut-scenes. Also, the much touted 'A.I controlled camera system' (your right analogue handles melee now, remember) seems to be actively working for your Machine Presence enemies.

There were a few times when I disengaged from a swarm of foes (to execute an admittedly pansy, yet totally tactical, retreat) and then it wouldn't swing back around behind me when I chose to re-engage them with my ranged weapons. Frustrating, to say the least.

But I digress, there still is a great deal of potential here, and we really only got our teeth stuck into the exploration and combat sections of the game - which, to its credit, feels a lot more visceral and rapid than the combat you got in Mass Effect. We're also super-keen to experience the finer RPG elements of Too Human with its purportedly deep, yet linear story, different selectable classes, customisable weapons, armour and cybernetics, skill tree progression and item hunting.

All in all - I'm an optimist, with some tweaks in the graphics department and a rethink of the camera system, Too Human could still be enough to send us to gaming Valhalla.

James Cottee- Man and Machine is Power Extreme: You can make a strong case for the visuals, actually. A lot of folks at the hands-on session last night commented that Too Human looks like a 'poor man's Mass Effect.' Not in so many words – there was a lot of swearing thrown in, too. But there was a strong feeling that even if it wasn't actually a rip-off, it looked like a rip-off – and that the game would suffer for it.

This is an unfortunate coincidence. Too Human was in development far, far longer than Mass Effect. It was simply fate that the two would feature lots of guys in form-fitting power armour.

Besides, the designers at Silicon Knights weren't aiming for straight-up sci-fi – this is more of a pseudo-scientific techno-fantasy. What isn't hammered home in exposition seeps into subtext; whereas most NPCs are dressed in suits, it's easy to tell who the gods are – they look like they're about to perform in a glam rock concert.

The automatic camera angles may not be quite up to the standards set in God of War, but they still serve a vital purpose. Not only does the camera keep things interesting by arbitrarily changing your perspective, it will also periodically swing to one side to show off, say, an ornate statue, or a particularly nice sunset. After working on these environments for ten loooong years, the artists must have been desperate to have their works seen by as many eyeballs as possible.

Futuristic neon and immaculate post-ultra-modern interiors also harken back to BioWare's latest masterpiece. But seriously, looking a bit like Mass Effect is not a bad thing. Mass Effect was and is a great looking game. Too Human has its own distinct and appealing look – even if some of the women look like shemales.

It's also educational – sort of. It boggles the mind, but thanks to our intellectually bankrupt school system many of those at last night's event were blind to the references to Norse mythology. "Why is that battle angel chick taking that dead dude to heaven?" They're called valkyries, kid. For more knowledge, visit your local library...

The combat streamlines a lot of the pain-in-the-arse aspects of beat-em-ups. It's nice how simply pointing to a nearby enemy as you attack will make you zoom towards him, as though on enchanted rocket skates. Yet the five specialised character classes (I played a Berzerker called Fortran...) and (supposedly) thousands of different items cannot mask the simple nature of play.

As such, it would seem to be more of a natural co-op title.

The biggest question mark of all hovers over the story. Many a best-selling RPG has got away with flimsy gameplay by wrapping it in a compelling plot. It's far from perfect, but Too Human addresses the tragic deficit of Norse and Viking content in gaming – and in popular culture in general, come to think of it.

The defining moment is when you first walk down a hallway flanked by pairs of spear-holding guards. As you pass, each falls to his knees and bows. They worship you. It's too early to say, but if Too Human really does make you feel like a Norse god, then it'll be worth the money.

Chris Stead- Even Gods have flaws: For the first ten minutes playing Too Human, it was like drilling poisonous Sting Ray barbs into my fun bits. It really has a whack control system that is most reminiscent of underplayed PS2 Jet Li actioner Rise to Honor. You move about with the left stick, and the right stick is used to swing your sword about, leaving the traditional attacking buttons of the triggers for the gunplay.

The camera is therefore controlled by the software, which is always dangerous and rarely works. You can learn to deal with it in Too Human if you persevere, but it can't hold a candle to the likes of God of War, and certainly doesn't facilitate fun gameplay.

The game also seems to suffer from an identity crisis. It seems to pitch itself as this rad action game in the vein of Devil May Cry, or Ninja Gaiden: you run from area-to-area and face-off against swarms of monotonous beasties by combining an endless supply of bullets with ferocious old-school weaponry combat. But in our 2hrs with the game it didn't seem like a very good action game at all. It is just very repetitive and requires little skill. And with no control over the camera position, it is also tactically limited.

Yet it is also pitching itself as an RPG, with deep character customization, skill trees and narrative depth. Obviously this component is a lot harder to test in a brief playing session and I really hope it comes up trumps in the final game. At the moment though it seemed like a second cousin to the lacklustre action. Think of it as Mass Effect, if it was selling itself as a squad-based shooter with a bit of RPG on the side. Too Human isn't as good as Ninja Gaiden, just as Mass Effect is no Rainbow Six: Vegas.

The bottom line is, if Too Human released in its current state and I picked it up and played it for two hours I would be damn disappointed: so-so visuals circa early 2007, repetitive beat'em up action and puzzles that annoy rather than reward. Not exactly what I was expecting... and I caught wind that this code is 90% complete! It gets better in co-op, but doesn't everything?

But, and this is a John Candy-sized butt, this is no review. I'm not giving up hope. I should be getting code in the next few weeks to take in-house and really get a solid impression on the broader elements of the gameplay. But as a first up reaction, this isn't the exclusive X360 fanboys were hoping for.



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