Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Too Human demo

After two times through the demo, I'm definitely underwhelmed.

I can see what Dyack means about Too Human being a different kind of game. As I led a group of soldiers who commented on events in both serious and humorous tones, I was reminded of Halo. The skills, loot, and combat are reminiscent of Diablo 2, but also significantly different (which is both good and bad... mostly bad). The cutscenes are frequent and, I'm tempted to say, the focus of the game; which makes it seem more of an adventure game than an action game. You can't skip all of them completely. In addition, there are a few Gears of War moments, when the camera suddenly zooms in on a point of interest before returning to the player's character. The game-controlled camera also gives it the feel of an adventure game, because it's better suited to cinematic angles of what's happening than to helping the player manage combat and find what he's looking for.

It's a unique game. Let's hope it stays that way.

The first thing you might notice is the visual quality. The art direction is great. There's a lot of detail. The game looks good, but not as good as Mass Effect or some other games. The faces are great, but not much else. The game starts with cinematics, so you'll have plenty of time to nitpick on this.

The next thing you'll notice is the camera. Because the camera is meant to make every scene cinematic, you might initially find yourself waiting for the game to continue because you don't realize the movie is over. It's definitely a strange feeling at first not having direct control over the camera, but you get used to it. Mostly you move away from the camera, but sometimes toward it or sideways.

It works alright most of the time, but there are definitely moments (and not just a few) when it's working against you. The object or path you're trying to reach is occasionally off-camera. The main way you know a fight is finished and all enemies are down is that nothing's hitting you, because you can't scan the area for survivors headed your way. In my experience, it was never possible to really look around from one spot. Pressing LB + Right Stick results in a minor swing of the camera; not full control.

In the end, the camera is definitely an annoyance, and whether or not you think it was a smart idea will depend on how much you like the stick-controlled combat system. It's a trade-off.

Gear and weapons look great, but you might sometimes be reminded of the original Everquest... the flourescent, mismatched armor that plagued that game's high levels.

Melee combat with the Champion class, in the demo, involves a lot of sweeping moves and finesse. If you figure out what you're doing, then you can perform combos. You also carry a gun, which you draw and fire by combining RT with the Right Stick. Simply let go of the trigger and you're swinging your melee weapon again.

My most successful tactic so far is knocking enemies into the air with my sword and then lighting them up with my gun. There are skills devoted to melee in the air, but air melee is no easy task since it requires hitting the A button and then the Right Stick within a split-second of each other. Controls can probably be changed, but that's the standard configuration.

One great idea Silicon Knights had is the inclusion of areas that act much like arenas. When you enter these round areas, a timer shows up at the top of the screen and enemies come at you from every direction until (it seems) the timer runs out. Survive alone and there's always the equivalent of a treasure chest nearby (in the demo, at least).

One area is bugged. There's a "bridge", for lack of a better term, and enemies knocked onto the sides will simply sit there and wait for you to kill them or push them over the edge (I can only assume they die, because you can't retrieve their loot or even look down to where they fall).

Death is punished with a long animation of a Valkyrie carrying you to Valhalla. Battle continues during the animation, and you're afterward reborn exactly where you died without having to restart.

Another problem I encountered is that those petty human soldiers who tag along can actually finish off the game's first boss... robbing you of the glorious killing blow! I've never seen that in a game before, and for good reason. They killed Grendel while the Valkyrie was taking its sweet time raising my dead body, before I could return to the fight. I was shocked.

With bosses, you can apparently target body parts, which offers some room for personal strategy.

NPC dialogue is strictly scripted -- not dynamic like the off-hand comments of Halo soldiers. As a result, it only adds to the game experience the first time through.

Items and Skills
The demo only lets you progress to level 6 or 7, so you can't try many skills. You can't even make a skill choice until level 4 (your first 6 skill points must go into the first and only skill at the beginning of the skill tree). Every level, you get 3 skill points. The Champion class (the only class in the demo) has 3 branches that comprise 15 skills in all. You can't move on to the next skill in the tree until you've invested 4 to 6 points in the present skill. I had three skills by the end of the demo (level 7)... and two of those skills were merely stat boosts.

And that's the main problem with skills in Too Human. Too many are stat modifiers which are not obviously experienced by the player. There's almost no point to including such skills. But I do like the spider skills, like turning my spider into a turret (ala the turret in Perfect Dark 64).

In Diablo 2, I had filled every armor and weapon slot, and reequipped some slots, by level 3 or 4. By level 5 in Too Human, I had equipped only two weapons and a helmet, with my other slots stuck with basic trash gear. And don't expect any cool visible effects. Item effects are stat modifiers.

Cutscenes can come quickly and unexpectedly, beginning before you can grab all the loot laying around. At one part, you can knock enemies over edges and lose whatever loot falls with them. This includes the first mini-boss encounter, which I assume could mean especially good loot!

Inventory management is slow and more complex than necessary due to a poor interface. I'm not sure why they didn't streamline it like Diablo 2's drag-and-drop system. That game's more visual inventory system also got players more excited about their loot. In Too Human, you don't even see a model of an item until you hold the Select button over the item (after you've looked at its statistics).

The character stats window shouldn't even exist, because the player has no choice over stats. There's so little there anyway that it could have been joined with the equipment window.

At least the HUD is small and can be turned off. I might do that next time, since I almost never looked at it.

Based on the demo, this is a powerfully mediocre game. With so many great games due out in the coming months, Too Human easily falls to the backburner. If I buy it, that will be months from now when I see a used copy. If there's anything that really shines about the game, I can only guess that it's the co-op or something that emerges beyond the early levels of the game.

And just think: this is supposed to be the beginning of a Too Human trilogy! I hope Silicon Knights can adjust to the feedback they receive post-launch, and make a game that stands high above this first one.

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