The guns are out for Too Human, and not entirely without reason. Microsoft and Silicon Knights started hyping the game as soon as the Xbox 360 was announced, and some of the worst criticism of pre-release code has been met by Silicon Knights boss Denis Dyack with petulant outbursts on the lines of 'the fools just don't understand my great and innovative game'. As a result, reviewers have descended on the game in the sort of feeding frenzy that we haven't seen since Free Radical's astonishingly ropey Haze. Some seem to hate Too Human. Some seem actually angry about it, as if Dyack's game has somehow offended them by its mere existence. Some just want to poke fun at the game and detail its inadequacies with an almost sadistic relish.
Me? I don't hate Too Human, and while it does contain elements that annoy me, I can't say that I feel any great rage or enmity towards it. I don't really want to laugh about it, either. To me, Too Human is a sad game. It's neither a Haze like disaster or a spineless mediocrity like Space Siege. It's a game of genuine ambition and real class that has somehow, horribly lost its way. It might show signs of hubris and arrogance, but at least its trying to compete on the level of a Mass Effect or God of War. In fact, from time to time it threatens to be almost as great as Dyack thinks it is, only to fall at the next hurdle. And several more hurdles after that.
While it aspires to be a video-game Star Wars, Lord of the Rings or The Matrix, it's more of a Chronicles of Riddick or – as I've heard it put – The Ridicules of Chronic. Like the Vin Diesel vehicle, it wants to kick off a rich and heroic new saga, but for all its epic scale and fine design it falls down on smaller, more fundamental things. Supposedly Riddick 2 and 3 are still in preproduction, but who knows whether they will ever emerge? Similarly, I suspect there are some nervous meetings going on between Microsoft and Silicon Knights over whether and in what form Too Human parts two and three see the light of day.
That's a shame. I know others will disagree, but I like Too Human's basic storyline and milieu. Fans of Dan Simmons' Ilium and Olympos will recognise the basic concept – where cybernetically enhanced mortals effectively take on the role of gods – and from there the setting updates the Norse myth with the trappings of cyberpunk and space opera, updating armour and weapons and replacing the trolls and goblins of old with sinister machines that ape their forms (a trick you might remember from Frank Miller's superb graphic novel, Ronin).
The Norns, who once controlled the fates of the Norse gods and heroes, are now strange entities who exist in the game's imagining of cyberspace; a fantasy realm of forest, mountain and lake. I even like the way in which the game doesn't force all this stuff on you but sneaks it in bit by bit. That might make it a bit confusing – a charge that Too Human deserves more than it should – but it's a more elegant and intriguing way of doing things than just dumping hours of expository cut scenes on you from the off.
While Too Human is a third-person dungeon crawler, it's a very good looking example. For the most part Silicon Knights keeps the camera close to the action, allowing you to see your hero, Baldur, smashing his way through hordes of mechanical monsters in loving and spectacular detail. Reflective shaders and particle effects give the game the sort of rich, fantasy lustre we've seen in Ninety Nine Knights or Devil May Cry 4.