Friday, September 05, 2008

Too Human: Too Soon

I finished Too Human a few days ago. I've been very busy lately (see previous posts....) so I haven't gotten around to posting my final thoughts on the game. Yesterday, we finally picked up Tales of Vesperia (ToV); it looks like I won't see that much action on the Xbox 360 anytime soon, because Wuffy has taken over and it doesn't look like she's letting go of that controller ....

I am looking over my shoulder and admiring the graphics on ToV....wow, we've reached the age where our games practically look and feel like 'controllable' anime. The game sure looks and sounds gorgeous! Presentation-wise, the game seems very cleanly done.

But enough first impressions about ToV....it's best to comment on it once it has been played extensively, and that is for a future blog post (from Wuffy, of course).

On to Too Human then...

Perhaps I was too hasty early on. But that's how I am with games....I'm an optimist. I try not to see what's wrong with a game; usually if there's something wrong I think on why there might be something wrong with it, or if I'm not playing the game as its designer intended. You could call me an apologist but that's how I see things. I'd rather make the most of something I got rather than complain about it, which is the approach of most game reviews/forum posts out there.

I will say that reaching the end of Too Human gave me some mixed feelings. The story is great, but the end arrives abruptly. Yes, it's been said time and again that this will be a trilogy, so a complete ending shouldn't be expected. But the game arrives to its own conclusion too soon, and it leaves behind too many story bits unexplained to leave behind a satisfying overall gaming experience.

Even with the game's seemingly abrupt end, Too Human does deserve praise for the way it tells its story and its loot system. The cutscenes in the game are truly high quality. Gamers who play games for the story will find a lot of this in Too Human. I can't stress enough how great the voice acting is in the game. It completely carries the game and made me forget about the game's flaws for the duration that I was playing it. The cutscenes have some stutter and some animation that doesn't seem smooth enough, but the voice-acting in Too Human just immerses you so well that you end up ignoring those little problems.

The system for loot that they've implemented in the game was clearly meant to have some kind of addictive quality. I like the various properties that your items can get, and like Diablo 2 the game randomizes and mixes and matches things so you don't get the same stuff twice. The game also helps you manage your inventory through an auto-salvage feature, to prevent you from being overwhelmed with all the loot that you get from each monster encounter.

After having played through the game, I've come to the conclusion that the gameplay in Too Human is just not revolutionary, despite its untraditional approach. Using sticks for fighting enemies makes the whole process easier but it also seems to disconnect you from your in-game character's actions. Part of the appeal of 'button-mashing' lies in the idea that hammering away with your thumbs on those buttons feels like you are actively participating in what your character is doing. In Too Human, you simply point your character at the monsters and watch your character attack, with your stats and equipment determining how fast you'll take down the enemies. You can put in some variety because of the various techniques you could do with the sticks; however, in the long run it provides less options to choose from for taking down your enemies.

Another issue I have with the game is the user interface and presentation. I think it can be made smoother and more friendly to new players. As it is, a hardcore player probably won't have problems navigating through the menus but they'll find it slightly awkward and frustrating since there's some kind of delay every time you move through each screen in the menus. This being an RPG, players spend most of their time looking through menus, so having a smoother user interface is crucial. Also, the game seriously needs to hold your hand a lot more, at least in the beginning of the game. It seems to be the type of game that new players might give up on easily, particularly given that its control interface is unintuitive to begin with.

Despite these problems, I want the Too Human series to continue. The story that the first game establishes is just too good to be left hanging. I like the characters. I want to know where Dyack was planning to take them. I love the Norse Mythology universe of the game, and I love the way it's intermixed with the sci-fi concepts of artificial intelligence and cybernetics. There's just so much material in Too Human that the developers can build on for the inevitable sequel....if it even gets made.

The future of the game feels doubtful; the reviews for the game were extremely negative, and having played the game myself completely, I can see why that is so. All signs point to sub-par sales for the game at retail in the United States and other countries. If it took me several tries to figure out the control scheme, I wonder how many more tries it took for gamers of varying skill levels...

In the hopes that the Too Human series will continue, here's a short list of constructive criticism for Silicon Knights / Denis Dyack for the next version of Too Human....

1. The game seriously needs a friendlier graphical user interface and feedback system
- I dislike the way the game transitions from gameplay to pause mode (where you can edit your equipment, skills etc). As it is now, the game just stops when you want to make some changes or upgrades to your character. It would be better if the transition was smoother and if there were more cues for the player when you choose certain options. Since the player spends a lot of time in the menus, the experience of upgrading your character or fixing your equipment needs to be more streamlined.

2. The game needs smoother motion-captured animation - For some reason your characters' movements don't feel very smooth. In a game where melee / weapon-based fighting plays an important role, smooth animation is needed to convey a better sense of action for the player. The problem is most apparent when you try to do a jumping attack. For some reason, the frame of animation that your character uses is the same as the standing attack animation. This makes attacking from jump feel very awkward when you execute it.

I've read about Silicon Knight's problems with Unreal Engine 3; I wonder if the problems with the animation might stem from this. I think they should just go with a completely new game engine that isn't based on UE3 so that they can overcome whatever limitations the engine is giving them.

3. Better pacing between levels - the second level of the game seems to be the longest single level in the entire game. The others are of odd length (definitely shorter than level 2) and don't really give you any breaks or changes in the action. Some could find this to feel repetitive...I will say that the second level left me extremely exhausted.

4. The game needs to hold the players' hand - Hardcore gamers usually complain about how many other games out there treat you like you're playing a certain game for the first time. Well, the truth of the matter is, if your game is not a sequel to a previous title with an established and accepted control scheme, then the player really will be playing your game for the first time. Too Human needs to give more guidance for the player; particularly given the relatively 'new' action control scheme. There are moments in the game where you don't really know what to do or where to go. Hardcore gamers might easily find their way; but it's much better to build a fanbase from new players rather than older, seasoned ones, and that won't happen if you create a game world where it seems that new players are unwelcome.

My rating for Too Human :

For the gamers on a budget - Rent it or buy it used.
For the historians - Buy it, it's a piece of history and I have a feeling the second game could make up for it, if Dyack learns to listen to criticism and feedback....and avoids posting on Neogaf entirely.

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