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GDC08: hands-on with Too Human

Too Human
, on the surface, has a lot of things going for it. The game enjoys a very creative setting -- a vision of the cybernetic future colliding with ancient Norse mythology -- featuring grand environments and impressive set pieces along with a cohesive and unique style. But then, everyone already knew that. Many previews have put forth Silicon Knights' vision this year, and Silicon Knights done as much themselves in their own developer video diaries and blogs. Too Human's presence at GDC this year marks the most public appearance the game has had since its infamous showing at E3 2006. It is with this in mind that the journalists gathered to see the game last night were concerned with only one thing: gameplay.

Gallery: Too Human (GDC 2008)

While Too Human will undoubtedly be labeled an action-RPG, the most telling and descriptive category is dungeon crawler. For all intents and purposes, Too Human is Diablo or Phantasy Star Online or Baldur's Gate or whatever other life-stealer happens to hit home for you. While it may be wrapped in some particularly creative and intriguing trappings, the ultimate purpose of the game is to pick a class -- ranging from the tank-like Defender to the kamikaze Berserker -- slay monsters, gather phat lootz and obtain a higher character level (preferably earned with friends over Xbox Live). In this regard, Too Human gets a lot of things right.

For example, the game has a very handy way of dealing with one of the genre's most common annoyances, inventory management. Rather than forcing players to play "inventory Tetris," the game automatically manages player inventories by ditching the weakest items once full capacity is reached. Not only that, but players aren't forced to strafe dead bodies while hammering the X button in order to pick up all the items and treasure left in their wake. Instead, items are simply picked up as players pass by. These two features alone should be enough to make genre fans take notice.

It's a good thing too, as there are many, many different types of weapons and armor in the game, all of which are visibly reflected on characters when equipped, bestowing upon them various boons and bonuses. There are, of course, rare and epic sets of equipment that grant bonuses when a full set is equipped as well. The game also features a crafting system in which players can construct items once the right runes are collected and certain conditions are met.

All the staples are there, which leads to Too Human's sticking point, combat. After all, without engaging combat there is no monster slaying, no loot collecting, and no skill building. All attacks in Too Human are controlled with the right analog stick. To unleash melee attacks, one simply holds the stick in the direction of the desired enemy. At its most basic, that's it. As the player moves the stick from enemy to enemy, Baldur (the game's main character) unleashes a connected string of strikes. Double flicking the stick in one direction will cause Baldur to launch an enemy into the air, which opens said enemy to be juggled for a few extra hits. Shooting works the same way, only with the player holding down the left or right trigger while manipulating the right stick.

If pointing to enemies and watching them die seems a bit imprecise, it's because it is. I often found myself lunging for a distant enemy rather than juggling the enemy I had just launched into the air, for example. The controls often feel somewhat disconnected with the on-screen action too, as there is really no solid and tactile response -- like button presses -- to associate with it. It's not bad -- in fact it works fairly well for what it is -- but it's not perfect either. It was certainly the only thing that I took exception to during my time with Too Human.

The rest of the game is perfectly shiny and certainly intriguing, though, which is perhaps why the imperfect combat stands out as much as it does. Considering how well polished the other facets of the game are, the question becomes whether gamers come to embrace the combat system or simply endure it for the sake of the story. I was only able to spend a short amount time using a low level character with the most basic abilities, though. It's certainly possible that combat becomes more engaging as skills are learned and levels are gained -- something Silicon Knights reps assured us all was the case.

As it stands, I'd wager most gamers will at least make it through Too Human's campaign, even if driven solely by the story and the need for more stuff. Whether or not players opt for successive run-throughs in pursuit of enviable armor and a level 50 character remains to be seen. For what it's worth, I find myself wishing I had more time with the game, which definitely counts for something.

For another perspective on
Too Human, check out Joystiq's hands-on impressions.

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