too human

a review of Too Human
a videogame developed by silicon knights
and published by microsoft game studios
for the microsoft xbox 360
text by Ario Barzan

1 star

Bottom line: Too Human is “at least more fun than getting caught in bear traps.”

A disclaimer: We at Action Button Dot Net have never, ever gotten caught in a bear trap, and we hope none of you, dear readers, have managed to do so, either. My god – can you imagine? Being the tender age of thirteen, out in a forest with the girl who replied, during school’s lunch break, that she might kind of possibly think about hanging out with you later that day. Now, it is the late afternoon, and she’s sitting on a log. Your gut twists up, and as you move to also sit down, leaves fly up in the air like a potpourri of tiny animals. There’s an impossible pressure below your waist. You look down and, god-damn, there is a bear trap crushing your right leg. The girl is screaming; spots of blood dot her face. In a daze, you realize that the dormant, semi-innocent erection you were repressing is now revealed in its full, jean-covered, packaged glory as your arms dangle at their sides. It is here that you wonder if maybe you won’t have to go to school tomorrow (even though the next day is actually Saturday).

Despite our inexperience dealing with the damned contraptions, we can say, with full confidence, that Too Human is at least more fun than getting caught in bear traps. It is at least more fun than tearing off a month-old hangnail during a shower, and at least more fun than a nude, midnight dive in the Loch Ness. Here we have a game whose company’s president (a Mr. Denis Dyack) went onto the Internet and responded to pre-release estimations by saying things like, “If I am wrong and gamers in general think the game is ‘crap’ then I am comfortable with getting tagged ‘Owned by the GAF’ […] However, if I am right and it is received well, I would like to see those ‘Against’ to be tagged with ‘Owned by Too Human.’” We, now, can quite easily picture Mr. Dyack as a young lad, going to the supermarket with his mother and helping her gather the requirements for dinner. Putting the items on the conveyor belt as they check out, he says to her, without making eye contact, “If I am wrong and all of this is not over forty dollars, then I am comfortable with getting tagged, ‘Owned by the Market.’ However,” he clicks, “if I am right and it is over forty dollars, I would like to see you, mom, be tagged with ‘Owned by Denis, SPACE KING.’” To which we can imagine Dyack’s mom saying, “That’s nice, dear,” later dead-seriously considering taking her son to a psychologist when he repeats, again and again, that she should, nay, must get a tattoo on her forehead saying: Owned by Denis, SPACE KING.

Is there a lot to say about Too Human itself? Better question: does there really need to be a lot to say about Too Human? More than anything, the situation’s curious. I hadn’t even heard of Too Human until a few weeks before its release, so I squiggled my eyebrows a bit when someone said, “This game has been in development for almost a decade.” Someone else said, “Production started back in the late nineties.” Yet another quipped, “This game is nearly half as old as I am.” Basically, Too Human had been bubbling and boiling in the development cauldron for a hell of a long time. “Almost a decade” is a monstrous amount for any product, outside of architecture. Here is Too Human, in our hands, and the question popping up is, “What was going on during that ‘almost a decade?'” Ferocious, bucket-of-hummus eating contests? The game isn’t even bad to the bone – it’s another drop in the pail of gray stones, which is almost more curious.

Look: do you remember Rune: Viking Warlord? I rented that game with a few friends back in the day and felt like I hadn’t eaten anything for a week within fifteen minutes of playing. It was about men with axes (no: get your cursor away from that Dragonforce bullstuff) and Norse mythology. But where one might’ve expected snapping, cleaving and meatiness without the chewiness, Rune: Viking Warlord presented bone-dry, yawning environments. The combat was like watching Youtube videos of Mortal Kombat characters performing fatalities on themselves at a low volume. Where one might’ve at least hoped for interesting “plot elements,” considering the layer-upon-layer source material, the story was as dim as the visuals’ palette.

Here, then, is a combination of Rune: Viking Warlord and the limp-wristed shenanigans of a game such as Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows. Though, let’s give Gauntlet a sliver of slack: as a series, it has always been aware of its “thing” – that thing being the gathering of friends, choosing a troupe of generic fantasy characters to control, and killing hordes of monsters in dinky combat to make numbers go up (question: does self-conscious poorness excuse said poorness? not really). On the other hand, Too Human has been presented as a misunderstood renaissance.

With this in mind, anyone might be prompted to believe that Too Human is “as average as Gauntlet,” and that it “deserves a rental,” though we’re going to make the argument that it actually might ( . . . or might not!) be worse than Gauntlet: it’s doing what we’ve all seen before – cracking its knuckles and telling us that “Iceland, like, isn’t icy” – and then expecting us to pop a million boners and clap until our hands bleed. It’s The Emperor’s New Video Game. Playing it, being surrounded by aesthetically-erroneous clusterhecks of goons as you hack and send out weightless spells, vaguely feels close to dreaming that you’re brainless. Which, to be honest, is likely more fun than being stuck in an elevator with a stock market analyst.



It is amazing, anyway, that just looking at Too Human can summon the heart-attack-esque aftermath sensation of downing two double cheeseburgers in under a minute (awesomely frightening, rather than frighteningly awesome). There’s a photographer by the name of Hiroshi Sugimoto, and one of his projects centers around blurring shots of architecture, the premise being “the most iconic things will stand the transformation and remain, in essence.” There is no way you could “blur” Too Human. The very premise behind the game’s graphics was decorative: burdening the structure, subordinating it to a super-illustrative level. There’s just so much stuff piled on and bumbling around that there’s nothing to latch on to. There are no Icons, no relations, besides the general generalizations. It’s a heaving, swinging cacophony; essentially, the Rococo strain of Western Sci-Fi visual direction (spoiler: it’s already dead).

Someone remembers Rune: Viking Warlord because it was one of the first games they played on the Indefatigable Playstation 2. With Too Human, we might remember Dyack’s ridiculous online interventions because of a GIF that gets in our way on a message board. Then, we’ll blink and decide to go out and get some falafel. Oh, well.

–Ario Barzan


15 Responses to too human

  1. I played the demo of this for 12 minutes and stopped. It must be one HELL of a game in the following 1 hour and 48 minutes to be able to drag its score out of the minus numbers.

  2. @cuba: yeah, that, too. 🙂 actually . . . yeah. that.
    i heard people were encountering kind of monstrous bugs just within too human’s demo.

  3. Too Human deserves a pie in the face

    The whole thing just takes itself far too seriously. Here we have what will probably be the best kleptomania game of the year (an accomplishment worth, at best, a gift card to Ruby Tuesdays), a game of smashing robots and getting the items inside mixed with a setting of norse mythology gone completely insane.

    Denis Dyack’s internet escapades are unfortunate, both in their childishness and their attachment to the collective work of millions of dollars and dozens of individuals. The review quotes one of his ridiculous posts, though more striking to me is that a community for the discussion of mass manufactured entertainment should be -accountable- to anybody. Americans can’t even hold their government accountable, and this is the thing that plagues the development of video games as entertainment? Not market forces, not cultural stereotypes, not corrupted, incompetent, ignorant executives that pay other companies to tell them how their company’s brand is seen by a select group of individuals said to possess the finest of Persian delights?

    The whole thing just requires so much more humility. Also a few more weeks of playtesting.

  4. You guys should be like Gamestop and hold “Video Game Journalism Awards” and give all the awards to your own site (As Gamestop gives all their awards to Game Informer), because this deserves “funniest two opening paragraphs”.

  5. So, my wife decided to rent Too Human, and play through this game to the end. Since I exercised both thoughts of ‘Wow, my wife’s playing through video games instead of asking me to mow the lawn’ and ‘Watching other people play video games can get somewhat boring after a while’, I decided to reinstall Diablo II on the computer. The way our entertainment area is set up, there’s one TV for both consoles and…well, TV, as well as a PC nearby. Thus, I had the rather unique experience of playing through Diablo II while watching the wife play through Too Human – and I couldn’t help noticing that I’d gotten the better deal. Sure, Diablo II’s a bit grainy at its max resolution of 800×600 compared to HD-sparkle-sparkle-behold-the-future, but at least I could see where I was going. Honestly, watching the game through peripheral vision gave me flashbacks to when the wife was playing through Kingdom Hearts.

    As far as gameplay went, it was more or less the same – the whole use crap swords to kill enemies to get slightly less crap swords lather-rinse-repeat bit. No real advantage one way or the other, except that Diablo allowed me to skip through its mind-numbing cutscenes. Even that was grudgingly forgivable until a glimpse into the mind of Dyack (well, him and several dozen other people that worked with Dyack who failed to stop his inane rambling about how it’s our fault we can’t find the hidden fun in your flawless gem)…

    Y’see, cutscenes may be the bane of all that is gaming – in that they allow the player to do nothing for seconds to minutes – but they are somewhat useful as shims to disguise loading. (And while we’re at it, thank you *so* much for patenting the whole ‘actually do something while we load this sucker up’ thing, Namco. Class act. I’m sure you’re the only folks that can use this responsibly.) So, I initially accepted that the 27 seconds of sensory depravation every time you die was hiding some sort of loading that had to happen. Of course, then Dyack decided to proclaim that it’s better than having to recover your body (which is summarily better than, well, stepping in a bear trap) then noting that 1) The player should suck less; 2) It’s a sign of game quality that the player wants to actually play as opposed to watching the same damn valk…(oh screw it, your game isn’t worth trying to remember how to spell this Norse crap correctly) death animation; and 3) There’s no technical reason why that’s there and it could be easily removed.

    Imagine that you and your best friend are both about eight or so, and you get into a bit of roughhousing and you kick him in the leg. Welp, he goes to the hospital and they say that his leg’s broken rather severely and he’ll never walk again. And, well, your friend decides to be a bit of a douche and orders you to do all manner of things for him when you’re around, and lets you know constantly that “I’d do it myself, but, well, I’m in this chair and all…”

    This continues for about five years.

    Then, one day, while making your friend a sandwich, you notice him walking around! Asking how such a thing is possible yields, “Yeah, my leg was never broken. I was walking again an hour after going to the doctor. I just pretended that my leg was broken when you kicked me because you kicked me, and that sucked, and I had to show you that you sucked. Isn’t it exciting that we can play again? It means our friendship is so special since you’d rather play with me than wait impatiently for me to go away.”

    Yeah. That’s about how I feel about Too Human. Less fun than an eight-year-old game – which in computer years, is roughly equivalent to challenging your grandpa to a fight and getting your ass kicked.

  6. maybe i’ve unlocked the secret of the game’s flow, but there’s something to be said about the natural rhythm of the melee combat, all buzzy and staccato. if pso’s combat is about melody, this is a constant big drum fill. you feel like a gigantic hummingbird-stapler hybrid crashing into armies of weightless robots with all of the grace of a autistic child prodigy on chennai drums. i kinda like that.

  7. The Old Man Murray review is funny, even if Jet Set Radio did have sewer levels.

  8. Jet Set Radio Future’s sewer levels don’t count. They’re not dreary enough.

  9. Wait… so the sewer areas of Kogane-Cho in Jet Set Radio don’t count?

  10. I vaguely remember some sewers in the original JSR. What’s kind of funny is that the game is built perfectly for sewers. Nobody really daydreams about hack-and-slashing in sewers, but I think that the Ninja Turtles generation would love nothing more than to jet-skate through some sewers.

  11. Ha, I personally don’t count the sewer levels in JSRWhatever (I normally defer to the Action Button crew, but I did play JSR to death and would be embarrassed if I were wrong) as brown Rune sewer levels either, just getting into the spirit of nitpickitiness.

  12. don’t you fight poison jam in the JSR sewer? or, one of those type of gangs?

    so the main point is that JSR is a great game.

  13. I’m ridiculously disappointed that Too Human apparently turned out to suck. Say what you will about Mass Effect, but I enjoyed that game a whole bunch, and was expecting more of the same but with DMC/GoW/etc. style elements instead of third person shooter. Shame, big shame.

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