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
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.