by MARTY DEMAREST & r & & r & Too Human & r & Rated Teen; Xbox 360 & r & 2 Stars & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & oo Human opens with a CGI scene depicting an attack on a mead hall -- excuse me, futuristic "Valkyrie" nightclub -- by a robotic, buzz-saw-mawed monster named Grendel. Didn't I already endure one virtual version of Beowulf?
Apparently, mankind and machinekind are no longer friends. After battling the sentient technology it once nurtured, mankind has isolated itself in a haven called Midgard. Left to their own devices, the machines have flourished. Like the stereotypical videogames from which they must have evolved, the machines have formed colonies of foot-soldier robots dispersed through corridor-laden lairs, along with a few bigger and badder beasts.
As Baldur the Aesir, I am a god among men -- a cybernetically enhanced human. In Too Human, it's the rare being who can both traipse the bounds of cyberspace and kick butt in reality, and it's my fate as Baldur to be surrounded by Xbox-controlled sidekicks with no cybernetic powers at all. They don't even seem to be able to aim their guns, which isn't a problem when I want Baldur to be a fierce combat warrior, but gets downright annoying when I design him to be a supporting player on the battlefield.
Too Human tries to be too many things. It's a role-playing game, with various "classes" of warrior for Baldur to be. It's also an action game somewhat like the God of War series in which I battle hordes of enemies from a third-person perspective. Too Human also tries to tell a story, weaving Norse mythology into a standard-issue men vs. machines scenario, with the result that the game sports a bundle of contorted acronyms, such as the NORNS (Non-Organic Rational Nano-Systems) and ODIN (Organically Distributed Intelligence Network). The Internet is recognizable as Yggdrasil the world tree, "a consensual hallucination shared by all."
I would have enjoyed the mythologizing if it weren't pasted atop a technologically befuddled game. It's nearly impossible to change my viewing perspective during combat, leaving Baldur fighting foes that cluster offscreen. And instead of walking or running to the nearest evil robot, Baldur slides like he's being moved with a magnet. He simply glides across the ground without moving his legs. If this Baldur-dash is cutting-edge technology ca. 2008, we don't need to worry about sentient machines for a long time--right now, they're not human enough.
THE GOOD: Too Human is the first game in a trilogy. The idea of carrying Baldur forward into two more games gives me hope that Too Human will become more imaginative and the gameplay more refined as the story approaches the blood-drenched apocalypse of Ragnarok.
THE BAD: I can't look around during battle because one of the Xbox 360's two thumbsticks is used to move Baldur while the other is used to control his sword-arm. While it's cool to see my weaponry swing through the air tracing white lines that echo the contours of my thumbstick's swivels, I would rather be able to actually track my enemies. Ranged combat eliminates this problem by auto-locking me onto my target. But melee combat, which Too Human relies on extensively, becomes a mess of repositioning and guesswork chopped into awkward tableaux.