With just under a month left before its official release, Silicon Knights' ten-years-in-the-making sci-fi RPG, Too Human, just hit Xbox Live in demo form. Deeply entrenched in Norse mythology, the game creates a unique new interpretation of the old myths and combines it with surprisingly Diablo-esque gameplay, and the result thus far is quite impressive.
The Norse trappings are evident throughout the demo, and what bits and pieces of story can be gathered from the hour-long experience seem to suggest a complex and unique sci-fi universe. Those in the know will recognize plenty of familiar names, including Freya, Heimdall, and the NORNs, or Non-Organic Rational Nanosystems as they are known in Too Human. Much of the story that is detailed in the demo deals with the NORNs and how they relate to the overall game.
As the demo explains, the NORNs inhabit a type of cyberspace and take the form of three women, each with distinct personalities, within their own illusory world. Cyberspace, contrastingly to what is presented as the real world, is extremely organic, covered in grass, trees, and other plantlife. The real world, meanwhile, is mechanical and stark, a welcome polarity from standard science fiction convention. Although brief, the hero, Baldur, also makes mention of the monster he searches for, calling it Grendel. Grendel is, of course, the monster in the epic poem Beowulf, and it remains to be seen whether this reference is singular or one of many not relating to Norse myth.
The story sequences in the demo are also presented in a sort of flashback format: after some combat, some task that needs to be performed or some message spoken by the soldiers at Baldur's command triggers a cutscene that explains either it or the event that is about to begin. As an example, just before needing to make use of the cyberspace wells for the first time, the game flashes back to Baldur's first encounter with the NORNs. It remains to be seen whether this form of storytelling will be present in the final product or if it is only for the demo.
"It is quite probable that the experience presented within this demo accurately resembles what will be in the finished product, and so far that experience is very good."
Aside from the minor story details, the majority of the demo was spent entrenched in the game's unusual combat system. While admittedly it takes some getting used to, half an hour or so into the demo, it felt perfectly natural and works surprisingly well. The combat is very action-oriented and plays like a strange combination of hack 'n' slash dungeon crawlers and modern action games: Diablo meets God of War, if you will. What's most unusual about the combat, however, is the use of the right analog stick as a primary method of attacking.
The use of the right analog stick in this way has been common knowledge for some time now, but it's very difficult to imagine just how it works in practice. As it happens, the combat is surprisingly robust, and there are several different types of attacks that can be performed by pressing the stick in different ways. The simplest method is simply to point it somewhere: Baldur will unleash a melee attack in that direction and continue attacking so long as its pressed. By rotating it, the focus of his attacks can be adjusted, allowing him to attack enemies on all sides.
The other most common method of attacking requires a quick double tap of the right stick, an action that is a lot easier to perform than it sounds. This attack will launch an enemy into the air, making it easy pickings for ranged weapons or aerial attacks. Ranged weapons can, in fact, continue to juggle the enemy in the air so long as the ammo (and the enemy's health) holds out. There are also special fierce attacks that are performed by flicking the right and left analog sticks in the same direction, but they aren't quite as useful or as intuitive.
While the right analog stick covers the melee attack methods, the trigger buttons likewise control ranged weaponry. The right trigger is for primary fire while the left trigger is for secondary. Ranged attacks automatically strike whatever enemy is targeted, and can also be adjusted with the right stick, though the need rarely comes up. The combination of melee and ranged fighting leads to a fluid, fast-paced battle system made all the more spectacular by the sheer numbers that come at you at any given time.
While the majority of the enemies thrown at me during the demo were small and easily dispatched, a couple of larger machines that sort of resembled the powersuit from Aliens were in my path at a couple of spots. While these enemies didn't pose much additional threat, they did provide evidence that Too Human will contain finisher mini-games similar to God of War. In this case, by getting behind the machine and pressing A, the action cut to Baldur climbing on top of the thing. There weren't any on-screen prompts as to what to do, which made it confusing at first, but thankfully the necessary actions were fairly intuitive. The machine would lean to the left or right, to which the correct response would be to press the left analog stick in the opposite direction, allowing Baldur to maintain his balance. When the machine leveled out, holding the right analog stick down would launch an attack, finishing the beast off.
As the demo progressed, I was also able to get a feel for Too Human's loot system, which uses a prefix/suffix system similar to the Diablo series. Baldur can equip a wide variety of armor and weaponry, and while each of the five different classes are capable of using all the weapons in the game, their individual skills tend to favor particular ones. For example, Berserkers are strong with dual-wielded swords, while Defenders prefer a hammer and shield combo. However, most of these benefits can only be obtained by spending skill points in the appropriate places. The skill system is also reminiscent of the Diablo series, but unfortunately seems to be a bit more limited by its prerequisites than most other RPGs of its type.
There are three types of melee weapons and three types of ranged weapons, and of those there are three subsets of each. Melee weapons come in one-handed, two-handed, and dual-wielded varieties, while ranged weapons have three types of ammo and also different alternate fire methods. Using different types garner advantages and disadvantages in terms of range, speed, and power, making it more than just an aesthetic choice. Regardless of class choice, both melee and ranged weaponry will be fairly essential to combat.
The Too Human demo is, frankly, enormous, by demo standards. There is a lot of information to be gathered from it and I've done my best to sum it all up. It is quite probable that the experience presented within this demo accurately resembles what will be in the finished product, and so far that experience is very good. The game seems to take a lot of inspiration from Diablo II, and that is in no way a bad thing. I was looking forward to this game before, but now I can't wait.