For many of us, high school was a miserable experience. A lot of people, myself included, consistently walked a tightrope over the Chasm of a Thousand Deaths, with the specter of social rejection looming far below on one side and the impulse to stab someone in the face with a No. 2 pencil beckoning on the other. As a result of simmering in the perpetual hormonal hot tub otherwise known as the ages between eleven and nineteen, some of us occasionally did things that carried with them the risk of being ostracized by even the most socially inept of school cliques, including the chess club, the math club, and the marching band, of which I was a member in full-blown, four-star geek majesty. For me, one of those risks involved befriending Corey Grey.
The thing that maintained Corey’s status as an object of adolescent derision wasn’t simply that he was an insufferable jackass – which, basically, he was – but the fact that his reputation as such followed him from middle school through graduation as part of the unquestionable social dogma which only the most intrepidly masochistic dared to defy. All too infrequently, though, a narrow gap would open in the seams of Corey’s Cunning Breastplate of Dillholery +6, exposing something genuinely worthwhile underneath, something that suggested vestiges of brilliance and compassion and a fierce, unrelenting loyalty that most people never saw because they didn’t care to look. Today, nearly blah-blah-blah years later, it reminds me of the critical response to Too Human.
I cared little for the demo when it was released a few weeks ago, but after seeing the wide differences between its scores at several aggregate review sites, I hoisted an eyebrow of incredulity and threw down sixty clams to have a go at the full version. I suspected that the demo might not have painted an accurate picture, and anything that generates such a disparity of opinion is, to me, worth a closer look.
Oddly enough, I don’t remember ever spending sixty bucks to sit in Corey’s living room and have him kick me in the gonads for three hours, which would have faithfully foreshadowed the experience I had with the early parts of Too Human.
Whenever a game arbitrarily wrestles control away from me and uses a mini-cutscene to introduce new enemies (Doom 3, I’m casually glancing in your direction), or to draw the player’s attention to an ostensibly important location or event, that’s usually when my eyes glaze over and I seek more agreeable entertainment; not just because these sequences are more jarring than a rap on the nose with an unjacketed Wii Remote, but also because they’re usually an early symptom of either congenital incompetence or chronic creative arrogance. There’s a time and place for cutscenes, after all; the place should never be the middle of combat, nor the time when the player expects to have control of the experience.
If there’s a thin line between poise and bluster, between confidence and conceit, games like Too Human come perilously close to giving us the finger and tap dancing over said line with irredeemable bravado. Doom 3 did it with its monster intro sequences and forcing the choice between flashlight and weapon, or more bluntly, between sight and survival. Early on, Too Human‘s codependent relationship with the ubiquitous enemy intro movie had me pining for the days of pre-electronic entertainment, back when all toys were made out of jagged metal, dirty syringes, and broken glass, and we were damned glad to have them. Thankfully, Too Human got over its bout of narcissism fairly quickly, which is something that Doom and, to a lesser extent, Gears of War, never accomplished without first throwing you to the floor and grinding their presentation in your face.
After a while, I found myself enjoying Too Human in spite of its flaws. I’m a sucker for item collection and character customization and leveling, and in those regards the game pays off with loan shark interest rates. Combat, which is controlled via the right thumbstick, might have been better served by allowing the player to manually manipulate the camera with the right stick and using the face buttons to attack – the frequent dramatic changes in camera angles made it seem more like an homage to La Dolce Vita than an innovative control mechanism – but overall it was a very satisfying experience.
I don’t know if Corey Grey’s latent virtues ever staged a successful coup over the more dominant aspects of his personality; I never saw him again after high school, but years later someone told me that he’d become a drill instructor in the army, so yeah, probably not. I guess for most people it’s better to go with what they know.
What I learned from my association with Corey, which was echoed by my time with Too Human, is that our most crucial faculty is our own objective judgment. Developing informed opinions – whether of a game, a potential friend, or more topically these days, a political ideology – based on our own critical analysis is our best defense against prejudice, deceit, and outright stupidity.
So the next time you seek someone’s opinion of a game, regardless of whether they’re a professional reviewer or a disconcertingly erudite custodial engineer, don’t hesitate to ask them to justify their views. Chances are, anyone whose opinion might be of any value to you won’t mind explaining, and anyone who takes offense at your request won’t be able to.
Either way, you’ll get a useful and revealing response.
Matt Turano is sixty-seven percent certain that all names herein have been changed to protect the incontinent.