Silicon Knights Too Human is more exciting and interesting than boring Arkane Studios Prey 2017

Let’s get one thing out of the way — I’m not here to tell you Too Human is good. It’s astoundingly questionable at best. If you were just dying to see me come up with some contrived defense of  it, well — I have nothing. I was beating my head against a wall to find something worth chewing on here, but then something unexpected happened. Now, I’ve been reminded why I bother playing games like this every now and then.

Too Human is, in many ways, The Room of video games. You just can’t help but keep watching the madness. There’s a solid 15-second respawn animation. You can actually run past and around enemies. There’s a miniboss named specifically for having a penchant to harm genitals. Everyone is either under- or overacting in every cutscene. Hel is a cybernetic monstrosity who somehow still has a plunging neckline, while the mighty Thor plays second fiddle to Baldur of all people. You have a squad of marines that follow you around like helpless chickens, awkwardly trying to jam exposition and life into the world while Baldur stoics so hard you’d think he was made of granite. This is a shining sewer gem of utter silliness.

You won’t find many boasting of finishing Infernal: Hell’s Vengeance or Hunt Down the Freeman. Yet you can easily make your way through Too Human so long as you’re maining the biomedic class. It doesn’t hard-crash or have the physics break in any particular way; it’s not Goat Simulator. Instead, the humor in Too Human is how the rolling tide of mediocrity works in spite of itself, trying fruitlessly to reinvent the wheel for Diablo on consoles. It’s bewildering to consider this was one of the earliest examples of the genre on Xbox 360 and makes the console port of Diablo III look even more impressive in hindsight.

Silicon Knights Too Human is more exciting and interesting than boring Arkane Studios Prey 2017

After suffering through seven hours of Too Human, I decided to reward myself by finally digging into my backlog to play something so many had claimed was nearly perfect: Arkane’s Prey. It’d doubtless be worthier of a Second Look, and I could toss Too Human aside with a quick gag. So I set aside several more hours to dig in, and you know what?

I was bored out of my mind.

Despite an impressive opening, Arkane somehow manages to waste every opportunity it can find. It takes nearly the full length of BioShock’s campaign just to get to the point Prey really starts. It withholds most of the interesting powers out of reach for nearly 10 hours and punishes you for relying on any tactic but hacking or repairing everything until then.

For a game that screams about how much choice you have, most of the time your choice isn’t how to handle a situation, but how to arrive at the same destination in a slightly different way. When I’d try to deviate to find a more creative solution to a problem or seek out an interesting side story, random loot or outright rejection and a push back to the critical path were often the only reward.

Silicon Knights Too Human is more exciting and interesting than boring Arkane Studios Prey 2017

This isn’t to say Prey was bad. Well, the enemy design is pretty underwhelming, but the polish and potential are all sitting there. However, it’s no Dishonored or Deus Ex. BioShock 2 literally has a tram to take you between levels to get around having an open-world design, yet that game feels larger in scope and deeper in detail than this purported spiritual successor. Rolling around as a coffee cup is enjoyable, but the game lacked an actual hook to keep me engaged. Compared to Arkane’s own previous works, the game is just average in its offerings.

It doesn’t help that Prey’s narrative barely registers after the initial twist. The gameplay evolves so slowly that one of the earliest alien powers consists of literally just blasting enemies — never mind that by this point, you’ll likely have several weapons that already do that plenty fine. Anywhere that isn’t dressed in art deco is painfully dry of personality too. Again, I kept trying to find something to latch onto, some reason to keep going, and in that void of blandness, it hit me: A small sliver of me legitimately wanted to reconsider Too Human.

To be clear, Prey is without a doubt infinitely better than Too Human. Its sound design and soundtrack are both fantastic, the areas that aren’t just dull space station laboratories are eye-catchingly gorgeous, and the GLOO Cannon is good enough to be held alongside the Portal gun. Yet none of these elements are knitted together into a tightly wound pattern that you haven’t seen before. They feel detached and mechanical rather than handcrafted.

Silicon Knights Too Human is more exciting and interesting than boring Arkane Studios Prey 2017

By contrast, Too Human has a clear and distinct hook — its combat. The heart of Too Human, while clunky, is using your right stick for melee attacks and swapping dynamically to ranged combat with the tap of a trigger. The puzzle sections, meanwhile, are pace breakers. Cut scenes are presented initially in flashback so that players can dive right into the loot’n’shoot grind fest, dodging the backtracking nature of Diablo. Crafting and inventory management are also handled on the fly rather than pausing for a millisecond. While there are only three types of weapons for ranged and melee respectively, each is highly distinct with unique quirks that make a significant difference to your play style. Even your upgrade tree’s branches are built specifically around which gear is your preference and accommodating that.

Nothing about this makes Too Human a good game. You often feel like a spinning top of doom, constantly struggling for control as the game’s ambitions crumble down amid a flurry of stun-locking enemies that can only be evaded briefly. Attempts at a high-brow tale of conspiracy and a cyberpunk Norse mythology fall apart thanks to over-the-top cutscenes and rambling exposition. Too Human is at best an arresting train wreck that leaves you speechless as it plays out, but at least it’s memorable.

I laughed, shouted, and felt like I was losing my marbles playing Too Human. I hated a fair bit of it, but that in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. To quote Yahtzee, “You see, I get angry, but angry is not bored. Angry gets. shit. done.” Considering I didn’t stop after the first absurd hour of Too Human, I have to agree — yet I’m not sure I emoted at all while playing Prey. Few moments felt noteworthy or dramatically engaging, while every minute of Too Human remains clear in my mind.

Much like The Room, you can’t help but be fascinated by Too Human’s disastrous nature. Too Human didn’t just fail — it failed with style, crashing and burning while screaming at the top of its lungs. It took an entire company down and is literally illegal to sell due to a court order — the only reason players can now experience it is Microsoft releasing it for free via backwards compatibility. That’s unprecedented, and you can feel it — if you’ve played Too Human, you’ll never forget it.

It’s one thing to be a visibly flawed game; it’s another to be such an interwoven bundle of bad decisions that if you altered any one aspect to be good, it’d actually lessen the fun. Let’s not forget people are still playing Aliens: Colonial Marines. Such jank games might not be for everyone, but they will always be more interesting than something average — not by being better, but by being gaming’s most memorable grindhouse, err, “hits.”

Elijah Beahm
Elijah’s your Guy Friday for all things strange and awesome in obscure gaming. He spends way too much time talking about such things on Twitter @UnabridgedGamer and his YouTube channel The Unabridged Gamer.

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