[5 September 2008]
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
1 ½ stars
AGE RATING: Teen
TOO HUMAN 3 stars PUBLISHER: Microsoft SYSTEM: Microsoft Xbox 360 PRICE: $59.99 AGE RATING: Teen
It’s a strange coincidence that “Space Siege” and “Too Human” would arrive so close together. Both are sci-fi takes on the “Diablo” dungeon-crawler formula (minus the random dungeons), and both deal with the balance between humanity and cybernetic enhancement.
We’ll start with “Space Siege,” the latest effort from the makers of the serviceable “Dungeon Siege” games and the incredibly ambitious strategy title “Supreme Commander” and its expansion.
“Dungeon Siege” made its name by being a pretty good “Diablo” clone – it had lots of varied dungeons to explore, lots of monsters in them to fight, lots of fancy loot to fight them with, and plenty of allies to share in the work.
“Space Siege” pares down many of these aspects dramatically. Spaceships serve as the dungeons, with gray corridors instead of caves; the once-numerous allies have been replaced by a single robotic buddy; there’s only a small variety of character options; and worst of all, there’s almost no loot.
There are weapons to find as well as cybernetic upgrades that one may choose to install. But there are no randomized treasure drops, no unique sets of armor to piece together, no ultra-rare weapons to find and brag about – just pre-set item pickups and generic “parts” used to upgrade the player’s equipment, robot helper and attributes.
Die-hards still play “Diablo II” eight years after its release – not because they think it’s fun to click the left mouse button but because they still want to build their own Paladin or Necromancer or Sorceror just so, to find that perfect balance of abilities and rare equipment.
“Space Siege” has very little of that. The player is given the role of Seth Walker, some guy on the human colony ship Armstrong - a massive vessel that escaped Earth just as it came under a final attack by the Kerak race.
Some Kerak managed to tag along, and Walker has awakened from his artificial sleep to find the Armstrong in disarray and few members of the crew to be found – alive, anyway. Linking up with the ship’s artificial intelligence and a few remaining personnel, Walker starts a fight against the Kerak.
As he progresses, Walker gains points to put into his two skill trees, Combat and Engineering, which boost his innate abilities and his equipment-based skills, respectively. Walker can only gain some abilities if he has certain cybernetic parts, and others he must be almost entirely human to learn; deciding which of these paths to take is one of the player’s few choices.
Simply put: “Space Siege’s” combat is rote, and the game just feels drab and uninspired.
“Too Human,” on the other hand, seems like a case of inspiration gotten out of hand - it’s a wild mix of science fiction and Norse mythology strapped to a dungeon crawl. It doesn’t work all the time, but it works enough. It’s a strong game despite its quirks; the graphics are solid, though the animation gets a bit choppy in close-ups. The music is sweeping, and the voice work is decently done.
“Too Human’s” setting is interesting though strange. Players take on the role of Baldur, one of the Aesir, powerful beings who protect humanity from the scourge of the sentient machines that prowl beyond the walls of Midgard. These Aesir, with names like Heimdall and Thor, are revered as gods and wield incredible power, thanks to their use of extensive cybernetic enhancements - an ironic measure - in the long war against the machines, which has left the world a frozen wasteland.
While one always plays as Baldur, even online, there are five character classes available. Players may choose a close-combat Berserker, a tough-to-crack Defender, a well-rounded Champion, a crafty Commando or a healing-oriented Bio Engineer. Each class has three skill trees where points are spent to strengthen abilities and open up new ones.
Certain abilities in these trees are exclusive of each other, but players may spend money to redistribute points at will, a feature that should be in this sort of game as a matter of course.
The character options aren’t especially extensive for each individual class, but taken in aggregate, there are many options for a player to explore, and there is a huge variety of weapons and equipment to find in shops and in the world.
The combat approximates the mouse-based control of a PC dungeon crawl by using the right analog stick for attacks - push the stick in any direction and Baldur strikes there. Certain stick movements pull off other maneuvers, and Baldur can use several kinds of guns, though their auto-aim feature is uncooperative at times.