Regarding Too Human

The light and dark sides: symbols of a nonexistent dilemma When I originally set out to tackle Too Human, I figured I'd discuss the game within the framework of a traditional review. But it didn't take long before I realized there wasn't a whole lot that could be said in Too Human's defense; instead, I ended up with a litany of grievances that painted the game as a catastrophe.

But that's not how I think of Too Human. After all, would a game so ostensibly terrible be fun enough to warrant a subsequent replay immediately after I reached the end?

So I began to piece together what it was that made the game so compelling to me. Was it the frantic combat? The uninspired weapon customization and almost fetishistic loot-acquiring? The broken, haphazard script with half-baked characters? No. Everything Too Human tried to accomplish had been done much better by many games before it.

But I couldn't ignore the fact that I loved suspending my disbelief way up in the rafters, pretending I was some fugly man-god and mowing down thousands of enemies in a display of raw destruction. That simplistic joy shines through the mess to make Too Human an essential case study in gaming and -- somewhat ironically -- a perfect example of why games have value as a medium.

It's stunning proof that, even when absolutely nothing comes together right, games can still be a joy to experience.

Bland, uninspired enemies populate the Too Human universe.

Of course, I'm not exactly representative of the majority of gamers here. Upon its release, Too Human received tepid reviews and sold only marginally well for a game that had been in development for so long. In chatting with some friends, I found their reactions ranged from lukewarm to unbridled hatred.

My perspective isn't typical. I bought the game on a whim from GameFly for a whopping $9.99 -- with free shipping to boot -- and began playing more than a year after the game was released. Similarly, my expectations were low: I didn't expect a high-quality game, and as a result I was better prepared for the game.

And frankly, it's not that bad of a game. Sure, it reeks of inconsistent design choices, practically crying out for another year of focused development, and the script is terrible, even by gaming standards, but that doesn't change the fact that the absolute core of the game -- fighting off hordes of enemies to grow more powerful -- is actually pulled off admirably. Essentially, Silicon Knights melded the Diablo "kill-loot-upgrade" tradition with the control scheme of a twin-stick shooter like Geometry Wars, and it works really well.

Upgrading equipment is relatively painless and gratifying, just as it should be in a light role-playing experience, which lets the frantic combat take center stage. Although it at first looks more similar to a Dynasty Warriors game, Too Human has the unmistakable feel of a dual-stick shooter. The left stick moves and the right stick attacks; it's simple, but that's why it works. Once the small packs of enemies become tidal waves of machinery, your hero's survival hinges on quick reactions and choosing intelligent paths through crowds. And thanks to the added challenge of replayable levels, the combat only becomes more enjoyable as the player progresses through the game.

It's not perfect, and its presentation does a whole lot more harm than good for the game, but Too Human was an inspiring experience for me. It reaffirmed just how valuable and enjoyable games can be, even when the odds are stacked against them. More than anything, it proves just how far a good, simple gameplay concept can carry even the most terrible of narratives.