GDC 08: Too Human Impressions

After years of talk and hands-off demonstrations, Silicon Knights' long-in-development action RPG Too Human finally made its playable debut tonight. And while the latest build of the Xbox 360 exclusive may have a few camera problems, its combat is truly unlike anything you've ever played.

All of the core combat, both swords and guns, is controlled by tilting the right analog stick towards the direction you wish to attack, similar to Geometry Wars.

It's a nifty twist on the well-worn button mashing we all know so well, much like how EA Black Box's Skate reinvigorated the once-stagnant skateboarding genre. No one will go into this game with a clear advantage. Everyone will start out at the same basic skill level.

While simple, there is a lot of underlying depth to the system. Hold the right stick to keep attacking in a particular direction. Instead of just pointing in a new direction, rotate the stick for a smoother and more combo-friendly transition. If you have a sword, tap in a direction to launch an enemy into the air, or double tap to dash towards them.

A combo system adds further complexity. The better players do, the faster their character moves, with an on-screen meter tracking one's current status. This combo meter also provides the energy for the devastating, screen-clearing Ruiner attacks. Of course, these eat up a significant chunk of that energy, so players must constantly choose between speed or power.

With the right analog stick literally controlling the action, the flip side is that players don't have much direct control over the camera. Silicon Knights has compensated for this with a series of preset camera angles, as well as an auto-targeting feature that centers the action around baddies--but it's not perfect.

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At one point, I was being blasted to smithereens by two missile-firing goblins, with a horde of regular old goblins standing between us. I tried to run around the crowd and take on the missile jerks, but the camera was centered around a select member of that horde, turning what should have been a straight beeline into a fight with the camera system instead.

As a Silicon Knights representative was standing nearby, I asked him if there was anything I could do to rectify the problem. Negative, he responded, stressing that the studio was still iterating upon the camera system.

It should be noted that Too Human does provide the player with a minimal degree of camera manipulation--tap LB to center the camera behind the main character--but this is meant to be used when exploring, not fighting. A few different options allow players to toggle how near or far the camera is from the action.

Being a dungeon-crawling action RPG, Too Human relies heavily on the staples of the genre. I'm talking five different character classes, gobs of loot, item crafting, skill trees, multiplayer--the sort of things that will keep folks replaying the game after they beat the 15-hour adventure for the first time.

Unfortunately, other than acknowledging their existence, Silicon Knights isn't saying much about multiplayer or downloadable content at this point.

Though Too Human still has no firm release date, Silicon Knights president Denis Dyack told the assembled gaming press to expect it "soon." While that vague estimate doesn't actually say much, as long as the studio can iron out the kinks with the game's camera system, I have a sneaking suspicion that Too Human and its fresh approach towards combat may just end up being worth the wait.