‘Too Human’ Co-Op Preview: Better Than A Phone Call

I would like to begin this post by first thanking Kotaku’s Michael McWhertor for helping me obtain a set of Willful Assault Plate Leggings today.

I got them while playing an hour of “Too Human” co-op with the man during working hours. Since the weekend when we tried Silicon Knights’ Xbox 360 exclusive action game — and then published hotly debated impressions — we’ve been trying to find time to link up.

I’m sure he’ll give his side of things on Kotaku (Update: he did). But I want to make clear from my vantage here at MTV is that playing “Too Human” via co-op is what I hoped it would be: better than a phone call.

Faint praise? I know “Too Human” is a controversial game and there are a lot of preview-readers this week questioning whether the game is really for them. My guess is that “Too Human” would be ideal for people who wanted to mindlessly grind and level-up while chatting with a friend — play it like many people play “World of Warcraft” — and, so far, so good.

I had to start a new character, TotiloTheBold, as a Level 1 Berzerker.

“Too Human” co-op removes the game’s cut-scenes, stripping it of story. Instead it’s just a hack-and-shoot journey through the game’s enemy-filled levels, with a friend at your side. Each player controls their version of the game’s hero, Baldur, with all the stats and stuff they earned in the single-player game. McWhertor had a Level 28 Bioengineer who he had used to clear the game. My save file was messed up (that’s what I get for tinkering with some clearly incomplete test DLC code), so I had to start a new character, TotiloTheBold, as a Level 1 Berzerker. We began playing in the game’s third level, which was accessible, I think, because he’d been there already.

The game proved to be the social experience I thought it would be. McWhertor and I were able to keep up a pretty good patter while chopping through robots. After a while, I realized, I wasn’t even thinking much about the action: just doing it and enjoying picking up all the loot that was dropped. It didn’t become much of a strategy game. We weren’t calling out many battle plans as if we were playing a “Halo 3” co-op campaign. That was partially because I was too weak to help him, but even as my leveling increased (in one hour I was a Level 9 and he a Level 30), we kept mostly to solo combat while chatting throughout.

What works nicely in “Too Human” co-op is that you and your partner are constantly collecting new stuff. We shared experience points for our kills and set the item-drops to round-robin distribution. He got one. I got one. He got one. I got one. Etcetera. I could upgrade at any time, and found myself doing it a lot — tinkering with armor, swapping guns, distributing points. Like I said in my first write-up, “Too Human” is a game meant to be paused a lot. The pause doesn’t interrupt the action, which is why I was killed while I was upgrading. That keeps the other player from waiting.

What wasn’t working so nicely in our preview builds was the camera and the lack of a map.

What wasn’t working so nicely in our preview builds was the camera and the lack of a map. McWhertor and I frequently lost track of each other in the game’s cavernous levels. The game camera is mostly computer-controlled, so we couldn’t swivel the view to find each other. And we couldn’t find any in-game map to indicate our locations. We also had some trouble initiating item trades that appear to require nearly simultaneous button-presses when our characters are next to each other.

Once we got the hang of trading, he was able to give me some much-needed better armor and melee weapons. That helped me get closer to his level. I liked trading for items, and I’m not even a big MMO or offline RPG player. Given the high number of items in the game and the rarity of some of them, fans of frequent bartering are going to like this game. Each change of armament modifies your stats and alters the look of the characters, though the faces are the same: McWhertor and I had the same Baldur head. The names of the stuff you trade are classic, like the aforementioned Willful Assault Plate Leggings. So trading is good for a chuckle too.

We scored one Achievement for tag-teaming a giant robot troll.

The element I missed the most — aside from a mini-map — was a sense of true co-op gameplay. We scored one Achievement for tag-teaming a giant robot troll, but we weren’t able to manifest any other signature tandem moves. Sure, I knocked guys into the sky while he shot at them. And clearly, people playing different character classes will be able to use their range or close-up fighting specialties to set up affective assaults. But the tease of the troll takedown technique made me wish there were more team moves for McWhertor and I to perform. Maybe they’re hidden in the game to be found.

The MTV-Kotaku “Too Human” team broke up after an hour of play. I had gained armor, weapons, money and several levels of character-progression. I was able to bring all of it into the campaign. Some of the items are locked since they require my character to be a higher level before he can wield them, but I have a lot of cool stuff.

…one benefit of its brevity.

After Wired’s Chris Kohler reported that his playthrough of the game only took 10 hours, many gamers online complained about “Too Human”’s apparent brevity. For me, cycling from multiplayer to single-player again and seeing my character’s items and abilities persist across those modes helped sell me on one benefit of its brevity. For those who will enjoy its distinct stick-pushing gameplay, the game’s true allure may be in how effectively it enables players to re-play its levels with ever more powerful character, gathering, scavenging and battling for the good stuff, one Shield of Explosion at a time. And that’s the kind of experience best accomplished with a friend linked up through voice-chat.

“Too Human” ships for the Xbox 360 on August 19. Cross your fingers about the mini-map and camera controls. You’re going to want them.