This isn't a massive problem in a genre where tinkering and whacking are the key components, but it does frustrate a little when the game over-elaborates certain sections with long treks to out-of-the-way smashables (usually harbouring bounty or red orbs, which are the only in-game health pickups), and in the sections where you step through the water into the NORN "cyberspace" and do something to affect the real world. "Puzzles" would be too strong a word in most cases; you often walk to a designated spot, push a button, and then watch a cut-away scene that shows what you just did, allowing you to trek back to that point and take advantage.
But while this sort of thing is forgivable (not to mention optional), our real concern with Too Human is that the combat and plot struggle to carry you between the bits you like: most often the RPG character-customisation elements, which are arguably meant to be the supporting act in the first place.
There's a lot you can do to your enemies on the battlefield, but there doesn't seem to be a lot they can do to you - and certainly not a lot you'll struggle to get past. The analogue controls are a little groggy and the combo system takes a while to accept, but despite this and despite an automatic camera that seems to be in league with the opposition whichever option you choose, you're not in any lasting danger. The checkpoints deposit you back in the action with no more enemies to face than when you expired, so if you can't get the measure of a situation you can always watch a few death animations and eventually advance through weight of respawns.
That said, enemies rarely do more than take up basic roles against you, so you prioritise the pesky ranged ones then despatch the rest in a close-quarters frenzy, which is borderline button-mashing until you learn or decide to restrain yourself. Gunplay feels like an afterthought throughout. More exotic, boss-style adversaries usually have various components to target, but in the absence of a party to back you up there's little strategy to enact.
The original idea was to have drop-in/drop-out four-player multiplayer, which would have made sense given the different classes available (there's a tank, a healer, a ranged attacker, etc), but this has been reduced to two-player over Xbox Live. With no local play that we could uncover, we didn't get to test this, but reports abroad suggest that there's no change to the forgivingness of the death/respawn cycle, so in theory there's no need to fight together to survive, just another greedy inventory to feed with loot.
For all its scale, gizmos and Norse namedropping, there's little personality to the places you visit and the people you encounter, either. Soldiers in the dispensable human wolf pack that back you up banter back and forth but it's frat-boy mercenaries on a road-trip. The dialogue throughout is part daytime soap opera, part school play, and the sets - far from giving the game a sense of place and atmosphere - are just bizarre. Okay, you're meant to be gods, but does this really mean the boss's office should be in a sort of whale ribcage construct with giant sparrow statues suspended over a mountain range accessible only by a magic floating platform? After witnessing what BioWare achieved with Mass Effect a few months ago, it's all a bit pantomime.
Which is a shame, and hopefully something the game conquers as you cast off the stabilisers and get stuck in properly. We've deliberately avoided racing through what must be a near-final build so as not to prejudice the review too much, so there's still the chance for it to surprise us later. The problem is that after a handful of hours in Baldur's shiny, customisable armour, it really would be a surprise. There's a nice resource management and skills-chasing sub-RPG lurking in the menus, but the rest is repetitive, overly forgiving and quickly forgotten. In answer to our original question, then, we suspect the elephant would have pitched up anyway. We'll see next month.
Too Human is due out exclusively for Xbox 360 on 29th August.