The wild story behind a free Xbox One game Microsoft announced at E3

Silicon Knights/Xbox Game Studios

When Microsoft announced the last batch of Xbox 360 titles made compatible with Xbox One, one in particular stood out — and not just because it’s free.

Too Human.

Yes, Too Human, the action RPG (it was supposed to be the first of a trilogy!) where Norse gods are actually cybernetically enhanced humans, or something. The game was noteworthy for many other things, too, all of them bad. It all starts with a decade of development hell and ends with a lawsuit against Epic Games, which profoundly backfired on defunct maker Silicon Knights and its volatile boss, Denis Dyack. Now the epilogue finds the game reanimated after being sued into oblivion, and given away for free.

In between, Too Human must have set some kind of record for being an exclusive project for all three platform makers, across three consecutive console generations — beginning as a PlayStation game, moving to Nintendo’s GameCube and ultimately an Xbox 360 exclusive published by Microsoft Game Studios (now known as Xbox Game Studios).

So forget being free, that part is easily explainable by the fact Microsoft owns it. The game’s return to any marketplace is what’s inexplicable.

Silicon Knights sued Epic in 2007, a year before Too Human launched. The lawsuit made the convoluted allegation that Too Human’s development was prolonged because Epic wasn’t properly supporting the Unreal Engine 3 that Silicon Knights had been using. The studio further claimed that Epic was instead directing all of its Unreal revenue and development effort into Gears of War, which Silicon Knights called a direct competitor to Too Human.

Too Human released in August 2008 and was presently crapped upon by everyone, for issues like repetitive gameplay, a strange use of the right analog stick in combat and even an unskippable, way-too-long death sequence. Mostly, the game did not live up to a decade’s worth of development or hype from a voluble auteur such as Dyack.

Epic later countersued Silicon Knights, which had ended its relationship with Epic as it continued development on Too Human. Epic said the game was still substantially developed with Unreal 3, even though Silicon Knights wasn’t paying for it and had stripped out all mention of the engine and Epic.

A federal court agreed that Too Human was an infringement of Epic’s copyrights and ruled in Epic’s favor. In the aftermath, a judge ordered all remaining physical copies of the game destroyed, and Too Human was wiped from the Xbox Marketplace in early 2013. A federal appeals court upheld all of these rulings in 2014 and Silicon Knights, following the even more disastrous X-Men: Destiny went bust in the interim.

We reached out to representatives of both Microsoft and Epic Games to ask what was up with that. Microsoft got back to us with a gracious non-reply:

Players are our priority. With the backward compatibility program, as with all our work at Xbox, we are always listening to gamers feedback and working to bring the games they want to Xbox. This is just one of the many examples of this philosophy coming to life.

Then Epic discreetly confirmed that they permitted Microsoft to release the game, but nothing further.

Too Human may be an infamous title, but it wasn’t a completely broken game. It Metacritic’d a 65, although given the grade inflation of the time, that’s as good as a zero today. Before it even launched, Dyack made matters worse by charging into NeoGAF to yell at people for not understanding his game. So the lawsuit against Epic, even if Silicon Knights alleged other developers had the same grumbling complaint about Epic’s Unreal 3 support, therefore looked like someone blaming failure on everyone but themselves.

After Silicon Knights cratered, Dyack then started a studio called Precursor Games, which attempted a spiritual successor to Silicon Knights’ Eternal Darkness. That project also ran afoul of Epic Games, which wanted to make sure the assets Precursor was using didn’t come from Silicon Knights, which was selling its assets in order to pay the $9 million judgment it owed Epic.

Shadow of the Eternals, which was supposed to launch for PC and Wii U, was ultimately canceled after getting just 10 percent of the backing it sought.

Anyway, that’s a roundabout way of saying “free game, run go get it.” Too Human may be worth picking up, if not for its enjoyability, then for the fact it was once wiped from existence, and now exists only at Epic Games’ pleasure.

Comments

I remember playing it for a single afternoon ten year ago. I remember huge cavernous environments, a sorta neat melee combat system that changed random button mashing into random thumb stick flicking, and the germs of some neat ideas in the world building and art direction. Overall I left thinking Too Human is probably more fun as an art book than as an game.

Fun to be reminded of Denis Dyack making an ass of himself multiple times in online forums. What’s David Jaffe up to?

Probably hanging out with Derek Smart.

Don’t say his name!

Jaffe is streaming and tweeting haha he announced he’s working on a new game concept, and then recently made a strange joke about Kratos being bisexual

Man, Eternal Darkness was good though. I wish that people would make more games like that, which was creepy, not not really scary in the "jump scare" sense.

This game made my launch 360 RRoD itself in protest.

That said, while it played like garbage, I was always disappointed that we never got the rest. The actual plot and setting was fascinating. It just wasn’t fun to play. If they’d made it a more conventional game it probably wouldn’t have been that bad. Wish we’d been able to see where it was going to go in the other games, even if it had been via another means. Would have made a great comic book series I think for example.

I also felt that they had a legit grievance against Epic. Basically that Epic had been half-assing support while rolling new features that they really needed into the newer version of Unreal Engine which they were building for Gears of War. Effectively forcing other developers to beta test it and rolling the feature improvements into only their own game. The problem was that their approach to addressing this problem – basically building their own engine but copying big chunks of the Unreal source into it, but not actually paying a license for it – was pretty much guaranteed to end badly for them, legally speaking.

It feels this was all written to make us forget that Epic is the bad guy just because they were in the right, back when they were the good guys.

Yo this game’s not that bad. It’s fun to play in some ways, the loot is cool, and the story/setting/ideas are great. I’ve still got 2 characters I jumped back into last night. Unfortunately I think they disabled multiplayer because I tried to get into a match and was told I was disconnected from Xbox Live.

Pretty much my opinion. It wasn’t a great game, but it definitely wasn’t the garbage people were saying it was. It had interesting ideas, and the combat was simple enough to just relax while sliding around looking cool.

Then again, I liked Kane & Lynch so what do I know, right?

I enjoyed the game with my only complaint was that 15 second death scene.

A lot of the ideas and execution for those ideas come from Diablo, so it’s always weird to see people complain about the game being a repetitive dungeon crawler while Diablo over here is Gucci for them.

The death animation is probably my only real problem with the game. And I totally agree about the Diablo comparisons. Diablo 3 is my zone out zen game that requires very little thought. Too Human fits that same mold.

Dumb question, since I never played it: was it a 15 second loading-your-last-checkpoint animation that looked like a death animation, or was it 15 seconds watching a dumb cutscene, then also waiting while loading your last save?

I’m like 70% sure it’s a 15 minute long cutscene that just loaded you back to the entrance to the last room you cleared out with enemies not respawning back into place. So if you died clearing out the middle of a room, you wouldn’t have to reclear the portion that was already killed off.

Dr. Panda is correct that it loads you back at the front of the arena or room without restarting at a checkpoint. I think the developers really, really liked the idea of a Valkyrie dropping down to revive you, and they forced you to watch it every time.

Now, if you died rarely and only saw this once an hour or so, that wouldn’t be so bad, but one of my other problems with Too Human is that the enemies are super cheap and you’ll get killed without warning from something off screen that you couldn’t block. So it’s likely that you’ll hit the revive animation 4 or 5 times in a few minutes. That’s what makes it the worst.

Too Human was the game that taught me not to ride the hype train and buy games on launch, but I worked on X-Men Destiny! It was, sadly, one of the better games I’ve worked on.

that’s an excellent lesson to learn.

Are the load times any better? The game’s flow was awful. Even if it could’ve been a good game, it was too frustrating to actually play.

I have nothing but fond memories of too human. It may have been panned, but All I remember was sinking in countless hours.(kinda like kingdoms of amalur which i also really enjoyed)

Definitely going to dl this and see if my memories still hold true.

Finally, This article reminds me why I didnt like epic. They could have taken a high road, but rather, played down to the level of silicon knights, then pushed them hard into oblivion.

I really came here for the details of how this was made possible. Epic and Microsoft’s responses gave no details.

Yeah, they’re both rather blah like that.

There are probably not a lot of details to give. Microsoft probably asked Epic if they could give it away to their fans, and since it was free, no money would be going to whatever holding company collects Silicon Knights’ royalties these days, so Epic said sure.

But the question is why!?

This is a game that for intents and purposes did not achieve financial success for its developer.

It’s a footnote in gaming history. It didn’t provide anything new. So why did MS care to spend resources (money) on it?

I know that if I paid millions to publish a game, and due to legal reasons I couldn’t charge for it, I would find a way to make it a plus for my company. In this case, positive PR. Plus, it is an interesting piece of Xbox history that gets to live on, so there are probably a lot of ’why’s and very few ‘why not’s.

I don’t think it was a very demanding game, so it probably didn’t take the BC crew long to get it working, and Microsoft did say they would try and get every game that didn’t have complicated licensing issues out on BC. A quick question to Epic and we all get a free game.

I remember being so excited for this game. We all thought it was 4-player co-op, until it released and it turned out that they scrapped it for "balance". The bait and switch was real.

View All Comments
Back to top ↑