Game : Troll and I
Release Date: March 21st, 2017
Developer/Publisher: Maximum Games , Spiral House
Troll and I, when I first saw the trailer for the game, presented an admittedly interesting premise. Growing up in the 80's myself, it reminded me of the old 'boy and his monster' premise many films of the time portrayed. (See E.T.) Set in post World War II, a massive Troll is found in the Scandanavian wilderness. The boy, named Otto, returns back to his village to see it set ablaze. He must escape the flames, which he does, only to be rescued from a bunch of monsters by Troll. The idea of the emotional story between Otto and Troll has good premise along with the dual gameplay with both characters. Execution wise, however, is where it falls short as Troll and I never fully grasps its potential.
Story wise there really is nothing wrong the idea. In fact, it's a very good idea along with the switching off gameplay. The only issue is that it's execution was haphazard throughout the game. Cinematic cut scenes looked nice, but the voice acting in them (as well as out of them) remained flat and monotone. Otto's voice, whether it was meant to convey extreme sadness or pure excitement, never seemed to change in its tone. The characters' looks suffered the same fate. A Troll is supposed to look scary. After all, it's a Troll. This version saw more of a porcelain doll's face superimposed onto a Troll, which made for some confusing animations in game. For a game who's story was centered around the emotional bond between a boy and his troll (aptly named Troll), the monotony in conversation and animations had me zoning out from what they were saying rather than becoming immersed in its grasp.
It's obvious from the outset that Troll and I used elements from various games. In fact, it's mainly what attracted me to the game in the first place. The most obvious is Rise of the Tomb Raider. Otto moves in the same manner as Lara Croft whether it's walking or climbing, and the cinematics portray the same ideals. In fact, the very first cut scene in the game uses an office that is nearly identical to Lara Croft's father's in Rise of the Tomb Raider. While ROTR was known for cinematics and animations that conveyed great emotion, Troll and I has the same steak without the sizzle. This unfortunately carried over to the actual gameplay as well.
Just as the story idea has premise, so does the gameplay in Troll and I. You control both Otto and Troll while having the ability to switch between characters at any time. It's a key component as both characters are needed to progress through the level, and this setup never left you feeling like either of the two characters could have been removed from the game. Lifting up pieces of a plane wing or throwing rocks to clear blocked paths with Troll allowed Otto to progress, while other parts saw you removing Troll traps to let him pass (or her, that part was never really solidified). In theory, it's a fantastic premise as the action/adventure setup complimented with dual character puzzle solving leans toward variety. That's the good part. The bad part is that the tools provided to aid you in completing this were clunky and counter-productive to your progress.
First off is the in game camera. It shakes, bounces and got stuck within the environment on many instances. The angle is also very close to the character. Although it's a third person setup, it's so close that it often doubles as a first person view depending on the angle you take. Troll is a big character. After all, he is a Troll. This notwithstanding, there is no reason why the camera, when panned to the side of Troll, should cause the screen to go completely black with only he in the screen. It was also very sensitive with only minor touches to the analog stick readjusting the camera way past the desired angle. Since the control scheme requires both the movement (left analog) and camera (right analog) to be used, I often found myself making multiple attempts to manipulate the camera until it was "just right" in order to be able to move forward.
Movement was also very slow. Troll obviously is clunky and laboring which is fine as he is a Troll. Otto, which I expected to be a light-footed counterbalance, was anything but. Otto will need to climb many things in order to progress in Troll and I. Whether it's dismantling Troll traps or finding a passage, Otto climbs even slower than Troll moves on the ground. For some reason, the game makes Otto go through every little animation in order to move while climbing with Otto. This makes it incredibly slow, and is only exacerbated by the minimal distance he can jump while climbing. Since the game is based on exploration and pseudo puzzle solving adventures, it became frustrating pretty quickly. It also didn't help that you are offered no assistance whatsoever in where to go.
That's right, there's no in game map or HUD of any kind in Troll and I. Now, I can respect a game that let's you fend for yourself with minimal assistance. It's why I loved ROTR and was excited for Troll and I. Having no clue on where to go in a game isn't necessarily bad, in fact most of the time it's fun. Troll and I, however, has a basic gameplay setup that requires assistance and the absence of it is extremely detrimental. With no map, you are left exploring every little corner in hopes that you see something that can help you. The only issue is most of the environment is bland and blends together up close. Parts of mountains that you can climb look similar to ones that are intraversible. Trees that appear to be blocking your path in fact let you walk right through them, and the blending together of the environment leaves you with a headache when combined with the clunky camera movements. There is an in game "hint" system that lets you press in the left stick to get a clue on where to go. This, once again, is just like ROTR where everything goes monochrome with only a colored beacon indicating your correct path. The only thing is you can not do this whenever you want. The game just arbitrarily decides when you're allowed to have a hint, so you're left hoping you don't get lost with the game in a bad mood. No matter what I tried, I could not figure out how to activate this "hint" system, and its setup quite frankly made little sense to me.
Upgrading your skills in Troll and I is completely unnecessary. You'll come across totems you can use to upgrade your character skills and unlock new weapons, but there is no reason to do so. I went through the entirety of the game without upgrading any weapon outside of the one in the intro tutorial. There is also an animal tracking mechanic, ala Far Cry and ROTR, but it never worked. Otto has the abilit to press and hold A for a few seconds, which turns the game black and white in order to highlight tracks of any animals in the area. Following the tracks lets you approach animals and kill them for meat and skins to upgrade weapons. Again, this premise sounds great but it's actually unusable. Not once no matter how many times I tried was I able to locate a single animal in the game and we tried in every area. Even if we did locate one, it wouldn't have mattered as it wasn't necessary to upgrade any items while playing.
While Troll was much more powerful in combat than Otto, he ended up being a worse choice to use because of the aiming mechanics. With no way to aim where I would attack, whether it be a punch or swipe attack, I found myself making nearly ten attempts to land one hit on a monster. Otto, on the other hand, was able to roll and dodge away from enemies and was much more accurate with his attacks. Add this into the camera issues and a few times I wasn't even sure where the enemy was although it was right next to me. Switching from one character to the other in battle leaves the one you are not using essentially frozen. They never move despite being attacked by enemies either. So, once again, Troll and I faltered as the cooperative switching back and forth was good for puzzle solving and exploration, but the manner in which you had to do it was very detrimental.
Troll and I was a very unusual game for me. I really enjoyed the baseline setup of the game. The story was good along with the gameplay setup, but everything that went along with it either wasn't usable or acted as a detriment to the core game in itself. The puzzles itself weren't hard to solve, and the environment was setup for the exploration necessary to solve them. On the other hand, the lack of any sort of a HUD, tempermental hint system, flawed camera and clunky combat controls knocked down any progress that Troll and I tried to make. I'm not sure why, to be honest, that this happened. The elements it borrowed from games like ROTR, Far Cry and even Uncharted were the best ones in their respective games but were just implemented so poorly in Troll and I.
Overall, Troll and I is a middle of the ground game that could have been so much more, but suffered due to lack of execution. Unfortunately, these are things that can't be fixed in a patch, so I can't say I'm hopeful for any improvement.
Troll and I is available now on Xbox One, but I suggest holding off to see if any patches are put out before playing.