Some may remember the time of mid-tier games, games that weren't indie but had bigger budgets and tried some unique ideas. We haven't seen many of those lately, but Troll and I is an attempt to bring back those sort of games. Does this adventure prove why mid-tier games have mostly fallen aside or... no, I'm not even going to tease the idea that Troll and I even has the possibility of being good. It's not.
Troll and I takes place in the 1950s and follows the story of Otto, a young man who goes out hunting only to come home and find his hometown destroyed by troll hunters. Sure enough, Otto runs into the titular troll (whom he simply names Troll) and the two set off to stop the troll hunters and save what's left of Otto's home. While the actual story doesn't really hit any noteworthy plot points or surprising beats, the real treat is just how poorly the plot is conveyed. Voice acting is well below average, often sounding like every actor is extremely bored and wants nothing to do with the game. Cutscenes can barely get the information across, either going on too long thanks to awkward bouts of silence or trying to have characters fill all that dead air with explaining their thought process about everything out loud.
Gameplay revolves around the two playable characters, both of which have unique skills. Otto is smaller which means he can get to places Troll can't, craft items using objects he finds in the environment, sneak around and perform stealth kills, and eventually use explosive spears to destroy rocks and cracked walls blocking your path. On the other side, Troll has massive amounts of strength and health to make him better suited for direct combat, carrying around heavy objects, climbing bigger ledges, and has access to a few magical abilities. There's just one thing: you really don't want to play as either character.
Everything in Troll and I is so clunky it was a wonder I was even able to get around. Movement is sluggish, with characters often feeling like they're not going in the directions I've ordered them to. At times I would try to turn around only to find my character not moving. You need both characters to get around the levels, often having to do some light Uncharted-styled platforming to get to places. There are many words I would use to describe the platforming in Troll and I and these words include slow, boring, and ungainly. Characters need to go through their entire lengthy climbing animation before they can keep moving, and can only climb extremely small distances.
Combat isn't any better. Otto can lock onto enemies and swing at them or dodge roll out of the way, but it's not really much fun and there's little variety in it. Troll can swing about his massive arms or punch enemies, but it's difficult to hit anything because he can't lock on and his range isn't very well defined. Both characters have one major problem they share: the camera. Often getting lost in the combat, getting stuck on the environment, or zooming in to give strange close-up views of Troll's back. It was never reliable and drove me nuts often.
The strange thing is that Troll and I is constantly borrowing elements from other games but just can't implement them in any way that makes sense. There's a crafting system similar to Tomb Raider, but you only need to use it when the game requires you to. As mentioned before, the platforming is a worse version of Uncharted. The combat and stealth as Otto felt like it was trying to be Beyond Good & Evil, but it's only beyond terrible. Nearly everything in this game can be pinpointed to some other game, but executed way worse.
In a strange turn, if a mechanic isn't bad it's useless. Otto has the ability to track animals to hunt and kill them for crafting parts and food for healing, in a very Far Cry sort of way. However, this mechanic is never once used in the game outside of the tutorial because there are no animals in the game. As you play you can find totems to level up your characters and increase their skills, including that of Otto's useless tracking ability. It feels like a newbie trap, getting them to waste precious skill points on a skill that never gets used. There's a similar skill that increases Otto's "voice range" that I still have no clue what that actually means or what it does. I assumed it means how far away Troll had to be to hear Otto's commands, but since Troll seemingly always hears Otto's commands by default, it's just pointless.
Often I was left with absolutely no clue on what to do to advance the game. Levels are big, with a lot of areas you can explore. Except most of those areas are empty with nothing actually worth seeing in them. The area you need to visit to advance the game is often tucked away in a hard to see corner of the level. It also often requires you to climb something, yet the ledges you can climb on are difficult to see and blend in with the environment. There actually is a system where you can press a button and the game shows you where to go, but it's only usable in very rare situations and almost always in situations where I already knew where to go. Why such a system exists for only specific parts of the game is baffling.
To make things worse, there are times when Troll and I deliberately misleads you. At one point I saw a cutscene of an enemy throwing a spear. Otto whispers "get me up there and I'll take him out" to Troll. The problem? This enemy is almost entirely invincible to anything Otto can do, and can also instantly kill him. I tried stealth killing him, but the indicator never appears. I tried just hitting him with my club, but all my attacks pass through him. I figured this may be a glitch, but there's several of these enemies in the game, all unkillable by Otto and all instantly killing him. I eventually found out to kill them I either had to waste one of my precious exploding spears, or awkwardly find a bolder as Troll and throw it at them. There is no reason that I shouldn't have just been able to stab him to death, and there's no reason the game should tell me I'm able to when I can't. A late-game boss fight has you throwing rocks and explosive spears at a giant enemy, but even when you're hitting the wrong spots Otto still goes "Yes! We're doing it!", leading to you wasting a lot of ammunition firing at ineffective targets.
You can technically play Troll and I in local co-op, if you want a friend to share the pain with you for some reason. I can't actually recommend this though. In co-op one player takes control of Otto while the other takes Troll. The issue here is that there's a lot of scenes in the game where one of the two is left behind with nothing to do (usually Troll) while the other goes off to solve some puzzle or open the way. It doesn't make for a fun co-op experience leaving one character bored and unneeded for up to ten minutes at a time. Single player means only one person needs to feel the pain, but it also means dealing with the game's terrible AI. The character you're not playing as will root themselves to the ground and not move for any reason, even if that reason is that an enemy is smacking them with a projectile weapon just slightly outside their reach.
Visually, Troll and I looks like an early PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 game. Animations are stiff, obvious pop-in is all over the place, and nothing in the game really stands out. Some of the scenes actually had me burst out in laughter because of the graphics. One scene saw Otto struggle with a hunter for control of a knife, yet it ended with the hunter somehow stabbing himself with a knife he had pointed at Otto. Worse, the frame rate is constantly chugging, and it feels like the game was having difficulty handling its less-than-stellar visuals. There were also all sorts of glitches, ranging from minor stuff like weapons turning invisible or enemies getting stuck in walls, to more major stuff such as the screen violently shaking for no discernible reason until I exited the area. There's also weird things like the game replaying a cutscene of an enemy throwing a spear for some reason, or scenes changing from day to night randomly.
Troll and I isn't just bad, it's terrible. It's the sort of game that makes people look down on AA development, for having way too much jank and way too few original ideas or gameplay elements. I don't have to hope that any future attempt at AA games turns out better than this. They will by default.
Troll and I was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PC and Xbox One and is coming to Nintendo Switch at a later date.
I'd say it's shocking Troll and I is as bad as it is, but it's really not. It takes so many good ideas from other games and uses them completely wrong. It tries to tell a simple story and totally stumbles over it. It lies to you about how to progress the game. Finally, in a co-op game, it somehow fails at making the co-op fun. Just avoid this game.
- It Takes Ideas from Better Games
- It Misuses Those Ideas Horribly
- Story is Weak, Convayed Terribly
- Game is Confusing, Tells You to do Wrong Things
- Combat and Controls are Clunky
- Ugly, Glitchy, Bad Voice Acting
- Gets Co-op Wrong