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Troll and I

Troll and I

It's a bit of a monstrosity (and we're not talking about the troll).

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Troll and I is a third-person adventure title and the first effort from developer Spiral House. Set in post-World War II Scandinavia, you play as Otto, a teenage boy who's been separated from his mother after his home village has been blown up by unknown baddies. Hordes of goblins emerge from the ground and attack. Miraculously saved by the beast of folklore, the troll, the pair team up to survive the onslaught and form an unexpected friendship. The premise is reminiscent of the likes of The Last Guardian. Disappointingly, the reality is that Troll and I far closer resembles a low-budget PS2 game, wasting all of its potential on poor design, a shallow narrative, and an overwhelming number of technical blunders.

As soon as you're thrown into the game's tutorial, you immediately lose all hope of an epic adventure to come. You're introduced to the open-world by learning to how to track and hunt animals. For an aesthetic based around nature, there's a distinct lack of ambiance with the silent background audio and empty environment. It doesn't do a serviceable job of explaining its mechanics, either. The lack of audiovisual feedback is astonishing. You're left mashing buttons and wondering if your actions are having any affect. This extends to the rest of the game, with no map or visual guidance to point you in the right direction.

When you've blagged your way through hunting, you're taught about resources and given a brief introduction to the game's crafting system - a feature which feels unnecessary from the get go. Crafting weapons and items is a clunky process and plucking the necessary resources from the environment is tiresome. Materials are usually within close range and are no challenge to obtain, which begs the point of crafting. The only time it's ever utilised is when you need to make specific tools to break down obstacles. Even then, the feature feels completely shoehorned with no purpose but to artificially lengthen the game.

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Troll and I

Immediately after meeting Troll, design choices can be questioned once more. As you flick between the two characters in single-player, it becomes painfully obvious that the game was created only with co-op in mind. Many of the puzzles are based around utilising the two characters' abilities; Otto's climbing which allows him to sneak around enemies and reach higher ground, and Troll's brute strength and heavy lifting.

These puzzles aren't badly put together by any means, and teamwork makes the process more enjoyable, but played alone it's hard to have fun. For example, there's a section early on which requires you to make your way around some cliffs to progress. By switching to Troll, you can lift the wing of an aeroplane to use as a bridge for Otto. Periodically switching between the two, you can manoeuvre around and pass each obstacle. Problem is, it's slow and it's dull, especially when you have to make a stop with Troll to put down the object and fight off waves of enemies to advance.

In split-screen, it's less of an issue. The gameplay flows a bit more naturally and irritating swarms of monsters become that bit more bearable. Played alone, however, the dual-character gameplay grows tiresome quickly. It tries to be intuitive, but the slow and unresponsive controls make it plain tedious. Switching between Otto and Troll isn't necessarily clunky, but engaging in any type of interaction is a chore. The characters' movement speed is painful when they haven't frozen up mid-fight. The input's often delayed or goes unregistered, which makes close combat and the Uncharted-esque platforming more frustrating than it needs to be.

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Even if the controls worked, Otto would still feel like a second-rate Nathan Drake while clumsily scaling cliff-sides. The enemy encounters wouldn't be any less excruciatingly dull either. Attacking with Otto feels unsatisfying regardless of weapon, while his "dodge" ability is utterly useless. Meanwhile, Troll can knock foes back with a swing and a stomp by blindly button-mashing until you manage to strike one of their defective hitboxes.

Some of the game's faults would be easier to overlook if the checkpoint system wasn't so harsh. Inaccurate controls will have you falling to your death regularly, while poor quality texturing makes insta-kill traps and enemies difficult to see. Death requires you to load from your last save or restart an entire chapter. As there is no manual save, you're left relying on the infrequent autosave. Unfair deaths are more frequent, and you'll find each one setting you back a good amount of progress.

Troll and I tries hard to push trial-and-error onto the player, but that only tends to work well when the gameplay is polished and genuinely challenging. For the vast majority of the time here, death is the result of bad design and shoddy execution. The game isn't difficult by conventional means; only made hard to play due to the amount of technical flaws.

Troll and I

Broken controls and imperfect design aren't where the issues end, either. The game is littered with graphical glitches and performance problems. The amount of times we've clipped through the world and bumped into invisible walls is appalling. Troll often gets stuck on geometry in the environment. On top of that, there's the erratic frame rate which, at times, reaches slideshow levels of presentation.

After wrestling with Troll and I's many flaws, the narrative pay off, or lack thereof, just isn't worth the hassle. The characters feel hollow with monotone voice acting which stops you feeling any emotional connection to them. Otto and Troll's relationship feels forced from the off and shallow to the end. Considering the emphasis placed upon the pair from the game's initial narrative trailers, the lack of development and meaningful story is disappointing to see.

The game's only real redeeming factor lies in its presentation. The visuals might be painfully average, but the soundtrack which accompanies them (not nearly often enough) is surprisingly wonderful. The string-led melodies are powerful and pleasant to listen to, which makes it all the more unfortunate the narrative wasn't able to strike the same resonance.

A couple of generations back, Troll and I might have been an acceptable first attempt from an inexperienced studio. While we have to appreciate the effort from Spiral House, it seems clear the team has bitten off far more than they could chew. Ambition alone isn't enough to justify the beastly retail price, considering how poor and unpolished the game is in nearly every aspect. We wish we were trolling.

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Troll and I
02 Gamereactor UK
2 / 10
+
Ambitious idea, Pleasant soundtrack.
-
Shallow story, Unresponsive controls, Dull combat, Technical abomination.
overall score
is our network score. What's yours? The network score is the average of every country's score

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Troll and I

REVIEW. Written by Kerry-Lee Copsey

"A couple of generations back, this might have been an acceptable first attempt from an inexperienced studio."



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