It’s the 1950’s, for some reason, and a greedy billionaire has tasked a textbook villain with capturing a creature rumoured to inhabit the lands of Scandinavia, dead or alive. The hunt results in a village’s destruction, and the resurrection of grotesque rodent-like fiends. On the plus side, a young, stoic-beyond-his-years villager befriends an enormous, dead-silent troll, and these two asynchronous avatars are drawn for a few hours through a world full of almosts. Troll and I; it’s almost beautiful, almost with a purpose, and almost fun.

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Otto, a run-of-the-mill human hunter character, finds himself climbing rockfaces and using his spears and sticks to combat packs of enemies. As someone much larger, Troll has the same function, but on a much larger scale; he can demolish enemies with a crushing stomp, and climb resized rockfaces. The main distinction is that Otto can silently eliminate opponents, whereas Troll immediately garners attention and attracts reinforcements on arrival. The most common synergy of the two is Troll providing Otto a path to access new areas, or the two climbing together.

The enemies they face are various rodent species, each with slight variations in AI behaviour, and hunters. The hunters don’t change, only their number dictates difficulty. While the nimble Otto and lumbering Troll each have strengths in certain situations, Otto’s spears require an inordinate amount of resources to craft, so Troll’s stomp-spam is almost always the best tactic. Once he can trigger limited invisibility, he is an ungainly but most effective death machine.

At one point Troll can utilise a shed as a shield, though it seems the development team became aware of its ineffectiveness, as this is the shield’s only appearance. The only objects Troll interacts with are a shipping container, to open up a path, and the wing of an aeroplane, to become a path. The capabilities of this detailed, mystical creature are used only to serve Otto and progress in a literal sense.

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The first moments of gameplay are the best part of Troll and I. With very little direction, players hunt a boar with a tracking mechanic that is more interactive than most. Players must accurately track footprints before the boar even spawns, eliminating any chance of happening upon the boar by accident.

I only wish this empowering and rewarding hands-off approach to tutorial was used for the narrative, which can be accurately summed up rather basically; you are a good guy and Nico is a bad guy.The presence of the aggressive rat creatures is never explained beyond “they come out of the ground, I better block those holes”. Nothing happens when you block all these glowing chasms, nor following the sudden boss battle.

Through the trek, Otto will eavesdrop on a few conversations between hunters. These snippets of dialogue are poorly framed by a camera that often peeks inside cliff faces or solid ground, which makes the decent quality of the writing and voice acting quite surprising. The irate, bored mercenaries are convincingly genuine, even if they awkwardly linger in each other’s personal space.

Any doubt that Troll and I is an unfinished title is silenced upon completing the game. The final chapter has been lifted from any generic 00’s-era military shooter, and then ends with all the characters agreeing to part ways. Some emotional connection is assumed from start to finish, but no genuine effort to establish such weight is made between, and the most climactic points in the tale linger their welcome away.

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The performance of Troll and I suffers, visible through some console-crashing bugs, but more importantly through consistently sluggish frame rates. Everything feels dreadfully slow, until you come face-to-face with a cave wall, and have a taste of smooth, speedy framerates. In this situation, Otto’s animations are fluid and appealing, hinting at what could have been, as you return to the wide, open, static world. Flowing grass, patrolling enemies, even immobile rock formations that appear natural up close are rendered and operate exponentially worse as they approach their tiny draw distance.

The scope of Troll and I appears to have damaged it more than any one flaw, with features common of the genre included but not fully explored, as if only to complete a checklist. While the UI is refined and intuitive, the skill-point upgrade system brings insubstantial changes to the experience. Much like another title published by Maximum Games, The TechnomancerTroll and includes mechanics because of obligation and not necessity or relevance to the tone or world of the title. It’s hard not to wonder what the game could have been if the extra weight was cut, and the core experience was fleshed out.

I could not imagine playing through the co-op mode that is also available. It would save the headache of having to walk through locations twice as often, since the follow command is rarely responsive, but would further damage the experience by dividing what enjoyment there is between two players.

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Troll and I was initially planned to be an episodic release under Square Enix’s Collective project, with Maximum Games coming in as publisher sometime in 2015. Whether the complete omission of an ending and shallow mechanics are symptoms of haphazard production, or from the team focusing more heavily on the game’s Nintendo Switch release later in the year is unclear. This is the first original IP by developer Spiral House, and I really hope to see the ideas proposed in Troll and I be better explored in a future release by the team. As they stand here, they fall flat in a Scandinavian bog.

4/10
Disappointing

Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Troll and I on PS4.