Troll and I tries to channel both Tomb Raider and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and ends up living up to neither of those inspirations.
Troll and I feels like two very different games rolled into one. On the one hand, it’s a “single-player co-op” game in the vein of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, where you control two different characters in order to overcome obstacles that require their cooperation. On the other, it’s a Tomb Raider-like third-person action-adventure game. They’re very different approaches, but with the right framework, they could fit together naturally and elegantly. Unfortunately, Troll and I doesn’t offer that. It’s a disjointed game that struggles to even get either of its inspirations right, let alone succeeds at bringing the two together.
As the name suggests, Troll and I has you playing as an unlikely pair of outcasts, a nameless troll and a young boy called Otto. When hunters tear through Otto’s village and kidnap his mother, he’s forced to flee, sparking his fateful encounter with the troll and setting them on a journey across the Nordic wilderness.
Navigating the ruins, forests, and caves requires the pair to work together, each making use of their unique abilities to help each other along. This is where the single-player co-op aspect of Troll and I comes in, as you switch between the two in order to solve environmental puzzles. With his size and strength, the troll can pick up and carry Otto, climb things that would be too big for Otto alone, break obstacles, and use large planks to create bridges. Otto, small and nimble as he is, can climb surfaces and squeeze through tunnels too small for the troll, cut things with his knife, and throw spears.
These cooperative puzzles are Troll and I at its best. They capture that sense of collaboration and exploration, and wordlessly put the friendship between the two at the front and centre. It’s not nearly as emotive as Brothers or The Last Guardian, each of which ran a similar gambit, but Troll and I works as a lower-budget approach to the same idea.
It doesn’t work as a low-budget alternative to Tomb Raider, though. Much of the game involves gathering resources to craft weapons, sneaking about in foliage, and fighting enemies, but none of these things really clicks into place. The controls are really clunky and hit detection is very unreliable, making combat more of a game of button-mashing luck than any sort of test of skill. Fighting as the troll is slightly less frustrating, since he can kill most enemies in a single hit and is far more resilient to damage, but it’s every bit as haphazard as fighting as Otto.
Stealth, put simply, doesn’t work. You can hide in sections of foliage, but that’s about the limit of stealth-centered mechanics that the game has. There’s no way to track enemies, no tools to assist in a stealthy approach, and no way to go back into hiding once you get discovered. Worse, enemies’ lines of sight aren’t clear; one moment you’ll get seen despite hiding behind a huge rock, and the next you’ll walk right up to an enemy’s face without getting spotted. Really, the “stealth” sections are more about seeing if you can take out a couple of enemies before inevitably reverting to regular combat.
The resource gathering and character upgrades bring nothing noteworthy to the table, either. Certain spears are useful for puzzle solving, but other than that, the craftable gear makes a negligible difference. I didn’t even know you could upgrade Otto and the troll’s skills until about halfway through the game, and the effects of doing so are so inconsequential that I stopped bothering soon after.
Basically, for a game that doesn’t exactly hide its Tomb Raider influence, Troll and I really fails to deliver on that inspiration. It’s a derivative stealth-survival-action-adventure game that fails in all the ways that matter. Were it just the aforementioned co-op adventure game, it’d be a decent enough game, but the attempt to force all this other stuff really just drags the whole thing down.
Perhaps my biggest frustration, though, is that even if you endure through actually playing Troll and I, there’s little narrative payoff. The game sets itself up to be a deep, emotive adventure, and in the early hours of the game it sets that scene quite well. You see the bond forming between Otto and the troll, and there’s a strong environmental theme running through a story about hunters trying to capture the last of a nearly-extinct species.
But that all fizzles out before long. Most of the game involves simply going from place to place, rioting through camps of hunters when you find them, and then stumbling upon the ending. It’s an ending that tries to be emotive, but feels so forced that it doesn’t come close to landing. The fact that it comes so suddenly robs it of any chance at being genuinely moving, and there’s very little effort put into creating the sort of narrative framework that would give such an ending any weight.
Troll and I is a missed opportunity. Instead of being simple, emotive adventure that does one thing well, it does a lot of different things poorly, and the end result is a game that’s hard to recommend.
Troll and I is developed by Spiral House and published by Maximum Games. It’s available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
A PS4 press copy was supplied by the publisher for this review.