Troll and I is the first outing from indie developer, Spiral House, a small studio based in Liverpool that set it sights on creating an epic action-adventure. Set in post-World War Two Scandinavia, the game begins when a billionaire called Eugene requests the aide of a hunter to track down and kill an elusive troll for scientific research. You, however, play as a young boy called Otto, who lives in the troll-infested forest with his mother and spends most of his days hunting boars.
However, this perfect life, surrounded by Mother Nature, doesn’t last for long. One day whilst out hunting Otto’s forest home is attacked and goes up in flames, and his mother is unable to escape from the blaze. Otto manages to escape unscathed, though only after some infuriating timed events where I died over and over again trying to move the DS4 thumbstick left and right trying to avoid fallen branches and rocks while sliding down a forest path. After a spot of hunting to gather resources, which enables you to craft weapons and ammo, the Troll (who looks like E.T’s REALLY big brother with dreadlocks, wearing a woolly mammoth onesie) emerges from the forest, and so begins the bond between man and Troll as the unlikely duo set off on a survival adventure through the woods.
Depsite the interesting concept of having dual protaganists with different abilities to aid each other through combat and puzzle solving, it wasn’t long before I wished Otto had gone the same way as his mother, as it would have been less painful than the adventure to come.
After the initial tutorial area, you are free and able to embrace Troll and I’s open world. You learn about crafting items, how to track animals and even where this dreadlocked troll originates from. Unfortunately, when you stack crafting and exploration up against the genre’s standouts (like Horizon Zero Dawn, where crafting and exploration are prety much perfect), you can’t help but feel this title is still in its early stages of development. Crafting any sort of weapon or upgrade is very clumsy and tiresome, as the necessary resources are quite difficult to find and some parts of the game leave you with no items available to progress. On more than one occasion, I had to restart the entire chapter and conserve what resources were available. There’s the ability to switch the difficulty down to a lower setting, which puts less focus on crafting and more on combat, but then why have crafting in the first place if it’s not done correctly? It feels like Troll and I would have benefited from having one focus and getting it right, rather than trying to use multiple mechanics that don’t gel that well together.
Whereas conserving resources and items worked well in The Last of Us and enhanced the overall experience, in Troll and I, it just results in restricting playability and increasing your frustration with the game. Climbing and jumping, too, only further your annoyance with the game as each feels very slow (like the original Tomb Raider on PS1), and if you don’t time your jumps perfectly, you fall to your death. With so many open-world titles treating running, jumping and climbing better, you can’t help but feel like we’ve taken a technological step backward.
Switching between Otto and Troll is one of the highlights as you move between the pair and use their different skills for completing tasks and taking on other troll-like and human enemies in combat. Available to play in single-player mode or via split-screen co-op, with the press of a button you can intuitively flick between one or the other, and there’s some clever puzzles to work out. Early on, you’ll be struggling to find a way out of an area surrounded by cliffs, but by switching to Troll and picking up the wing of an aeroplane you can create a bridge for Otto to cross. The pair team up regularly to work out environmental-based puzzles, and you can lift Otto up with the Troll’s hands or even ride on his back as you work together to make your way from one area to the next.
Controlling Otto and Troll is by no means easy though. Otto is incapable of fending off enemies effectively whilst Troll seems to miss with every swoop of his gangly arms. Each combat encounter feels like a chore, and to make matters worse, most of the game’s puzzles have an element of combat, so solving each puzzle only prolonged my agony as swarms of enemies continued their assault. Some enemies even become invincible! Whether this is a ‘quirky’ feature or just a glitch, I never did find out, although I assume the latter, as Troll and I is plagued with bugs and glitches. If you’re one of those gamers who enjoys being stuck inside walls, trees, rocks and trolls, then this is most definitely the game for you. If you’re a less tolerant sort who likes games to run smoothly, I’d suggest against playing Troll and I. because random, game-crashing bugs were frequent.
As you progress further into Troll and I (this is assuming, of course, you have the patience to carry on), the storyline just seems to dry up from its already ‘dehydrated’ state as you fight off the bad guys, fight off some bigger bad guys and then walk off into the sunset with your oversized gremlin. Not once did I feel any sort of connection with the characters in this game. In fact, I found myself hoping the hunter (who is barely seen) would forget about chasing after Troll and hunt me down instead just to put me out of my misery. Of course, the unforgivable lack of a map in an open-world game likely ensured the hunter would never find me. I imagine he too was completely lost.
Visually, the Troll and I is also decidedly average and will certainly not be winning any awards for its appearance, contrary to what the trailers present. Whilst merrily striding through the woods on your way to the next cavern or snowy hilltop, I began noticing how all the foliage pops into view as I walk around. Pair this up with low framerates and the end result is a visual experience that wouldn’t look out of place on PS2. However, you probably won’t notice any of these things, as the camera angle consistently fights your control to display poor angles. On the bright side, it must be said that the soundtrack is actually quite pleasant to listen to, consisting mainly of a string-led musical score.
Overall, Troll and I is an awful game that should be renamed to “Prepared to be Trolled." The ambition from Spiral House was most definitely here when it devised the concept for Troll and I, but it’s clear that time, and probably funds, ran out before it could create the epic adventure that was originally envisioned. However, to now charge £40 for a game that gets even the basics wrong is scandalous. Consequently, it’s tough to recommend Troll and I to anyone.