Loading Human: Chapter 1 PS4 Review
The term “immersion” has been ramping up in usage recently in regards to videogames: as interactive technology continues to evolve in both photorealism and player feedback, more discussions are being had about the various ways videogames can create a unique and immersive experience that combines audio, visuals and gameplay to tell a story.
With VR technology now becoming a commercial product, many have speculated that the hardware will be the next big step in immersive videogames: after all, it’s called “Virtual Reality” for a reason. From simulating social sporting activity to solving gruesome murders to feeling the chilling whispers of ghosts in every direction, the Playstation VR is already seeing a few early examples of immersive gaming with its launch lineup. Loading Human: Chapter 1, a kickstarted episodic adventure by Untold Games, is the most ambitious console VR title of the bunch, tossing in as many VR gameplay elements as possible in its debut chapter to see what sticks.
Taking place in the far flung future, Loading Human centers around the pretentiously named protagonist Prometheus, who has been tasked by his dying scientist father to travel abroad in an AI-controlled space station to find an enigmatic McGuffin called the Quintessence. As seen in many sci-fi works from 2001 to Moon, Prometheus has all of the comfort and faculties he could want on his years-long space journey, and is utterly miserable as a result; an overbearing AI and attractive red-haired cohort aren’t enough to make the journey feel anything more than a heavy burden no amount of fancy-named drinks or unusually-expansive vinyl collection can lighten. And of course, it’s a space-faring drama, so the usual things that go wrong in this genre happen almost immediately, from asteroids to power outages to space suits with depleting oxygen…all in a day’s work.
Right from the start, Loading Human really wants players to feel immersed…really, really immersed. Taking a few cues from David Cage, the ambitious game director masquerading as an amateur film director, the game tasks players with mundane objectives to advance the plot, such as shaving and changing clothes, to simulating “emotional” sequences such as giving your lover an awkward first person kiss. There are also numerous drinks, books, trophies and other objects to interact with and immediately chuck across the room, all done with two Move controllers acting as Prometheus’ hands. In all honesty, Loading Human simulates a lot of theoretical concepts many gamers had no doubt imagined that would make for an ideal interactive VR experience: adding so many interesting concepts in a launch title is commendable, and is certainly a step above other VR launch games that typically stick with one specific gameplay element.
But as the old saying goes, one must first learn to walk before they can run. This is especially true for Loading Human: in its attempts to immerse players with simulated feelings of love, loneliness and an appreciation for vintage alcohol, it fails at the most basic (and also most crucial) requirement for an enjoyable virtual experience: movement. Ever the crutch that VR games will need to overcome (if you’ll pardon the pun), Loading Human’s method of getting around a massive spaceship within the player’s limited room space is one of the more cumbersome experienced so far, foregoing shortcut methods like instantly pointing from one spot to another, and instead insists that players use the Move controllers to manually (and clumsily) walk from one spot to another, using the PSVR’s head tracking to turn corners. Situations that require 180 degree turns or anything outside of the player’s turns are perhaps even more confusing due to the abrupt way the game changes screens to match the desired perspective. Crouching is also a required position to take at times, which is accomplished by setting the Move controllers downward, and similarly lifting them up to stand up.
As you may have discerned, none of these gestures work well, and because the game insists on showing every non-fluid motion from stiffly crouching down to drunkenly walking around the ship, Loading Human has wound up being yet another VR game to have a moderate chance of making its players feel dizzy and nauseated before they could even explore past the introductory room. Even worse, the game does not take the courtesy to respawn dropped/tossed items within the player’s vicinity: thought it was funny to chuck that important key card into the dimly lit corner of the room with the rest of the trash? Better go and pick it back up, if you can clumsily crouch, stretch out those hands and flail about to reach it.
That right there is probably the best analogy to summarize Loading Human: a cluttered mess that tries to pretend it is high-quality immersion. It’s a shame that developer Untold Games spent so much time reaching for the stars with its VR debut that they didn’t stop to nail the necessary fundamentals to a functional VR experience: when the very act of moving from point A to point B is a nauseating challenge, that would be the time to drop back down to Earth and back into the drawing board. The ideas are all there, from holding a flashlight to navigate a dark hallway to using both “hands” (the triggers on the Move controllers) to manipulate heavier objects, not to mention the creepy-yet-intriguing concept of having a relationship with a virtual character. The lack of polish, however, severely impacts the game’s inspired concepts in every respect, from the clunky movement to the amateur voice acting to the oddly-bent meat hooks meant to simulate your hands. This excursion into space proved a failure, but hopefully the lessons learned here can inspire others to create a sturdier vessel to take us into virtual space.