Untold Games released its science fiction virtual reality adventure game Loading Human Chapter 1 on the Oculus Rift, Playstation VR and HTC Vive. It’s a story driven game that puts you into the shoes of young astronaut Prometheus who is called to an Antarctic research base by his dying father in a quest to unravel the complexities of life and death.
Let’s just forget the story for now because essentially when you play the game you’ve really got to experience it yourself first hand. You effectively live the role of Prometheus rather than sit back and let events unfold before you. Perhaps the VR medium might be a little jarring for some people but the bottom line is you’re stuck there in the base with just your dying father and the rather sassy genetics expert Alice for company, not forgetting the AI who controls the base’s systems and offers pointers if you need and hand, and boy you certainly will.
There’s perhaps two ways to look at this game-cum-experience and that is on one hand it does a great job of putting you there via its interactions with inanimate objects and key items, dialogue with the characters and perception of the world around you. On the other hand as a game there’s just possibly one too many niggles which bring the whole experience crashing down where the player really has to work unnecessarily hard to perform the most simplest of tasks.
Looking at the positives and Untold Games has done a magnificent job of allowing players to fully interact with objects in the world making great use of the VR motion controls. In fact it has to be stated that this game is ideally played with the Move controllers as the Dual Shock 4 is just too problematic especially when attempting to highlight objects. You can grab items in each hand inspect them and even use both hands to manipulate objects – so for example, you can hold a lighter in one hand and use it to ignite a candle in the other or grab a record and pull it out of its sleeve before placing on the record player. It feels very much like you’re actually performing the action yourself which is incredibly immersive. The game is filled with many actions which in other games might be deemed mundane, but in VR the novelty mostly holds your interest and just makes you feel part of the game world rather than an observer simply pressing a button to instigate an automated process. Here you actually have to press buttons on walls, type on keyboards, push and pull and it feels great.
There are a few puzzles thrown in as well which have you reconstruct scenes based on your knowledge of what’s happening around you. There’s a bit of trial and error here but does make for a change of pace. In fact, there are several moments throughout the story which put you in completely new scenarios such as shooting asteroids in a mini-game and piloting a craft through hoops. But these moments don’t make up the bulk of the game.
Sadly it’s not all rosy though and there are cracks and chinks in the armour. The most notable issue is with the controls themselves. Whilst the Move controller works extremely well in terms of tracking the players hands and interacting with objects at eye level (when set up correctly) the lack of proper movement controls with the Move makes it fiddly at best. It’s very hard to move forwards and turn accurately and for things like crouching and interacting with objects dropped on the ground is quite cumbersome and sometimes impossible which breaks immersion. In some ways a combination of Move in one hand and the Dual Shock 4 in the other (to handle the movement) could have been a solution in the absence of Sony making an updated Move controller with thumb-sticks on each of them. If supported Oculus Touch controllers for the Rift won’t have this problem.
In terms of game design there’s simply a lot of fluff to pad out the experience. A more condensed game could have worked equally well here but the fact remains that of the 4-5 hours play time is elongated by uninspiring walking around at a snails pace in the name of realism. The problem stems from real life in a game tends to be a little dull and there’s plenty of that here. This is exacerbated by the lack of any speed or urgency. There are some sections where you’re required to walk quite far and it’s here the lack of speed or option to sprint pulls the game down. You’ll also have to backtrack long distances if you don’t pick up the right item or forget something which makes the game way too tedious when all you want to do is progress the story. This could have been rectified with a more concise hint system which is often a little too vague.
Visually Loading Human looks good on Playstation VR with some neat attention to detail in some instances such as the fully functioning food dispenser in the kitchen. The Alice character model is well animated making for a believable side-kick during the moments where she becomes the focus. Your view also never extends too far into the distance which means the visual clarity remains fairly focused at all times. There are some clipping issues with objects and walls though, even with Alice if you opt to start poking her, but these can be forgiven even if they do take you out of the moment sometimes. Audio is of a high standard with well voiced characters making for a fleshed out cast and neat interactions.
As mentioned previously Loading Human offers a four to five hour experience which could be elongated further if you decide to examine every object and read every note. However, for those without patience a lot of the actions are quite unfulfilling in terms of story progression and a little forced. Things like making a cup of tea for Alice requiring you to walk slowly to one area, grab the leaves from the plants and then mix them before walking back (very slowly) with the finished product. There are quite a few moments like this which although is great for character building won’t suit everyone’s play-style. A sprint option could have alleviated this. In terms of replay, there’s not much encouragement to do so once beaten outside of hunting down hidden achievements. You do get an option to replay sections from the main menu if desired which is good if you want to demonstrate the game to others. You’ve also got several save slots which is handy.
Loading Human Chapter 1 serves as a neat introduction to VR and putting players into a completely new space alongside full interactions with objects. The game excels in this regard aside from a few issues such as dropped objects not highlighting when looking at them so you can pick them up easily. It’s perhaps hard to recommend this game as an experience for everyone because those without patience are likely to struggle with the game’s pacing. However, if you’ve the stomach for methodical role playing and can handle the fiddly control scheme you’ll find an engaging story that’s unlike anything else on the Playstation VR at the moment. In some ways it’s a hard sell to those expecting more action orientated VR experiences on the platform. So avoid if you expect to be running around shooting aliens or progressing quickly. If you’re coming from the Oculus Rift or Vive then there are similar games in this genre but Loading Human feels the most personal and really does mimic real life at times which can be viewed as a good or bad thing. With a little more polishing to iron out the kinks and condensed gameplay Loading Human has the potential to be an excellent role playing VR game. But as it stands, the limitations of the controller (on the Playstation VR at least) make for a laborious game at times and one that simply falls short of being the ultimate story telling game for the VR masses.