Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Loading Human: Episode 1 - Review

Thanks to the launch of the brand new PlayStation VR, virtual reality has gone from a sci-fi fantasy, to a "reality" for many gamers. People are now able to experience this whole new world for themselves, and multiple games are being released to give the hungry players something new to bite into. Of course because of this games releasing for it are a mixed bag of both good and bad, and it's nearly impossible to tell what you'll be getting without either trying it yourself first -- or reading a review. Sure, sometimes these games turn out as you might expect (or better), but other times their ideas may sound cool, but the game itself might fall flat once the "newness" wears off. It's very similar to what we saw happen when motion control was first introduced, and it's a pattern that is sure to repeat for years to come.

Loading Human: Episode 1 is one such game that repeats this pattern. With many of us so new to the VR world, Loading Human attempts to take the classic PC adventure genre, and turn it into something new for us to dive into. On paper it sounds like an interesting idea, but how is it really? Is Loading Human something worth loading up? Let's find out.

The Story:

As like with most games of this style, the main focus of Loading Human is it's story, or rather living the life of it's main character. After being summoned to a lab by his dying father, Prometheus learns that he must undertake a mission to be the first human to leave our solar system. While living and working along side a young woman named Alice, Prometheus trains day in and out for his upcoming mission. Although originally he remains only focused on helping his dad, he soon starts to learn what love is, and things take a turn.

With the current game, the story in Loading Human is actually pretty lite. Rather than focusing on the main plot, the game is more about the main character's life, and his growing relationship with Alice. While the story actually begins near the episode's ending, it soon turns into a series of flash backs that highlights key moments in the main character's life -- at least, life at the lab. Watching TVs, reading data pads, and interacting with objects will tell you more about the game's destruction filled world and it's characters, the story itself only hits key moments and then keeps moving on. This can feel a bit rushed at times, and a bit awkward, but it's understandable seeing as this is just an intro to what will hopefully be a much larger story. While what we currently have isn't anything too special, it does it's job setting up what is to come.

The Gameplay:

Loading Human is a full VR game, and cannot be played without the VR headset. When you put the headset on, you're instantly put into the shoes of our hero. You look around the world by actually looking around, each of the PlayStation Move controllers becomes one of your hands, and you're asked to follow different objectives. While this may not seem like anything special when you're looking through a TV, being in the world with the headset on is a completely different story.

A big part of the gameplay revolves around you interacting with the world around you. By holding the back trigger of one of the move controllers you're able to open/close the corresponding hand, and by doing so you'll be able to accomplish different tasks just like you would in the real world. To put it simple, you're in the game, and you have control over your hands. You can pick objects up, examine them, chuck them across the room, smash bottles off the table tops, attempt to flush your tooth brush down the toilet, throw books in the bath tub, and so on. If it's something you can grab, it's something that can be interacted with and used in different ways. Of course this also means you can lose important items as well, so it may be a good idea to think twice before you throw that data pad across the room. Either way, this is a classic PC adventure style game through and through, and the only real difference is that you are now within the world yourself.

While picking up things and trashing the room can be fun for awhile, eventually you will move on and see the game's puzzles. Sadly episode 1 doesn't have much when it comes to puzzles, but it does give examples on how VR can be used in different ways. At one point in the story you'll come across "mini games" to play that change things up, but the puzzles themselves are very small and more about carrying objects from point A to B than they are about actually solving something. Once in awhile you do have to consider the chain of events of something and figure out what happened, but these "puzzles" turn into basic guessing games. Although, this really isn't the point of this game... Or at least not this chapter.

As mentioned before, Loading Human is more about living the life of our protagonist, and that is where it succeeds in a way. The lab is small, and the scenes do jump around quite a bit, but thanks to the VR headset you do feel like you're living within this world. You go through the motions of your day to day life, you interact with Alice and become closer to her, you see the state of your dying father, and you get treated to some impressive sights that you most likely will never see in your real life. The game uses it's hardware to create as realistic of an experience as possible, and it does make your time playing this game much more enjoyable. What may seem like a generic point and click style game through the screen, is transformed into something completely different the moment the headset goes on. Of course the "wow factor" will eventually wear off upon repeat returns to this world, but during it's 4-5 hour adventure that shouldn't be a problem. The fact this is also just an intro to a larger story makes it easier to overlook it's shortcomings as well.

The Good and the Bad (and Possible VR Issues):

Games like these can sometimes be hard to judge, especially considering everyone enjoys different types of games. While Loading Human isn't much different from other motion control and PC adventure games we've seen in the past, VR does add a whole new level to the experience. Being in Loading Human is an interesting experience from start to finish. If this is one of the first VR games you've played, it's sure to impress you in that regard. The sunset when looking out the window, your trip into the lab near the start of the game, and the hologram in the lab are just a handful of things you'll never forget about this game. Also, as simple as the mechanics might be, everything else about the game does work and helps it feel more "real." Being able to pick up almost anything harkens back to the early days of the Wii and motion control, and using both hands to hold and operate tablets and other devices feels natural. A lot of the things you do in game are simplistic, but the experience itself makes up for it.

While the game may be enjoyable for many simply because it's in VR, that may not be the case for all, and the game does have some flaws that are hard to overlook. First of all, if the VR element doesn't impress you, you'll find the game to be more of the same. Simple puzzles, slowly walking from room to room looking at things, standard commentary, and a lack of a full story. Sure, it's just the start, but what's there can be a bit odd on it's own; especially the quick moving romance that happens thanks to the scenes jumping. Again, it's going to depend what each person likes, but no matter how you look at it, it can be odd considering all that happens (such as the VR kiss scene). The higher price tag, and the 4-5 hours of content could also possibly be a turn off for some, but at least you can return to this as many times as you like (assuming you like it that is).

The only real issue with Loading Human is something everyone could possibly run into -- the game's controls and VR itself. While reaching out for objects is great, movement within VR can cause problems. In this game movement is done by holding the top button on the move controller to move in the direction you're looking, and pointing the move controller left/right and tapping it allows you to "snap" to another direction. This snapping is done to avoid motion sickness, but sadly nothing can be done about moving forward. For anyone who has never played VR before, this will be quite the shock. While you're physically sitting in one location in the real world, your character in game will move forward, and this is where it gets odd. Because you are not moving, it will feel as if the world around you is moving instead. You're sitting still, while the walls and objects around you fly by at fast speeds. You'll often feel like you're going to crash into a wall, you may get dizzy as you see the floor move, and reaching out for objects can only add to that or possibly even confuse you when you realize the counter you go to lean on is not there. It's a strange feeling, and it's something a lot of people will have to overcome if this is their first experience. The good news is, over time your brain does adapt. While Loading Human may make you sick and confused the first time you play it, eventually you can get to the point where there's no issues what so ever -- this applies for other VR games as well.

Overall, Loading Human isn't a good or bad game. It's a pretty cool VR experience with some nice things to look at (and an intractable world), but it's also not the best adventure game out there. The story is good enough to keep you going, but it's also lacking enough to make you feel let down when the "to be continued" screen pops up. Of course this also means it leaves you wanting more, and more is to come... This is what makes it so hard to judge it. Really, this is one of those games that you'll have to decide for yourself. If you're someone with a PSVR who likes adventure and story driven games, and would like to try something new in VR, then Loading Human is worth it. If you're someone who normally doesn't like these type of games, or someone who is expecting some sort of grand story -- then you may want to wait until more episodes are released. It's true the VR element itself may cause you to like the game, but you never know how you'll feel once that initial shock of VR wears off.

To put it simple, Loading Human shows a lot of promise and offers an interesting VR experience, but it's that same uncertain future and current lack of content that holds it back.

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