Loading Human is a first-person sci-fi adventure that, much like the pulp fiction space operas of years gone past, puts you in the shoes of a charming 22nd century astronaut straight out of space academy. Instead of launching into the far reaches of the known galaxy though, you’re ordered to report to your father’s polar base to help him recover the Quintessence, a powerful energy source that can reverse his rapidly declining health.
Loading Human Details:
Loading Human is, to put it bluntly, the epitome of male fantasy. As the virile, young Prometheus, you awaken in the bachelor pad of your dreams overlooking an Antarctic wonderland. You’ve been alone in the base for six months now and you’ve been drinking yourself into a stupor waiting for Origin to finally launch, the ship that will take you to Quintessence.
You, the player, come to find out that your father Dorian and best girl Alice are cryogenically frozen in one of the base’s underground labs. Picking up Alice’s picture placed on top of her cryo-chamber, you’re transported to the past where you relive everything from the first encounters (of the flirtatious kind) to the moments in the game that piece together why your father needs the Quintessence, and what you have to do along the way to forward the story.
Now, I don’t have a bone to pick with transparently masculine fantasies like Loading Human on principle. But suffice it to say, if you’re turned off by Captain Kirk-levels of swagger and cheesy mid-century sexual innuendo (“we can start by getting you out of that protective suit”) and going in for a kiss after saving the helpless maiden from a fiery explosion, then this game might not be for you.
And yes, the kiss is a scripted element in the game, and not something I’m making up. I don’t just go around kissing people in video games. Either way, it’s safe to say it left an impression on me. Not good, not bad, just an impression.
To use a lazy metaphor: Loading Human is like a shoe. I’m not saying the shoe is inherently bad or wrong for being specifically designed to fit males 13+, but it’s important to know that sometimes the shoe just won’t fit certain foot sizes—which is a pity in a way, because even though we can now inhabit fiction in the first-person thanks to VR headsets, developers are still constrained by the technology and must choose between two imperfect methods of weaving stories around you.
Right now, NPC AI just isn’t ‘smart’ enough to respond to your actual wants and needs as a real live person, so devs either let you inhabit the body of a tabula rasa—a completely featureless character with no voice or opinions—or a fully fleshed-out person with their own wants and desires. It just so happens you’ve inhabited the body of a horndog.
So if you can consider all of the above to be subjective—either you click with it, or you don’t—below is where you’ll find the nuts and bolts of the first chapter of Loading Human.
Puzzles, while mostly standard fare (i.e. ‘get that and put it in the slot’), begin to feel arbitrary at certain points. For some reason your memory is corrupted, and you’re prompted at random times to rebuild it whilst tossed in a computerized wiremesh version of the scene. You do this by linking objects together in reverse chronological order, i.e. the tea went into the cup, but Alice boiled the water before that, and put water in the kettle before that, etc… The visual aspect of this is impressive, but it really has nothing to do with the story or how I perceive it unfolding around me. This is when Loading Human: Chapter 1 breaches immersion, and makes me feel like I’m twiddling my thumbs to stretch 2 hours of solid narrative into a slow, and often times tedious 4.
Speaking of slow: walking is painfully slow. If you forget something in the hydroponics bay, heaven help you, because you’ll be trudging for what seems like a lifetime.
Good level design like Loading Human’s is awesome for immersion, but something that really detracts from the twinkling northern lights and the svelte interiors is clearly the locomotion scheme.
I first tried playing through with my HTC Vive because I wanted to really interact with the world’s objects using the Vive controllers. Sadly, the locomotion system is so borked that moving around became an insurmountable pain. To move forward, you depress the touchpad of either Vive wand—simple enough. To snap-turn left or right (there is no smooth turning) you then must point in your desired direction, which isn’t entirely consistent. To add to your frustration, if you decide to stand for more immersion (it’s considered a seated game), leaving your wand in a neutral position by your sides automatically activates crouch, so playing in a chair with good arms to rest your elbows on is a must at this point.
Continuing on with a gamepad seemed like the only way to finish and enjoy the game, which worked with varying amounts of success. Picking up items with a gamepad trigger just isn’t satisfying.
Another big factor in immersion is how you connect to characters, and I’m happy to report that voice acting is light years beyond what we saw in the pre-release GDC trailers, which was heavily accented—no doubt one-time placeholders voiced by the Italian developers themselves.
The game’s two NPCs, Alice and Dorian, are convincing enough, but they do fly dangerously close to the uncanny valley for complete comfort. You can see glimmers of humanity in both, but every now and then you can catch a plastic smile, or unnatural grimace.
Snap-turn, whether you’re a fan or not, is the reigning method of traversing Loading Human, and it’s proven time and time again to be one of the most comfortable ways of getting around first-person games.
Your head and body orientation, however, are uncoupled in Loading Human, meaning if you swivel your chair to look left, right or behind, your virtual body won’t move in that direction. The only problem is if you’re moving forward and see something interesting, you can’t just look in that direction and simply press forward; you have to virtually move your point of view using the snap-turn function, meaning you’ll always have to be psychically facing forward to walk smoothly through the world. This can be a pain, and you’ll notice it taking effect when your in-game body slows down because you’ve been veering off to the left or right of center.
Level design has very few stairs or inclines, so you’re mostly left on a horizontal plane with elevators to take you between levels. This is important, because even the most comfortable game locomotion-wise but with too many stairs (or worse, spiral staircases) can really get your stomach in a knot.
Loading Human wants you to create a bond with the characters of the world, but forces you to do it in a way that comes off as ham-handed and involuntary. Both writing and voice acting are better than average, and the world is almost always beautifully rendered, but this is dampened by inconsistent locomotion and cumbersome object interaction.