New free-to-play survival game Once Human isn’t basking in praise, but it does have an unnecessarily granular character creator with no guard rails

Free-to-play survival game Once Human launched on Steam today, and after playing the NetEase production for an hour, my main observation is that the feeling of uncertainty and discovery that the survival genre used to be all about has lately been replaced with tutorial screens and boring exposition—the price of popularity, I guess! It’s possible that Once Human opens up after you get past the copper ingot crafting lessons, and I’ve seen some cool monster designs so far, so that’s a positive. Some of them were even of my own making.

Character creators are such a wild card: Story-driven RPGs that are all about the characters sometimes give you a few dull presets and unattractive hairstyles, but then a game like Once Human comes along and lets you customize “mid lower-lip thickness”. It’s unreasonably granular, and features zero safeguards to prevent players from populating its servers with space demons.

(Image credit: Starry Studio)

Once Human isn’t going for a wacky Saints Row-like tone—it’s aiming for Control, although it misses—and the pouty character presets are all decidedly horny, so it doesn’t make a ton of sense to give us all these ways to stretch and squash them. Because it does, though, it sort of feels like you have to. What kind of sicko sticks with a default hottie when given so many ways to mess them up?

Sliding the “fitness” slider all the way to the right turns your character into a brick. There’s a slider for head size, too, so you can turn them into a brick with a tiny head. There’s a slider called “long legs” that makes their legs long. You can give them a super wide mouth, a face covered in blood, half-closed eyelids that cover the pupils. So many choices, although some options are funnily conservative in contrast: You can only choose natural hair colors, for instance.

Once Human wasn’t going to launch with support for multiple characters, but the devs immediately changed course following feedback—the Steam reviews are mixed at the moment—so you can now make new characters by joining new servers.

The game that followed my 10 minutes of character creation fiddling has so far been disappointing, but that 10 minutes was fun. And one impressive thing about Once Human is that I managed to get into a server and start playing at all today. That may change as more players try it out, but so many free-to-play online games break instantly after launch that it at least deserves cursory recognition.

You can find Once Human on Steam, and we’ll have some deeper analysis after we’ve played more. But I’m gonna shake my head if I see you out there and your character doesn’t look like a high-speed camera photo of a boxer being punched.

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