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One of the most wishlisted games on Steam is hosting a huge playtest

A mix of The Forest, Valheim, and Control, one of the most wishlisted new shooters, shared with PCGamesN exclusively, is hosting a beta.

Once Human Steam survival game: A hero from Steam survival game Once Human

Between Stalker, The Forest, Rust, and Valheim, the overwhelming majority of modern, open-world survival games have a committed, at least semi-grounded aesthetic. For Stalker 2 dev GSC, it’s the quasi nuclear, reality distorting strangeness of Tarkovsky’s 1979 film. The Forest and Rust share a rugged, earth-and-stone pragmatism, while Valheim plays on Norse magical realism. There’s consistency. There are boundaries. Now the 14th most-wishlisted game on all of Steam, above Homeworld 3, Silent Hill 2, and even Elden Ring Shadow of the Erdtree, a new open-world survival sandbox throws much of that caution to the wind. Inspired by the New Weird of SCP and Remedy’s Control, it’s a sprawling, cut-loose stage for whatever players want to do, and PCGamesN has an exclusive look and insight from its creators.

Once Human is a multiplayer, survival-driven, open-world game set in a bizarre post apocalypse where the rules of reality have been turned upside down and inside out. Every single living organism on Earth has been infected by a sentient alien chemical called Stardust, which transforms them into a seemingly infinite variety of new and often terrifying bio-oddities.

Awakening in an underground lab, where you’re being monitored by shady government officials, as luck would have it you’re one of a small number of human beings who aren’t just immune to Stardust’s effects, but are able to harness it to your advantage. You can craft, loot, and build your own hideout, but also cultivate Stardust-infused abilities to take on the earthbound mutations and the cosmic monsters that serve as Once Human’s bosses.

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“We want to create a world that is vast and open, so we listen to our players, collect all the information, and transfer it back to the dev team, and then they will prioritise it and put it into the production list,” head over overseas operations at developer Starry Studio, Derek Qiu, explains, during an exclusive interview with PCGamesN at GDC. “Once Human is continuously developed based on player feedback. So for example, players said they wanted fishing, so we gave them fishing. It’s meant to be a huge combination of players’ wishes.”

“It’s like a world that is abundant, and has its own style, but it also serves as a platform for players to build their own stories in the game,” world designer Peng Sun explains. “You can build your own territory. You can even have your own island. We explored a lot of different styles on how we do the monster design and the environment and the gameplay around it.

“The hardest part of the whole thing actually was when we were trying to find the exact style that we want for the whole world and the monsters and gameplay around it. We worked on that for like three years. So many of our early monsters were cool, but kind of messy. So SCP is actually where we landed.”

Once Human Steam survival game: A protagonist confronting a huge monster in Steam survival game Once Human

While they’ve all been transformed by the Stardust, not every creature you meet in the world of Once Human is hostile. Like Palworld, you can collect, tame, and house some of these adorable critters and cultivate your own farm. Your homestead is similarly customizable and flexible. If you’ve spent ages building the perfect house, but now you’ve discovered a nicer part of the map or a prettier biome, you can just pick up your entire settlement and relocate it wholesale, without having to start over.

As well as creating a flexible, versatile, and expansive survival game, Starry Studio wants to challenge the perception of Chinese games, both inside and outside of the country. Qiu says that Chinese players are used not only to a certain type of game, but a certain type of developer – Once Human is a concerted effort to be completely different.

Once Human Steam survival game: A character fishing in Steam survival game Once Human

“More and more, players are realizing that some games, especially mobile games, from China are low quality, so they want to get rid of those,” Qiu explains. “They want to play good games, real games. So, a lot of that influence comes from the western games, which are transforming what we play and want to play on PC, and pushing what we make to be higher quality.

“Another part I think is very important, some Chinese developers are very stubborn. They think ‘I designed the game, I’m the God of the game, and when players come to my world they play how I say.’ But we have a different mindset. We think Once Human belongs to all of the players.”

Once Human Steam survival game: A character being carried by a bird in Steam survival game Once Human

A gigantic new playtest for Once Human is now live, and runs until Wednesday May 15. If you want to try the game out, places are limited, but you can sign up and get the beta launcher right here. If you don’t make it into the current test, Once Human is scheduled for launch in the third quarter of 2024, so there isn’t long to wait for the full game. Starry Studio also held beta tests in December and in March, so it’s possible there may be another between now and release.

Alternatively, check out some of the best sandbox games, or maybe the best upcoming PC games making their way to you in the near future and beyond.

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