We’re not proud to admit this but one day a long time ago we were aspiring computer programmers. We burned through many college semesters learning esoteric languages like Lisp and Scheme. We decided at some point that sense of accomplishment from a program that can finally successfully compile did not outweigh the hours and hours of frustration chasing a missing semicolon or undefined variable in a quiet computer room.
So it came as a bit of surprise to pick up a game like Human Resource Machine that took us completely back to those computer programming days for better or worse.
You play as a junior employee in mega conglomerate corporation that does….something. You begin as you would expect in the mail room and over the course of the game work you your way higher and higher up the corporate ladder towards the top floor executive floor of this sky rise empire.
Each level is basically a programming challenge. There’s an inbox of letters or numbers that have to be arranged in some way and sent to an outbox. You set up a series of steps using structured commands leveraging a few available floor spaces (ie variables) to work with these puzzles. In one level you’re tasked with sending all inbox items that are not zeroes or in another ensure all variables are positive before sending to the outbox. You basically set up the moves to solve this problem, hit go, and pray you got it right as your avatar executes his/her orders accordingly.
While the challenges are hard, especially in the later or optional levels, the game honestly isn’t that much fun. Clever ideas like your character aging as you get higher and higher or the more the building falls apart near the top are easy to miss as each level otherwise looks and plays exactly the same only with more options. Plus puzzles like these don’t provide much in the way of entertainment (at least in The Witness we had a beautiful island to explore to distract us from the mind numbing line puzzles).
Yeah, it’s a puzzle game in the same way Math Blaster is a puzzle game. Still, after the recent surge of games that try to emulate programming modules like Pony Island or the more abstract like Deus Ex, it’s weird to see a game actually get it this right and not actually be about programming.
The experience is fairly novel and there is some satisfaction to be had my acing your design and watching your machine work as expected.
What doesn’t work:
The experience does not evolve in any significant way and it’s easy to grow frustrated by simple programming commands like resetting a variable or more defined if/then clauses not being available to solve these rudimentary challenges.
Overall: Skip it
There’s some amusement to be had establishing your Rube Goldberg machine of commands and evaluations to solve a simple task but the experience is fairly ho-hum and later levels don’t do much to reward your patience to get there.