Tomorrow Corporation are unsung heroes of the indie era. Their games have never made enormous waves, but have sold well, received critical acclaim and earned pride of place in many a player’s library. Their newest property, Human Resource Machine, is no exception.
The premise is very simple. Following instructions given by their boss, the player must command their character to perform tasks in an office building using a very basic tile-based AI-building system. By creating these routines, the character completes the task and moves onto the next level.
The puzzles vary nicely in difficulty and are sometimes best solved with pen and paper by your side just to make sure it’s all nice and neat. But trial and error is an option, and sometimes a necessary one by the later stages. It’s not always entirely clear what the results of a command will be in the early stages, so it can feel a little overwhelming to begin with – perhaps some pictographic system for demonstrating what the effects will be could be a viable option.
Graphically it’s much the same as World of Goo and Little Inferno – cutsey characters and settings with soft gradients and a slightly grimy texture to make everything feel a little run down. But it’s good cartoony fun and accommodates the puzzle style well. Its use in an internal setting brought to mind Quantum Conundrum, the Airtight Games puzzler from Portal creator Kim Swift which employed a similar aesthetic.
Tomorrow Corporation have always been masters of the soundtrack and this game is no exception. The clashing of bells and the haunting echo that underpins each track perfectly conjurs up the bleak machine feel of the game, and demonstrates audibly that – like both World of Goo and Little Inferno – the player is a cog in a machine much bigger than them.
While Human Resource Machine is perfectly fun to play through on its own, it really shines when played back to back with its forerunners. Each Tomorrow Corporation game explores a different element of the player’s puzzle solving ability. In World of Goo, the task of building tall structures out of blobs is a test of the player’s physical and spatial awareness.
Little Inferno, meanwhile appeared as a simple destruction simulator, but was a subtle idle game with an ongoing story unlocked by gathering achievements. These were unlocked by combining certain groups of burnable items, in a challenge for the player to be abstract minded and think about the semantics of the objects and achievements.
In Human Resource Machine, we’re treated to a test of the player’s logical and programming skills with what are essentially cute little robots. It fits nicely into that triumvirate and the fact that so many different facets of intelligence and puzzle solving are explored means that few players will be immediate masters of all three games at once. That there isn’t yet a triple-pack of the games is a mistake that needs to be rectified as soon as feasibly possible.
You shouldn’t go into this game expecting a 40-hour epic or a life-changing experience. But sometimes you don’t want a grand epic quest to save the world or find yourself. Sometimes you want to curl up in a duvet with a big bar of chocolate and solve some puzzles – and for that, Human Resource Machine couldn’t get much better.