Robots have taken over, albeit in a benign fashion that means they run society and do all the work. Faced with endless leisure, the titular seven billion humans are furious: they want jobs! Fair enough, say their metal masters, promising employment for each and every one of their fleshy subjects.
With great irony, humans are then dumped in dank – and frequently deadly – office blocks, performing pointless, menial tasks to keep them occupied and pacified, like picking up boxes of data and taking them to massive shredders. It’s your job to ‘programme’ their actions, and make them more efficient.
The premise will be familiar if you’ve checked out Experimental Gameplay Group’s previous code-based effort, Human Resource Machine. But rather than following the exploits of a single put-upon office worker, 7 Billion Humans gives you whole groups of people to work with, all of which respond as one to any instructions given.
At first, this is all very simple. You make everyone walk towards a ‘datacube’, pick it up and put it back down. But the game rapidly ramps up the complexity, providing you with the means to log locations to memory banks, and have fleshy humans ‘tell’ one another things.
In a sense, you’re learning to code. Sort of. You don’t literally type in commands – instead, the drag-and-drop interface recalls coding-lite environments bundled with smart robots. For newcomers, this affords some accessibility. Long-time coders, though, may be frustrated that the game won’t let them do whatever they want.
Such grumbling is misplaced, because 7 Billion Humans deftly balances limitations and freedoms. It’s about learning a system and working within it. As you become more adept, you can flex your programming chops. You’ll hack together an astonishingly ugly pile of spaghetti coding that finally completes a particularly arduous task, and think you’re a genius, only to be told you’re in fact rubbish, having used twice as many lines as necessary.
It’s at this point the game really bares its robot fangs, noting that every puzzle can be completed within move and time limits. Fortunately, each level gives you three tabs to use, so alternate solutions can be stored indefinitely; and in a nod to the desktop, you can copy and paste your solutions between them.
A little human
If this still all sounds a bit dry, it’s worth remembering this game is by the people who created World of Goo, Little Inferno, and the aforementioned Human Resource Machine. Just the puzzles alone would have been compelling, but the aesthetics and polish in this game are phenomenal.
The score is superb; the visuals are appealing and cartoonish; and although the story is paper-thin, it’s peppered with absurdist cut-scenes (such as a robot workout video, to keep those humans fit of mind and body), and fantastic one-liners.
You can’t help but chuckle when a manager being evaluated by workers demands you programme them to bin any datacubes with a value below 50. “Yes. I’m doing great and the data supports it,” they say. Well, on the basis of this latest effort, Experimental Gameplay Group is definitely doing great – the data supports it. And this game’s worth a whole lot more than 50 per cent.
7 Billion Humans is available for iOS, and was previously released on Steam. Stuff has been informed by Experimental Gameplay Group that an Android version is “already on the assembly line, being manufactured by our team of fleshy humans. We expect it will be ready early in 2019”.