Remember World of Goo? What a fine, fine game! Melding accessible mechanics with wry social commentary, it introduced Kyle Garbler’s distinctive art style, now a hallmark of Tomorrow Corporation’s small stable of games. Following on from Little Inferno and Human Resource Machine, the developer’s latest is a first for the team: a direct sequel. Make no mistake, 7 Billion Humans is very much a continuation of Human Resource Machine’s puzzle-programming, and if you bounced right off that, you’ll likely hit a similar wall here.
The set-up is almost identical, with a robotic twist: after lobbying for gainful employment, you’re put to work with small green datacubes, each assigned a random value (0-99). It’s basic admin for the most part – copying and shredding or arranging cubes in specific patterns and orders. The right side of the screen is devoted to assembling rudimentary code from a bank of functions, and it’s those that govern the movements and actions of the vacant employees. You assemble the code, run the program, debug when things go sideways and repeat.
A benevolent mechanical floor manager is always on hand for hints when things get tricky, which they quickly do. Each floor represents a year and new skills are introduced in phases. Employees gain the ability to read/write to memory slots, perform simple calculations, do some basic pathfinding and even speak/listen for instructions. All these possibilities introduce greater flexibility – sure, you can use laborious individual commands to sort datacubes and avoid bottomless pits, but you’ll soon be knocking together elegant solutions with looping IF/ELSE statements. Both approaches are valid, though optional size and speed challenges encourage efficiency and optimisation. You can ignore these completely, but it’s just too tempting to hit the ‘back’ button, roll up your sleeves and scour your code for redundant commands.
Of course, that’s assuming the program even works in the first place; working out the kinks is what the game’s all about. Watching employees fling themselves into industrial shedders is hilarious, but it’s even sweeter when the thing actually works as intended. Including cutscenes, there are 69 floors (a significant increase over Human Resource Machine) and several branches offer tougher optional tasks. You get five ‘passes’ to skip particularly sticky problems which are returned once you go back and beat the floor.
Tomorrow Corporation’s clear, readable fonts and bold art design work beautifully whatever screen you play on. The Joy-Con pointer controls are identical to the previous Switch games – perfectly workable, although you’ll be centring the cursor a lot (sometimes we really miss Wii’s IR bar). The touchscreen is the smoothest interface; we had no problems with input, although the Undo button will be a great friend to the sausage-fingered.
Anybody with an ounce of programming know-how will find many of the coding tasks a doddle, but it’s a great introduction for novices – young and old. Getting to grips with the basics is a profound experience if you’re new to this stuff, and you’ll feel your grey matter stretching as you integrate new functions into your skill set. Complex problems are introduced swiftly and you’re nudged along by the excellent writing, not to mention an overwhelming sense of accomplishment when devilish tasks from previous years suddenly make sense or seem elementary.
You’ve got to want it, though; success relies less on aptitude and more on patience and interest. It’s an incredible buzz when you finally get your program running like a well-oiled Rube Goldberg machine and 7 Billion Humans does a great job of making you feel like The One. That said, there’ll be a significant portion of players that it simply won’t click with; if Human Resource Machine turned you off, this is not for you. It got us thinking how wonderfully World of Goo balanced challenge with accessibility, and we wonder how the developer would fare in a less polarising genre – imagine, say, a Tomorrow Corporation point-and-click adventure! The writing is as great as ever; hopeful, even, nodding to human ingenuity in the face of ‘impossible’ challenges. It’s just a shame that a wider audience will probably never see it.
We thoroughly enjoyed our illustrious career in data manipulation – if you’ve got the head for it (or if you’ve ever enjoyed an episode of Silicon Valley), 7 Billion Humans is as perfect an introduction to programming as you could hope for. It gives the layman an appreciation of clean, efficient code, and the writing will keep more savvy players entertained for the duration. It offers more puzzling variety than its predecessor, but if your brain simply isn’t wired that way, you won’t like it any better. If that’s the case, we’d recommend sitting this one out and crossing your fingers that Tomorrow Corporation have something less esoteric in the pipeline.