It’s been said there are no original ideas left in the world, that all the important stuff’s been done and what you’re seeing now is just a copy of copy, that you’re better off joining them instead of trying to beat them. After playing platformer Human Subject (80 MSP) and watching it borrow subject matter from another well-known source in an effort to get its own bastardized point across, I’m tempted to subscribe to that opinion.
The game has you abducted by aliens, an unwilling participant in a ‘experiment’ (hence, the platforming) on the average human being, observed by your ungracious hosts in order to adjust their war tactics and increase their knowledge of our race for an eventual invasion. You, like the good little sack of flesh they want you to be, oblige, hoping to better your run times, which tick off like they mean business but have no impact on the game. The story isn’t a focal point either, although there are some funny quips and mild ‘developments’ along the way.
Variety is light in Human Subject. You jump mostly, switch on different panels, regular and timed, ride a conveyor or two, and repeat over a dozen or so levels. There are no enemies or characters to interact with, unless you count the deadly purple lines or the disembodied voice that closely monitors your movements.
There is some downtime during the respawns, when the level literally drags you back to a checkpoint while you watch. It’s repetitive if you’re the dying type, but this turns out to be a non-issue later on, where, interestingly, ‘dying’ becomes part of solving the stage. While most of the game is run-of-the-mill platforming, start at Point A and reach Point B as quickly and efficiently as possible, there are a few clever tricks and outside-the-box solutions in place.
Visually though, the levels fail to engage. The game doesn’t need to be the Sistine Chapel, of course, but it should be able to keep a player’s eyes open. Human Subject is a series of boring greys and purple beams, with static ‘space’ or ‘Earth’ backgrounds. This doesn’t affect the gameplay, but if you’re (reasonably) expecting a refresh every few levels to liven up the platforming, keep expecting.
Then there’s the pervasive ‘Portal but not quite Portal‘ feeling throughout, the droll, computerized female voice-over that cheers / eggs you on, the odd humor, or that you’re being used as a test subject. A homage can be appreciated in small doses, but borders on bothersome here. We get it; despite all the rage, you’re still just a rat in a cage.
So yes, it idolizes Portal too much and is bland as hell to look at, but Human Subject is ultimately redeemed by the platforming, which challenges yet never wears you down. The stages run at just the right length, and checkpoints are generous enough not to erase too much of your progress. If you can get past its bare exterior and wave off the familiar trappings, you’ll find a worthwhile jumper underneath.