In an industry in which photo-realistic graphics, scale and artsy, abstract narrative seem to make the biggest impression, it’s refreshing to come across a game that is just… a very fun game. Spanish developer Gabhel Games’ Scary Humans is one such example; so much fun to play that it should actually come with a disclaimer warning people just how addictive it is. This is a pure gameplay experience that turns minutes into hours and melts away your free time.
Scary Humans has players take control of alien being used as a lab rat trying to escape the laboratory in which it’s held captive. Controlling this avatar from a top down view, the objective is to navigate through the maze-like facility, avoiding hordes of doctors (the scary humans) along the way. To progress through each room, players are required to complete puzzle objectives in the form of unlockable doors, all the while being frantically chased.
What’s particularly compelling about the way Scary Humans plays is that it manages to achieve a delicate gameplay balance between being easy to play but extremely hard to master. The levels scale well, starting easy and then quickly becoming nightmarishly hard. Yet even when things get absurdly tough, there’s never a feeling of futility with this highly skill-based game. In combination with its procedurally generated, randomized levels, there’s a persistent and devilish temptation to have one more go, one more attempt to beat it.
Speaking to WGTC, we were told the following by Julio César Fernández from Gabhel Games:
“The primary source of our inspiration were games from 80’s that used the Filmation game engine. We wanted to build a difficult gameplay experience that echoed the days of the arcade when games were much more complex, without tutorials, and where a single mistake could mean game over.”
Scary Humans‘ gameplay is primarily built around evasion, picking up colored cards to activate doors and navigating the maze of different rooms to progress. The humans themselves aren’t singular in type, spanning three different variations. Runners and Chubbies are a much tougher challenge, faster and harder to dodge than regulars, though players have two abilities to help overcome them. Activating a scream pushes the swarm back and collectible bombs can wipe them out altogether.
The simplicity of its gameplay mechanics are also mirrored by the design of its aesthetic. Scary Humans uses its whimsical arcade premise as the basis for its visual charm, and its vibrant retro color pallet are a good match for the funky score. Often, I found myself unable not to hum away anxiously to steady my concentration.
I’m normally a proponent of hand drawn, deliberately designed levels, but Scary Humans use of procedural generation is appropriate because the beauty of the game is the practice of actually controlling it. This is a title that feels intuitive and challenges you to improve. When asked about procedural generation, Fernández went on to suggested that the variety of each playthrough was “important to Gabhel Games” and worked in tandem with an AI system that evolved, “ making each level more complex and stressful.” In my own experience, the randomized levels also made for plenty of replayability, too.
Gabhel Games are certainly not a big outfit, but what little user reviews you’ll find on Steam for Scary Humans are all resoundingly positive. The developer certainly appreciates whatever feedback they can get and made special mention of user reviews influence in shaping the studio’s future:
“We are always listening the player. Games today are a live product, we can adjust it bit by bit for players to enjoy even more. The truth that we are happy because we have positive reviews because the goal is to make the best game for the players. The process of learning and evolution about where our game can go is constant.”
If ever there was an example of an “honest” video game, Scary Humans is surely it. Straightforward in design and touting nothing but superb gameplay, it’s a throwback to simpler times. Like the best arcade classics of the 80s from which it takes its inspiration, you’ll want to spend all of your free time playing this absolute gem. Except this time there’s no need to worry about spending all your coins.