Homo Machina Review
Homo Machina is a point and click “educational” puzzle game that plonks you into the inner workings of a man reimagined as a machine. It’s a clever idea for a videogame and is based on the work of Fritz Kahn, most notably his Man as Industrial Palace poster which takes a cross-section of the human body and turns it into an mechanical production line powered by men in boilersuits pulling levels and working complex switchboards. The nervous system becomes a series of switches connected to different parts of the body to turn on and off, the eyeball a giant camera lens and the heart a pneumatic system of in and out tubes. It translates easily enough into simplistic gameplay mechanics, a tap here, a swipe there, to connect faulty wiring, release oxygen into the bloodstream or realign a straightforward shifting block puzzle.
Released last year and originally for mobile and tablet, the Switch version is a disappointingly pointless port. Awkwardly, it must be played with the Joy-Cons detached and held vertically, underlining the fact that this really is an experience to be had on mobile. There’s not much else to say for the game really, it lasted me a train journey from London to Leeds and neither entertained nor enlighted. Some slight bugs hinder the tapping and swiping at times and a couple of puzzles, such as pressing the correct buttons relating to wired up body parts outstayed their welcome, but otherwise, everything chugs along at a gentle pace, with some story vignettes in between.
Okay, that’s the game review bit out of the way, let's talk about the women in this game. Or rather woman, since there’s only one with a speaking part and she’s the secretary to the man in charge: a moustached, thick-headed man who is the “brains” behind the operation (think Roger Sterling from Mad Men). Fritz Kahn’s Man as Industrial Palace was made in the 1920s and the game developers seem happy to keep the politics in the same time period. The boss-brain calls the secretary “Dear”. The secretary calls the boss-brain “Sir”. The secretary does all the complicated work, the boss-brain gets drunk and confesses he has no idea what he’s doing. Blink and you’ll miss a few other female workers around the body/machine but not many. Oh and don’t forget the woman our man-powered-homosapien is rushing off to meet for a date (wooing her with some very strange attempts at poetry in the form of a repetitive Hangman mini-game). In fact on said date, a group of men sit in a boardroom to watch how it goes. There’s a sweet interaction where you have to line up the big man’s hands to hold his date’s hand but after that, the actions moves on to sweet-talk and dancing. The game recommends you wear headphones for the best experience and they did indeed prove necessary if only to drown out the sound of my eyes rolling into the back of my skull on multiple occasions.
Here’s the thing, it’s 2019 and I’m still scrabbling around for games with a decent female protagonist and most of the time my eyes just glaze over at this kind of casual sexism in games. I’m not saying I expected to find the solution to gender equality in a £2.99 re-release for Switch but after a while this particular brand of useless comedy male who still somehow holds a position of power above a smarter more capable woman starts to rankle. I’d much rather be writing about something fun, but in this case, I feel a need to point out the obvious: if your game looks like the inside of a BBC comedy writing room circa. 1990 there’s a problem. And while it's not surprising, it is boring. And ultimately, this is what this game is — boring. In both its lack of entertainment and its lazy recreation of Fritz Kahn’s work and 1920s politics.
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