HRO: Adventures of a Humanoid Resources Officer Review
HRO: Adventures of a Humanoid Resources Officer is the answer to the question: “What would happen if the USS Enterprise was run by your local council?” Imagine if each episode of Star Trek focused less on the quick-witted reflexes of the crew and more on the behind-the-scenes machinations of the HR department, and you’ll have a good idea of what playing HRO entails. You’ll manipulate staff and officers, rifle through personnel records and, yes, even amend holiday forms to achieve your ends. Bureaucrats and Trek lovers will be in their element.
HRO starts off gently enough. Playing out like a standard episode of your favourite sci-fi show, you’re introduced to a problem and then asked to take the best course of action. An early decision involves the Captain wanting to take the ship into the alien-infested Non-Partisan Zone. She’s pretty cagey about why, so it’s up to you to do some digging. Do you side with her and see where things go? Or take matters into your own hands and sabotage her efforts — in your mind, at least — for the good of the crew? To help you, you’re given an interface which consists of Comms (talking to likely leads to work out what the hell is going on in any given part of an episode), Messaging (checking emails and so on), and Resources (the lore about the world HRO is set in, including all of the different planets and alien types you may encounter).
At each branch of an episode, you’ll be given three different options to try and resolve the issue. Once you’ve poked around and chatted to the important characters — all via a text interface with dialogue options — you’ll need to make a decision from one of eight different button options including “Requisition”, “Schedule” and “Assign”. Do you reassign a vital engineer’s time off so that they aren’t available to keep the ship moving forward? Or do you ask an experimental lab scientist to provide you with a gene-bomb to wipe out a potential threat, despite it being untested? As an important pen-pusher, you hold the key to your ship’s fate.
Yet the options available might be limited if you insult the wrong person. As a HRO, diplomacy is key to making sure that you keep people on your side. Rubbing people up the wrong way will shut potentially crucial doors that would make a mission a success. But if you try to appease everyone, you might end up with a terrible solution.
It’s all told in a tongue-in-cheek visual novel fashion that plays up to a lot of the tropes of the genre; think season one of The Orville rather than Star Trek: Discovery. The graphics are crude and the animated scenes similarly basic, but the voice acting is reasonable and the music is a decent nod to the pomp of Roddenberry’s series. The overall package has the ramshackle feel of the bridge from the original series which is endearing, but it could have done with another pass in the proofing department. Typos abound, more frequently in later episodes, which take you out of the bureaucratic action and into the video game equivalent of wobbly set walls.
While they might seem like a cluster of straightforward review-and-decide scenarios, the decisions you make aren’t solely based on the content of the dialogue. Some light puzzle elements require you to use your general knowledge skills to decipher passwords or other codes you may need. If you miss clues on your first readthrough of a conversation, you can easily revisit them in the Documents section to find out what might be required.
There are six episodes in total with a story that develops over the course of the game, introducing new races and political hot potatoes for you to administer your way out of. The optimal path to success is fairly well signposted if you’re paying attention but there are also unlockable mini-episodes which you can access depending on some of the choices you make. These get inserted between the regular episodes. I made it through all six main episodes without failure, but only unlocked one mini-episode; the relatively brief episode length means that it’s straightforward enough to play through multiple times at a brisker pace to try some of the other dialogue options (and pressing S to skip cutscenes is very helpful). The end results are genuinely different in most cases — on my second playthrough I had entirely different storylines play out which carried on to the next episodes.
As a parody, the humour is hit-and-miss — again, much like The Orville. Jokes about episodes of JAG, repetitive inbox spam and minor nomenclature changes (a Black Hole becoming a Dark Grey Hole, for instance) don’t hit home as well as actual satire about bureaucracy. There are some neat nods to the power struggle within an organisation when ambition overtakes sense, but overall this is pretty low-stakes stuff — even a big twist in a fourth episode playthrough failed to impact as it should since, like most episodes of Voyager, it hit the reset button by episode five. There is also the suggestion that your choices might have a bigger impact than they do — such as requisitioning specialist equipment for a department which makes it unavailable for another department. I didn’t experience any consequences of doing this, but this might be something that is more apparent in subsequent playthroughs.
HRO is a short game at three to four hours for the first run, but it’s designed well enough to make you opt for another run once you’re done, which is more than can be said for many games in the visual novel genre. The low-budget feel of the voice acting and UI and a few careless missteps mean it’s unlikely to win awards, but it’s also a refreshing and generally well-written parody of Star Trek and its ilk.
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