From the outset, I Want to Be Human presents itself as a rough-and-ready rebellious ride. A Blink-182-style pop-punk song proclaims “I want to be human” upon startup as the text on screen spasms back and forth, red and black covering the main menu. Developer Sinclair Strange’s first console release is a ride, alright – just not a very comfortable or enjoyable one.
Styling itself as a retro run-and-gun shooter, the game is pretty simple: you play as a girl who’s been turned into a vampire and wears her former boyfriend as a hat thanks to genetic experimentation. This is all explained in a messy, jagged comic – as are all elements of the story – which is hard to read and generally dull.
The gameplay is a reflection of this flatness. Controls are simple: as well as traditional locomotion, you can dash, jump, and shoot with your shotgun in eight different directions. This becomes fiddly and frustrating, however, as the controls for both movement and aiming are mapped to the left stick, making combat tiresome.
In fact, it’s easier to just avoid combat altogether. Thanks to the AI being quite dumb – especially in the earlier levels – you can simply jump over all the enemies and speedrun your way to the end of the level. Sure, you’ll get a low score, but that’s it. There’s no real punishment for doing badly other than a loss of points, which is odd considering that each level is full of collectibles and points multipliers, to the point of annoyance. Flashing 'P' blocks containing power-ups litter the maps in abundance, yet there seems to be no reward for getting points other than an increased grade at the end of the level. There’s no incentive to try.
Of course, you’ll want to get through the levels as quickly as possible thanks to the headache-inducing nature of the game. While the music is thumping and fast-paced in a fun way, the visuals look like somebody opened the Ark of the Covenant in a Berlin nightclub. There are multiple layers of foreground and background textures that all conspire to disorientate you – particularly in the tutorial level, which is hugely offputting – as well as pulsating colours and the aforementioned abundant 'P' blocks, not to mention the fact that the game has a black outline around it, a sort of windowed mode that can’t be turned off and gets nauseating after a while.
This dizzying visual style – a sort of “Binding of Isaac if it was way too obnoxious” – blends with a childish humour that gets extremely repetitive and aggravating. Often, after killing an enemy, your character will blurt out something along the lines of “You tit” or “You tampon”. The novelty – if there was any to begin with – wears off super quickly, and that tied with the fiddly shooting controls gives more incentive for the player to skip combat and run to the end of the level.
It's unfunny, it's fiddly, it's aggravating, and most of all it's an assault on your senses – if there's anything that I Want to Be Human is rebelling against, it's your health. While developer Sinclair Strange has tried to carve out its own artistic style, it doesn't work at all, and the menial, tedious gameplay doesn't help either. This game may want to be human, but it sure isn't fit to be.