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Humanity (PS5)

Humanity (PS5) - Review

by Lee Mehr , posted on 25 June 2023 / 4,769 Views

Humanity is a game about playing an ethereal Doge that leads large swathes of humans through puzzle rooms.  I feel like saying "my work here is done" and leave it there; that's the power I see with such a quirky concept.  And though the launch trailer plays into it, developer tha ltd. takes a different tonal direction.  It starts out relatively simple: the snow-white ghost of a shibu inu awakens in a blocky, antiseptic landscape.  A mysterious voice beckons this canine to lead humans towards a gleaming end goal that hoovers them to a higher plane.  Is it heaven or a higher sense of consciousness?  While those answers aren't initially clear, the cathartic sense of filing fleets of people in orderly lines consistently keeps your intrigue. 
 
Since you're ostensibly a Doge God, a near-infinite number of mindless human sardines will begin spawning through an magical doorway and obey your every command.  If you bark jump, they'll ask "how high?"  They're well-behaved lemmings respecting invisible guardrails to keep the procession a certain width.  That doesn't mean they aren't prone to a bit of chaos.  Since you're navigating them in real-time and they'll exclusively adhere to any command tile they cross, you're trying to mentally map the best route forward while these drones are – ironically – nipping at your heels.  Sometimes it's best to venture further ahead, do a bit of platforming, and pre-place your next set of orders before running back to ensure your previous configuration is smoothly sailing.  Completing the stage doesn't always feel clean but is incredibly rewarding nonetheless.


Beyond shuffling scores of lemmings to the finish line, each normal stage contains at least one Goldy, a sentient golden Oscar trophy waiting for the crowd to snatch 'em up on this peculiar pilgrimage.  You needn't collect each one to unlock a chapter's final stage, but a healthy majority (~75%) of them are still required.  Whatever the threshold, it's immaterial given how naturally enticing they are to collect anyways.  Strategic placement of certain Goldies, especially those in suspended glass boxes unlocked by pressure plates, can turn anyone’s mental gears.  How do I reroute the crowd so they can reach that Goldy?  It's easy to get carried away in ensuring each Goldy's safety, to the ultimate demise of humans tumbling off a stage's edge. 

There's something to be said about giving primary attention to gilded statues over truckloads of humans incidentally forming a mosh pit at a dead-end or outright dying.  Tha did technically write itself out of this moral conundrum by saying each individual's spirit remains intact even if their physical body is obliterated by… unfortunate circumstances.  It still speaks to how you'll eventually begin to think of them less as individuals and more as processes; think more abstractly about how the wide conga line can be maximized, like well-oiled cogs in a machine. 

Humanity's clever design makes it easy to get into that mode of thinking too.  The dull-grey suspended structures can be immediately read: simple tile placements, differences in elevation, and even easily-readable outlines should you go inside of a structure.  There isn't a vast tapestry of color aside from the humans' clothing, but its purposive austerity is meant to elevate function over form.  Beyond its intentional aesthetic, it's easy to track and correct faults within its design too.  Several tasks may feel daunting at first – perhaps a rare few being too convoluted for their own good, but it's rewarding to reach those a-ha moments thanks to its succinct and consistent rules.  Also, the simple option of keeping or clearing commands after each retry feels like a godsend when you’re trying to understand which action isn't in sync. 


While trying to keep to sound design philosophy, tha is also blending new concepts like a doped-up coke fiend.  When you think of most puzzle games, whether it’s the Portal series, The Witness, or whatever, there's often a particular trope; a singular concept that’s explored through different twists.  While Humanity's core is about getting a human crowd to a certain goal, it feels like a… puzzle rhapsody by comparison.  Real-time ferrying the crowds is eventually superseded by levels where you can only pre-plan moves beforehand and only watch on after hitting the play button.  Any failure forces you to go back to the drawing board and plot out missing details. 

Then another detour comes in the form of "The Others," essentially the bizarro version of Doge's human subjects who're also capable of stealing Goldies.  Things start out simple enough: initially navigating around or racing them.  Things quickly get uglier when batons and guns come into the mix, shifting closer to a real-time strategy.  Now, your legerity is tested by considering tactical formations and positioning alongside charting a path for Goldies and human legions.  This becomes tweaked yet again after being able to gather human crowds to you a la Pikmin, which shifts the focus to action-oriented or stealth puzzles.  After all this time of hopping between different genre smorgasbords, you'll eventually experience anything up to and including an isometric SCHUMP against a humanoid giant while nary blinking an eye.

Past the audacious nuances with its foundation, every step along the way is carefully paved.  Beyond the tile commands like Jump or Turn, a simple move like Branch splitting the crowd 50/50 implicitly informs the importance of balancing multiple groups.  You also learn the safe limits for humans to drop down onto solid ground is two stories, so there's a command to enable them to be near-weightless for farther drops.  Certain levels only permit a set amount of commands, demanding attentive foresight to maximize each one.  Each new gimmick tied with an accelerated difficulty curve and concise rules guarantees its place among the upper echelon of current puzzlers.


When considering its wilder gameplay ventures and the player-character being a shibu inu, some could be inclined to see a background story closer to Swery64 or campy Sega titles; hell, I thought utilizing the tone of Silent Hill 2's secret dog ending would've been the whole narrative.  But Humanity remains surprisingly straight-laced instead.  It sticks closer to something like Etherborn's vague musings, risking pretentiousness over existing in a simulation and reforming humankind, but builds up genuine intrigue through visual creativity and confidence in its esoteric approach.

"Visual creativity" is more about intriguing symbolism than vivid presentation.  Beyond the stark white-and-grey backdrops previously mentioned, Jemapur's OST oftentimes stick to basic synth or techno beats, like catchy elevator or tram music of the near-future.  They tend to repeat too often, but still effectively capture the tempo of that specific conundrum.  In short, no presentational quality – from sound design to art style – is destined to be an end-of-year frontrunner, but still does its part so you can get back to marveling at rendering so many small people simultaneously with nary a framerate drop or other technical issue.

Part of why these subtler qualities or its variety are so impressive stem from the game's sheer quantity: roughly 90 challenges (including bosses and some redux rooms).  Even if you're someone who's not as tempted to collect every Goldy, the campaign still climbs into the double-digit time frame; plus, the panoply of user-generated puzzles could be virtually endless.  Despite the Beta tag embedded like a trademark emblem, there's already an impressive suite of tools at anyone's disposal.  If community effort is anything to go by, like LittleBigPlanetHalo's Forge Mode, and countless others of yore, then it seems destined to have a solid lifespan.


It's hard to think of another puzzler that zigs and zags so wildly from where it begins.  At times, it seems more adequate to consider this an "everything" game; more impressively, how tha manages to veer towards such different genre alleyways so consistently without feeling misplaced is a feat unto itself.  To continually shuffle through so many gimmicks and toss them aside after making a point also belies a special design maturity.  Some might not appreciate its inverted design philosophy on the typical puzzle game, but they'd miss out on the well-organized chaos that is Humanity in a nutshell. 


Contractor by trade and writer by hobby, Lee's obnoxious criticisms have found a way to be featured across several gaming sites: N4G, VGChartz, Gaming Nexus, DarkStation, and TechRaptor! He started gaming in the mid-90s and has had the privilege in playing many games across a plethora of platforms. Reader warning: each click given to his articles only helps to inflate his Texas-sized ego. Proceed with caution.


VGChartz Verdict


9
Outstanding

This review is based on a digital copy of Humanity for the PS5, provided by the publisher.

Read more about our Review Methodology here

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4 Comments
The Fury (on 26 June 2023)

I had a go, and while I agree with the review, and it was an excellent game. I personally couldn't get through it much. Got stuck on world 2 of all things. Maybe I'll jump back in when I feel like it a bit more of a challenge.

Irony a little as just played Ratchet and Clank and it has a mini version of this game in it as a ... mini game. :P

  • +7
coolbeans The Fury (on 26 June 2023)

I get it too. It's not the most patient when it comes to difficulty curves. I believe World 2 is when you have pre-lay each command down and then activate the puzzle? My best advice there is try playing out each event in pieces. Put down the first few commands to see if you're starting out strong.

Oh yeah? The most recent one, Rift Apart? I'm down to try that out.

  • +1
The Fury coolbeans (on 26 June 2023)

Ah, makes sense on the former. Maybe that is why I was struggling to get my head around things, as before then it was just wing it and fail until I get it right but there was a pushing blocks with holes in puzzle I couldn't get to grips with.

And yes, it's just a side puzzle for Clank, just made me smile that I'd stopped playing Humanity just to play a simpler version of it in R&C. :P

  • +1
coolbeans (on 25 June 2023)

One extra note: I did play it on both PS5 and PSVR2. For some reason, I didn't care for the diorama look in VR Mode. Something about what's happening on-screen didn't click like it has for the Moss titles. I was a bigger fan of standard but played through the VR headset. Can't say what combo between regular TV, regular view through VR, or VR Mode will work for you but suggest experimenting with all of them (if you can).

  • +2