PS4, PC, PS5
May 16, 2023
Perhaps one of 2023’s strangest releases is the minimalistic and bleak puzzle game, Humanity. Controlling an endless line of faceless and mindless beings through a series of trials is the game’s protagonist, a ghostly Shiba Inu who is able to set commands for the marching masses. The bizarre premise makes for a triumphant puzzle game of increasing complexity that when at its strongest, is nothing short of art in motion.
Peculiarities aside, Humanity’s depiction of human society grows grimmer the longer you consider it. The game almost immediately teaches you the worthlessness of human life as a tutorial for the game pops up on the screen of the first level, forcing you to read it as the masses march onward in the background and off a cliff. These beings lack sentience, have no control over their own destiny, show no meaningful physical characteristics, and trudge endlessly in infinite numbers toward an end—whether that end be salvation or death seems largely irrelevant. Humanity isn’t a game about flawless success or about keeping the humans alive. It’s a game about eventual success, with the loss of many being a stepping stone to victory and not a reason for failure.
You can find depth in a lot of thematic elements of Humanity—ideas of hopelessness, questions of individual value, concerns of control, suggestions of futility. But what the game does so well is encapsulate those themes in every possible way. A beautiful marriage of audio, visuals, gameplay, and narrative to cohesively and uniformly paint a depressing picture. Yet the whimsy and peculiarity of the experience find a way to uplift regardless, making for a strange balance that will have you considering the dark ramifications in one moment and finding glee in the aloofness the next.
“…will have you considering the dark ramifications in one moment and finding glee in the aloofness the next.”
With a player-controlled ghost dog leading the way, you must set commands for the infinite human conga line to help them reach the end. Commands such as “walk in this direction” or “jump” will help the human horde avoid obstacles, activate switches, and eventually walk into a glowing light to be beamed into the sky. At the end of each level, you get to watch as the work that you’ve done creates an endless stream of humans reaching the goal.
Whilst completing the tasks laid out before you, you must also pay attention to special objectives known as ‘Goldies’. Goldies are large, golden humans who can be essentially rescued in any given level and walked to the end. These function as not just bonus objectives for completionists, but they also gate progression as a certain amount of Goldies must be rescued to move into the final stage of a set. Goldies also allow you to unlock a set of bonus features including different customisable options for your humans.
These levels or “trials” slowly introduce new mechanics over time, creating a good pace for adept puzzle solvers. These trials become considerably more complicated as the game progresses, though with optional objectives, optional trials, and solution videos available, enough is done to support players from getting stuck or overly frustrated whilst still giving ample opportunity to really test those who want it.
Humanity does a phenomenal job of providing a functional, polished, and well-designed experience. Every aspect of this game screams competence. From start to finish, this game feels feature complete and rich with possibility. The minimalistic visuals support both gameplay and narrative and the constant flow of marching bodies proves to be an incredibly satisfying visual feast. Running like a dream on my PC, the hundreds if not thousands of animated individuals had no impact on framerate. The world of Humanity feels alive despite lacking so much autonomy. And when you complete a level, you watch as that endless line of beings walk, jump, swim, and move across a level, intersecting with one another and flowing like water through a maze. It’s endlessly satisfying as you get to watch your solution come to fruition in the strangest way possible.
Pair those gratifying and odd visuals with a soundtrack that matches perfectly and you have an incredible audio/visual experience. The trippy and warpy electronic beats and peculiar audio samples blend together to make something absurd and engaging. It’s just a fun world to be in and something that keeps you hooked even when you’re struggling with a puzzle’s solution.
“Pair those gratifying and odd visuals with a soundtrack that matches perfectly and you have an incredible audio/visual experience.”
The game’s stages are all tied together by a deliberately confusing narrative involving sentient orbs of differing colours who act as the game’s bosses. Complete enough trials and you’ll eventually be able to square up against one of these orbs in some really quite imaginative ways. Using the game’s puzzle mechanics to engage in more action-oriented sequences is smart and works surprisingly well. Defeat an orb and watch as the ramifications of your actions take place to the rescued humans as a new, more powerful orb takes over.
The number of levels and variety of mechanics on offer keep this puzzle game from ever going stale. It’s all really quite impressive. However, it does become clear that not every stage of the game is as perfectly examined as others. It’s a rather minor knock considering Humanity’s many successes, though I always find a puzzle game is at its best when the possibilities are more limited. Give the player too many options and suddenly that level of freedom is debilitating and leads to iterative trial-and-error solutions rather than ones that can be properly planned out and implemented. I like a well-defined and easily understood win condition. Though when Humanity introduces combat on top of the platforming, some of that precision is lost as the outcome of certain actions can’t possibly be foreseen or fully understood.
Despite some criticisms, the game still succeeds far more than it falters. The level of detail, the quality-of-life mechanics such as the ability to restart with your previous commands already set or without, and the huge amount of content on offer is spectacular. It’s not just a full campaign on offer but also the ability to make your own levels in the game’s creation tool or to play other people’s levels. It’s all very intuitive and speaks to how complete this game feels. A VR mode is also on offer which I unfortunately was unable to play. Though I can only imagine it makes an already glorious game even more glorious.
- Seriously impressive depth and variety to puzzles
- The strange premise makes for a captivating idea
- The cohesion of design is top-notch
- Audio and visuals combine to make beautifully abstract art
- Loses some of the puzzling precision in later stages of the game
Humanity greatly succeeds across audio, visuals, puzzle design and more. It’s an unusual game at heart but one that uses its abnormalities to its benefit. Practically unforgettable, this experience will test you as much as it inspires awe through delightful sensory stimulation. This beautifully complete and polished game may lose a touch of its precision in its later stages, though it still captivates through a wild ride of absurdist depictions and satisfying design.