In many respects, Humanity feels very much like something Sony's Japan Studio would've made about 15 years ago. We of course mean that as a compliment; an experimental game that doesn't quite conform to normal conventions, instead carving out a new path with a weird, singular vision. We can put this bizarre new puzzler from Enhance Games and tha ltd on a podium alongside LocoRoco and Patapon — unusual but charming spins on long-established genres.
The easiest way to explain how this game works is to think of it as a high-concept take on Lemmings. Each level has you guiding a group of forward-marching people to the exit. Playing as a glowing dog, you can freely run around each stage and lay down commands that'll help the humans get from A to B. It's a simple concept that's easy to grasp, and it's backed up by uncomplicated controls. However, as you earn more and more commands, the game's puzzles steadily grow more complex as they introduce new elements and obstacles to overcome.
You begin with the ability to make the humans change direction and jump, but the game doesn't take long to throw in new ideas. Long and high jumps, splitting the stream of people into two, lowering the effect of gravity — the list of commands grows quite quickly, with the game not resting on any one idea for too long. Each level only enables the commands required, so you're not overwhelmed with options. On top of your own abilities, though, new wrinkles in the puzzles are added frequently. The humans will need to push blocks around, swim through water, activate switches, and more as you progress through the campaign. It's that classic puzzle game trick of presenting you with a simple core concept and building up and out from that base.
Humanity also often changes its own rules. Instead of a constant stream of people, you might only have a finite number to guide to a goal. Some levels can only be completed by ensuring a Goldy reaches the exit — large, golden figures that are usually optional collectibles. Other stages begin with time paused, requiring you to lay down all your commands before you set things in motion. Eventually, you'll come to blows with the Others — an opposing set of humanoids who want those Goldy statues too — and you'll equip your humans with weapons to combat the threat. It's safe to say the game isn't short of ways to mix things up. Once you've grasped a new command or puzzle concept, it's onto something else, giving the story mode a good sense of momentum. Add in a striking, minimalist style and suitably ethereal music, and you have a game that feels very refreshing and original.
While the difficulty curve is largely quite smooth, there are some wobbles. A few levels along the way feel much tougher than those around them; fortunately, some are not required to progress, but there are a few inconsistencies in the level of challenge. The "boss" stages are a good example of this; one earlier boss feels a lot harder than the later ones, and it's mainly down to what commands you have access to. The back third of the game mostly concerns itself with the Follow command, which sees the humans run around alongside you. These levels, including the bosses, aren't without challenge, but feel somewhat easier than some earlier puzzles that are designed to be more restrictive. Again, the difficulty curve is generally good, but watch out for the odd spike.
Speaking of difficulty, one choice we're unsure about is the inclusion of puzzle solutions for every level, accessible in-game. If you're stuck on a level, you can pause the game and view a full solution video. While these clips don't show you how to get all the Goldy figures, or complete certain feats required for specific Trophies, it feels a little backwards for a puzzle game to lay everything out like this. We'll admit to using the option once or twice so we could move along with the game, but it feels like a cheap win when you just watch the solution. It's a bit like going to the back pages of a puzzle book, or reading the upside-down crossword answers — you can win doing that, but it feels a little dirty. Still, you don't have to engage with it at all, and it's obviously far more enjoyable to figure things out for yourself, if you can resist the temptation.
Once you've completed the story (and yes, there is a narrative of sorts, though nothing too crazy), there's a full level creation mode. It's about as straightforward as it could be — you can place down blocks, decorative elements, and of course the entrance and exit points, along with any obstacles. You also have access to switches and can change what they trigger, as well as the ability to place down baked-in commands and select the ones available to the player. As the main campaign proves, this set of tools and features is more than enough to concoct some real head-scratching levels, and we can imagine the community building some mad stuff.
We've already sampled some user-made stages, and there's a great mix of genuinely good puzzles and easier-going levels. There's an in-game browser that sorts these original levels into various categories and playlists, making it really easy to navigate and find the type of thing you want to play. You're encouraged to engage with these aspects of the game by earning XP and levelling up for playing and creating stages, and it's obviously here where the game will truly benefit from its day-one introduction to the PS Plus Extra catalogue. If a small community can keep up a stream of interesting new stages, that'll be a huge boost to Humanity's longevity — and, again, there's plenty of room to experiment.
Before we sign off, we should also quickly mention the game is fully playable in PSVR2 (and PSVR on the PS4 version). Playing Humanity in virtual reality is identical to playing it on a TV, save for the slight shift in perspective. It's quite pleasing to watch the humans walking and jumping about in 3D space, but aside from that, the VR mode doesn't add anything meaningful to the experience. It's nice it's there as an option and plays perfectly fine in PSVR2, but you're getting the same game either way.
Humanity is a wonderfully different puzzle game brimming with ideas. It takes a few simple building blocks and combines them to create some surprisingly complex levels and challenges, keeping you on your toes as it constantly throws in new concepts. While the story mode has some inconsistencies in terms of difficulty, it still manages to keep you hooked all the way. And when you're done, there's an intuitive level editor and browser, in theory giving you all the puzzles you could want. If you're after something a little different, give this a shot — they don't often make them like this anymore.