The latest from Tetris Effect studio Enhance is an incredibly creative take on puzzlers that slowly ramps up the intensity.
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For some people, the basic premise of Humanity will be enough to sell them on the game. You, in the role of an ethereal Shiba Inu, guide humans through a world of puzzles in a game designed in part by the minds behind games like Rez and Tetris Effect. Now, to those for whom that description makes little to no sense, know this: Humanity is one of the most ingenious and generous puzzle games I’ve played in a very long time.
So yes, you control a dog, one that can command crowds of humans with nothing more than a bark. There’s a story of sorts, with a disembodied voice giving you directions, but the actual goal of the game is very simple. In each stage, you need to get the crowds of people to the glowing square at the end. Of course, figuring out how to do that is another thing entirely.
The most impressive thing about Humanity is how patient it is with introducing new ideas and concepts. Over the course of the game, you’ll unlock new commands. Initially, you can tell the streams of people to turn or jump, helping them avoid obstacles. To do this, you run to a square — each stage is essentially a 3D grid — and bark the command. Any human that hits that square will then follow it. Without the right commands, they can fall to their demise, blindly following like characters in Lemmings. But by making the right choices, you can get them safely to the end.
It can look something like this:
But that’s really just the start. Over the course of a number of themed sections (they have names like choice, fate, and war), you’ll be introduced to new commands and concepts that completely alter the kinds of puzzles and challenges you’ll face. There are standard things like pushable blocks or blowing fans or switches that do something when you stand on them. Eventually, though, things become much more complicated as you have to deal with competing humans, known simply as the others, and even weapons like glowing clubs and laser guns. At the beginning of the game, Humanity is a straightforward puzzler; by the end, it’s all-out war. Hell, there are even boss fights.
That slow and steady learning curve is what keeps it from being overwhelming, as is the overall generous nature of the game. Humanity could very easily be a frustrating experience, but a few features keep that from happening. To start, there are multiple layers of challenge in each level, with gold characters (called Goldies) that you can collect to make things harder but that aren’t necessary to complete a level. The game also lets you quickly restart a level with all of your previous commands in place, encouraging experimentation, as you can make small tweaks to your plan and then see how they unfold. Sometimes it’s like building a Rube Goldberg machine, and you just need to figure out that one step to make it all work.
And since most players are going to run to YouTube anyway if they get stuck, Humanity has built-in videos that just straight-up show you the solutions. They won’t show you how to collect Goldies, but they will reveal the exact steps to finish the basic requirements of a level. I often found myself watching just the beginning of these videos when I was stuck, and that turned out to be all the help I needed.
Humanity was built as a collaboration between Enhance, the game studio helmed by legendary Rez and Lumines designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi, and Japanese design studio Tha, led by Yugo Nakamura. It’s actually Nakamura’s first detour into game development; in the past, he’s worked on everything from UI design on the iconic Infobar phone to web design for Uniqlo. So, on the one hand, Humanity feels like an Enhance title, with sleek minimalist visuals and a sparse yet thumping electronic soundtrack. But with its focus on crowds and physics, not to mention its philosophical narrative, it also gets downright strange. It really feels like a throwback to games like Echochrome or I.Q.: Intelligent Qube, design-focused experiences that were as sleek as they were odd.
Humanity’s campaign spans 90 levels, and it feels like it’s throwing new concepts and ideas at you until the very end. But there’s also more to the experience, with a level editor that lets you craft and share your own puzzles. I’m not much of a designer, but I’m very interested to see what kind of weird and clever stuff the community comes up with. I should also note that while the game supports VR on Steam, the PS4, and PS5, I wasn’t able to test it. (That said, Enhance does have a good track record with VR between Tetris Effect and Rez Infinite.)
The thing about Humanity is that, at various times, it can feel like a lot of other games, whether it’s Lemmings, other titles from Enhance, or those classic PlayStation experiences that inspired it. But eventually, it shows itself to be entirely unique, a masterclass of design that keeps confronting you with concepts while somehow also easing you through the experience. It doesn’t just want to challenge you; it wants to show you things — and there’s a lot to see.
Humanity is available now on PC, PS4, and PS5.