Developer / Publisher – tha Ltd. / Enhance
Price – US $29.99 / CA $34.99 / EU €29.99 / UK £24.99
Release Date – May 16th, 2023
Input – 2 x Motion Controllers, Dual Sense
Play Area – Sitting
Store Links – PlayStation, Steam
Reviewed on – PlayStation VR 2
This is Humanity, an isometric puzzler in the vein of Lemmings (sorry, that’s the most up to date reference I have for this game type) with platforming elements where you must guide seemingly endless amounts of people through mind-bending puzzles while unravelling the mysteries of why you are doing all of this in the first place. It’s a hybrid title clearly designed for TV screens and monitors 1st so let’s see if Humanity warrants a play in VR and whether this surreal title is made better by being in the headset.
The synopsis here is…well…odd to say the least. At the games onset you appear to be a being cast into the body of a dog who must guide humans to the light and before you duck out of this review thinking this is some kind of religious title, it’s not, but it does build upon that narrative with some symbolism involving humanity’s drive to persevere above all circumstances, including themselves. I won’t spoil any more than that in regard to the plot and nor will I ruin the later game scenarios which get absolutely insane. The opening levels act as a tutorial explaining the controls including the expansion of your powers and once completed, you’ll arrive in a hub world where all the people you have rescued seem to be hanging out. It’s here where the game truly begins and you can dive into the 1st of 10 worlds, each with their own set of thematic challenges. Outside of the campaign are user created levels and the option to create some of your own though neither is why I wanted to play this game but for those that want it, new content should keep pouring in for awhile.
For those familiar with lemmings, this does feel like a modern take on that venerable classic though it doesn’t take too long before Humanity surpasses that older title in enormity and complexity. As the dog, you can run around the map in traditional 3D platformer action with either a Dual sense or sense controllers but given that this was designed for flat screens and the VR player has no virtual hands, I gave up on the sense controllers as the gamepad just felt proper. Each stage will allow you to issue specific commands to the people with the core ones being to turn in any direction or jump. Later abilities will allow humans to run, jump higher or further, split off into different directions and many more. The humans will typically walk in a straight line out of a glowing white door and you need to direct them to a platform somewhere in that level and don’t worry if they fall off a cliff or from too high, the game tells you early on that they are dying, just returning to the door to respawn once more. The further you get, the more challenges get in your way like conveyor belts, larger gaps, fans that will blow the people around, varying heights, blocks and ramps to push, Indiana Jones style boulders and a literal ton of other stuff that you’ll have to contend with. Just getting the regular folk to the end won’t be good enough as there will also be golden beings, called Goldy’s, scattered around a stage that need to be directed to the exit with each of these offering up additional points that unlock later stages. Each puzzle requires a certain number of points to unlock and for the most part, the scores are low enough that I almost never had to replay a stage if I had missed one or 2 Goldy’s, but it did become clear that I needed to get at least one those dudes every stage or be forced to revisit levels I hadn’t fully completed. It never feels unfair and once you unlock and complete the last level in that stage, you’ll trigger a cinematic before unlocking the next series of puzzles.
As you advance, new powers will also be at your disposal though once again, they are level specific and as you progress you’ll also unlock various cosmetics for the people as well as additional camera and game controls that allow you to freeze a scene, zoom in, change the current musical score and a host more superfluous add-ons that just help you view and control the puzzles a bit better, to customize the look and feel of it all or just keep track of various stats . If you mess up, you can always restart a level with one of those unlockables allowing you to restart with or without all your commands in place, possibly saving some time on your next go. Some stages, even ones later in the game, will only take a few minutes to complete while others have taken me upwards of 45 minutes and in some cases, I just skipped right past them as the solution eluded me. It’s in those more frustrating cases where the game can feel burdensome thanks in large part to its slow pace and that you need to run the dog around the map to add or remove commands, especially after stage 4 where you may only be able to place those directions before starting the humans on their path as once they begin their trek, all you can do is sit back and wait to see where you screwed up before restarting/resetting the puzzle. Conversely, time may be against you as the enemy rushes in and you are forced to drop commands with only seconds to decide on what the right course action might be. Should it all be a little too hard, you can opt to watch the solution though the game did warn me that it will keep track of how many times I used it so I never actually pulled the trigger on seeing the answer as I didn’t want to mess up my game, the ending or whatever using that option might affect. It all works as it should and feels quite refined so for those interested in a VR puzzler not about surviving your environment, this is definitely something different, but what about being in VR?
Well, truthfully, VR doesn’t add a whole lot to the experience thanks to the isometric top/down view and overall game design. Each level appears to occur on an insanely high tower that disappears into the fog below while backgrounds are a collection of animated oceans, cloudy skies, mountains and a few more settings, 1 for each stage. Up close, the people don’t like anything special, akin to something you’d see in a VR city builder type game but viewing them from distance and the shear volume of them on screen at anytime is impressive as they move more like fluid then a collection of individual beings. It can be very minimalist at times and even drab though as the people spill out of their doorway, all wearing various outfits, color seeps into each level and I gotta say, on the PSVR 2, it looks super crisp. I’ll be the first one to say that outside of being able to physically move your head around the environment for a better view and making everything 3D, there’s isn’t any great reason to play this in VR, though in truth those 2 reasons will probably be enough to hop into a headset. Dynamic lighting is here in full force so as you rotate the map, shadows will move accordingly. There isn’t much else to talk about visually except when playing on a larger map that requires you to move a ton of people all over it, it’s an absolute visual spectacle to watch this weird Rube Goldberg machine made of people work seamlessly as the run, walk & fly around the environment. Viewing some of these scenes is guaranteed to be cooler in VR than playing on a flat screen like a normie.
Audio design is a much more passive effort here as their wont’ be much in the way of level sounds as the focus is on not distracting you so I didn’t really notice anything beyond the quirky retro sci-fi tunes playing on each stage. Of course, when you beat a stage there will be a celebratory explosion and throughout the game you’ll be treated to text bubble from a being who talks to you and very loosely explains what is currently happening. As such, I didn’t notice any sort of spatial audio but as I said, it’s not really the kind of game to use it so while the overall audio package here is simple, it fits perfectly with the game.
It’s all very clever, addicting, refined, and rewarding and while I don’t think being able to play this in VR is going to move any headsets, it’s still a very solid puzzler. Now unlike most VR puzzlers, you can pretty much decipher the game loop just from a trailer or this video, and I think you’ll know right away if you might enjoy this game or not. If not, I totally get it and thanks for watching up to this point but, if what you are seeing on screen right now looks enticing than I bet you’ll have a great time, especially when the difficulty spikes. You’ll sink countless hours into this making it well worth the asking price BUT if you are a PS+ Extra or premium subscriber, Humanity will be available with those tiers. VR doesn’t make this game substantially better, but it doesn’t hurt it any way so for those that are looking to put their brain to task and are looking for a more passive VR title, this delivers a solid hybrid puzzle experience.
Enhance provided The VR Grid with a press code for this title and, regardless of this review, we thank them for that!