Updated: Sep 21
A line of faceless figures follows geometric patterns across a featureless expanse, guided by the barks of a glowing Shiba Inu. They pour from a floating white door and follow the same steps to their destination, where they ascend peacefully into the air. Some fall off the artificial island this plays out on, but they’ll soon reappear to join the rest of the procession.
This dreamlike vision ends every level in Humanity, and whatever you feel about the rest of the game, it’s a mesmerizing sight worth beholding.
Humanity delivers perfect a-ha moments at least once per level, even if reaching them can be a drag.
Humanity is the latest game from Enhance, the studio behind the excellent Rez Infinite and Tetris Effect. Like the developer’s previous games, Humanity blends surreal visuals with an enchanting soundtrack to induce near-hypnosis in players. Enhance’s other work seems calibrated to put players into a flow state — whether you’re connecting blocks in Tetris Effect or zooming through an endless virtual tunnel in Rez Infinite, the studio’s games let you turn yourself over to the pure in-the-moment feeling of play.
That’s not the case in Humanity, an intricate puzzle game that demands a much more analytical perspective. Here, flow manifests both as the literal flow of human bodies you guide through its levels, and as a sort of workflow, as you must decide the perfect order to issue commands to your unwavering followers.
While playing Humanity feels much different from diving into any of Enhance’s previous games, the moment when you solve a vexing puzzle has more in common with snapping a line of blocks into place or hitting a perfect note than you might expect. Humanity delivers those perfect a-ha moments at least once per level, even if reaching them can be a drag.
The basics come slowly in Humanity, first learning to make your followers turn, then jump. You issue commands by running to the spot where you want the action to happen and placing an icon with a corresponding instruction on the floor. Once you’ve got that down, Humanity serves up more complex twists, like the ability to make your followers float or perform higher and longer jumps. Later levels limit the number of times you can use each command, and a significant chunk at the end of the game has you directly leading your pack of humans around instead of giving them directions.
In each level, you’ll also encounter giant golden humans called Goldies, which appear in fixed spots on the map and join the crowd if your followers pass through them. Sometimes you’ll need to guide a Goldy to the exit to finish a level, and sometimes bringing them along is optional. Collect enough Goldies and you’ll unlock new skins for your followers, but you also need a certain number to challenge the final level of any chapter.
A handful of levels into Humanity, you meet the Others: a group of opposing humans who will snatch Goldies away if you let them reach the prize first. Depending on the level, you’ll need to avoid the Others, beat them to the Goldy, or find a way to block their progress.
Humanity doesn’t go anywhere interesting with its story and it doesn’t seem to be trying to.
Before long, the Others pick up weapons, which let them destroy your followers if they get too close. Then you get the ability to give your own minions weapons. Humanity’s narrator warns you, once you pick up weapons, things will never be the same. Unfortunately, that’s true.
Up to this point, Humanity is a chill experience, letting you work out its puzzles and experiment with solutions at your own pace. If your humans fall off the map, that’s fine! More will always keep pouring out of the entrance. But from the moment you have to use weapons to solve your problems, the tone takes a major shift. From here on, nearly every level is about competing against the Others, killing them before they can kill you. Messing up a puzzle solution now usually means starting all over again, because if the Others progress too far, they can destroy the gates your humans emerge from.
Humanity makes a half-hearted effort at bringing this massive tonal shift into its story. Narrative is far from Humanity’s first priority — what story is there is absurd and intentionally thin, centering around your efforts to “test” humans at the whim of a cast of disembodied voices. Competition is part of that test, and using violence to triumph over superficially different groups of humans is supposed to be a step in the evolution of your followers’ consciousness.
But that’s all just window dressing. Humanity doesn’t go anywhere interesting with that story and it doesn’t seem to be trying to. Even after the interminably long segment of the game where it’s you versus the Others, puzzles are still deadly and centered around destroying opponents, and failure means restarting the entire puzzle.
When a single slip-up — or one unruly follower — can fail a level, replaying those same minutes over and over becomes agonizing.
Humanity tells you what your followers want most in the world is the Goldies, but what they actually want most is to jump off the edge of the world for no good reason. A lot of later levels only give you a limited number of humans to work with, and if even a few are lost, you need to restart.
Whether you’re waiting for the humans to carry out your commands or timing your own movements perfectly while guiding them, it can take several minutes for puzzle solutions to play out even once you know the answer. When a single slip-up — or one unruly follower — can fail a level, replaying those same minutes over and over becomes agonizing.
Even at its most frustrating, Humanity is an aesthetic treat. There’s an unsettling beauty to the synchronized movements of your faceless followers and the monochrome world they march through. A few levels have you facing off against swarms of humans commanded by other forces, and they’re genuinely some of the most impressive visuals I’ve seen the PlayStation 5 produce.
Similarly, the soundtrack is as gorgeous as it is unconventional. Synthesized vocals and piano dominate Humanity’s soundscape, lending an otherworldly feel to the game. Singing in harmony or pulsing frantically, Humanity’s music lends a meditative quality to some levels and a disorienting feel to others. It’s unlike anything I’ve heard in another game, which is maybe where Humanity feels closest to Rez Infinite and Tetris Effect.
Even at its most frustrating, Humanity is an aesthetic treat.
Despite its captivating premise, I was sorely disappointed by Humanity. What started as an enchanting puzzle game quickly turned into a frustrating exercise of throwing my faceless army against another until one prevailed. While combat is always used as a puzzle solution, not as mere violence, it turns the game against its own themes and replaces early levels’ experimentation with a demand for perfect execution of a singular strategy.
Humanity is so gorgeous and bold that I’d still recommend at least trying it, especially if you have PS Plus, where it’s now available for free. If you get frustrated after the first few hours, just know it’s not going to return to its original promise, but those first few hours are still a delight.
Humanity Review verdict
Clever puzzles test your ability to command followers
Massive crowds of humans are eerily beautiful
Striking, unique synth soundtrack
Shallow story seems to give up before it’s over
Quickly becomes punishing and frustrating after a chill start
Too much emphasis on one type of combat-focused puzzle
Humanity review is based on the PS5 version. No key was provided by the publisher.
Humanity is available now on PS5 and PC.