Playing god is a familiar feeling for many video game genres, like action titles where your character is unstoppable or sims where you control everything. Roleplaying a god is rarely something I feel while playing puzzle games, but Humanity provides it in new and surprising ways. The unique style of puzzle solving uses directional signs and commands to guide droves of miniature people to an endpoint. The puzzles start simple, but Humanity builds on this core system throughout its 100-plus stages in exciting and challenging ways, pushing me to my limit while telling a heartfelt story about human nature.
Humanity is an immediately striking game. Its visual style is minimalistic, focusing squarely on the 3D puzzle area. But soft and beautiful backgrounds spotlight my actions as I guide colorful hordes of humans across various challenges. I begin with one simple command: a direction. I place it on the ground, and when the line of humans crosses it, they follow that direction. My journey through Humanity introduces me to plenty more commands, like ones to pause actions completely, jump, and use lightsaber-like weapons and guns to take out the enemy – The Others – that sometimes work to stop my progress. These new commands keep Humanity’s puzzles feeling fresh, and it was especially interesting to see how developer Tha Ltd used challenges to change my perception of how a command can be used.
I often felt there was no way Humanity could up the ante as I marveled at my solution after spending more than 30 minutes on the most complex trials. But each time I doubt its ability to be even more challenging, Humanity introduces another wrinkle to its puzzle rules. And each time, I go from, “There’s just no way I can figure this out,” to feeling omnipotent 30 minutes later.
Humanity is peaceful and relaxing on its surface, which is often the case, but it is a challenging game. That is, if you don’t want to use Humanity’s built-in solution videos. However, these don’t show you how to pick up the optional Goldy humans in each level, which unlock cosmetic changes for your humans and details like in-depth stats about your efforts.
These videos make it clear Tha Ltd wants all its players to experience the storytelling at play in it. Tetris Effect studio, Enhance, publishes Humanity, and like Tetris Effect, Humanity does more than provide satisfying puzzles. It serves up puzzles with a surprisingly human narrative about our nature as a society, how we can work together to progress, and how we’re all more connected than not. It’s sweet and simple but effective, especially after guiding thousands of humans across challenges toward the light.
Despite providing solution videos, there are moments when Humanity feels like a chore to play. Because some puzzles have solutions that take minutes to play out as lines of humans walk in real-time toward the end, Humanity allows you to speed up what’s happening on screen by pressing R2. This doubles the speed, but when a solution takes minutes to achieve, I’m still waiting a while. And because I often had to restart puzzles from the beginning to see if a new command would fix what prevented my humans from progressing each time, I waited a lot.
With trial restarts, you can keep your commands from the previous attempt, which helps dampen this issue, but waiting through all of your other commands to see if a new one at the very end solves the puzzle gets boring; in the back third of the game, I often grabbed my phone while holding R2, waiting to see if a new command works. Critically, the satisfaction I feel when successfully solving a puzzle always overrides the frustrations I have while solving it.
Humanity features a level creator and a way to try out other players’ creations. While these seem like worthwhile efforts to continue the puzzle fun, I’m not creative enough to make my own. And after playing through Tha Ltd’s handcrafted levels in the story, I am well satisfied – enough that I don’t have the urge to dive too deep into someone else’s puzzles. But level creation might provide the additional, longer-lasting fun someone else might want from this game.
Humanity strikes a delicate balance between challenging me at every turn and allowing me to feel like the god its narrative props me up to be. It’s an imaginative experience that provides a rush I imagine computer programmers feel when dozens of commands and lines of code finally work together to create a desired outcome. Its puzzles come wrapped in a beautiful package, from its minimalist visuals to its excellent clicky electronic beats. And best of all, these elements work together to emphasize a simple but effective message about what it means to be human and why life’s most intricate puzzles are easiest to solve when we work together.