Is it a bad time or the perfect time to release a game about humans mindlessly marching toward their doom unless an ethereal Shiba Inu guides them toward the light?
Humanity, a new puzzle-and-somewhat-platformer game from the publisher of Tetris Effect, was shown off in a trailer at Sony’s State of Play event last night, and in many ways, it stole the show from more traditional big-name titles. It was originally announced in 2019 but is looking much more defined, surreal, and beautiful ahead of its May 2023 launch. You can play a demo on PS4, PS5, PSVR, PSVR 2, and PC from now until 3 am on March 6. I highly recommend that you do.
The premise will be familiar to fans of the Amiga classic Lemmings, but the execution is markedly different. You are a glowing dog. Faceless, polygonal humans—said to be “without soul, without intellect, without a will of their own”—are shambling out of an entry point in a blocky 3D landscape. You hear a voice telling you to guide them toward the light. You do this by putting various instructions onto cubic tiles, forcing the humans to turn, jump, float, and otherwise avoid their death by falling, trampling, or other means. Some amount must reach a tile that lifts them into a glowing sky, but not all of them.
Unlike its spiritual forebear, Humanity is far less punishing, and it has a whole other dimension to work with. In the demo levels, the humans are infinite, so once you figure out a path and a few of them ascend, you can either move on or try again. You are seemingly not punished for how many people die while you figure things out, which is nice, if a bit unsettling. You can improve your ratings by having your humans reach “Goldies,” marching Oscar statues that you must keep alive until the ascent.
Also unlike Lemmings, you are an entity moving about the play field, not simply a cursor. While you work out your higher-level go-here-then-there strategy, you must implement it by running or jumping to the spots where you’ll put your directives. Sometimes there are obstacles you can only surpass once your humans step on a button that unlocks them, so you must then rush to where they’ll next be, lest you lose a Goldie. You’ll also occasionally possess the spirit of one of your humans to move around since you don’t have all their long-jumping or climbing powers.
It’s important to point out how wonderful this all looks and sounds. Like Tetris Effect, the visual complications of the humans moving and flying about the level, with all their different-colored clothing, builds and builds to a kind of psychedelic crescendo. On an RTX 3070, with the graphics turned all the way up, the demo typically ran between 70 and 90 frames per second, though the fans noticeably spun up. However, this seems like a title where higher-res, ray-traced graphics aren’t necessary to enjoy the game. We’re eager to try it out with the PSVR2.
The soundtrack evokes Tetris Effect‘s ethereal but soothing tones. I can’t say for certain if it’s similarly generative or whether it ramps up with the action, but it felt wonderfully matched to the colorful, contemplative gameplay.
The demo’s levels ramp up rather quickly, though this may not reflect the final game. In level one, you are getting the humans to turn a few directions on a flat field. By the fifth level, your humans are jumping, long-jumping, floating to extend their long jumps, dispersing through liquid cubes, and often doubling back on themselves. The trailer indicates much more complexity to come, including light-stick combat, but I have faith in the experience being manageable for most.