Humanity may be a perfect puzzler but its VR mode is underwhelming

You have got to love a video game developer that gives players the option to play its games in both flatscreen and VR. It’s an admirable design choice that I hope becomes way more commonplace and, despite the fact that Humanity’s VR mode is little more than an optional novelty, its inclusion is still hugely appreciated by the VR community.

Now, if you’ve already read through Chris Donlan’s wonderful review, you’ll know that he was only able to test out the flat screen version of Humanity. The reverse is true for this week’s VR Corner though (above). I haven’t had a chance to try out pancake Humanity yet as I’ve been exclusively playing the VR mode on PSVR2 (Humanity can also be played in PC VR).

The graphics may be rather minimalistic but the sight of thousands of little people arcing gracefully through the air still looks very cool in VR.

For those who aren’t aware, Humanity puts you in the paws of a ghostly Shiba Inu dog who must guide an endless stream of humans from one side of a hazardous environment to the other. Presumably so that they can get raptured or something. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure, me and metaphors don’t work well together.

To do this, you move the dog around the level with the thumbstick on your left Sense Controller whilst using the face buttons on the right Sense Controller to place commands on the ‘board’ that the humans will follow. So, a little like Lemmings, you can stop the hapless humans from falling to their doom by issuing a ‘turn’ command just before the edge of a block, or you could perhaps order them to ‘jump’ to clear a small gap.

This may sound simple, but each new level brings an imaginative new twist to the formula and this, along with the gifting of a new command every so often, means that every challenge feels fresh and satisfying to crack.

So then, what does VR bring to the Humanity experience? Well, to be completely honest, not much aside from slightly more depth to the image. The VR mode sure does allow you to play the game in VR, but it really feels more like a box ticking exercise rather than a tailormade mode that allows you to become more immersed in the game’s world.

The default VR view makes everything feel a bit too far away and if you get too close to something it disappears completely. With a bit of fiddling in the VR settings however, it’s possible to lean right in and put your face inside a pile of people. Ooer.

In VR your movement is really limited and while, yes, you can lean in and out a bit and turn your head to look around, you’re always anchored to your spirit Shiba by an invisible leash. This is presumably how the camera controls in the flat version work so I guess the developers have done this to keep it fair, but in VR this feels so limiting. When entering freeview mode, I wanted to be able to swoop and soar across the levels and inspect them close up but this tethering to the dog meant that the VR experience wasn’t as freeing as I’d hoped for. It’s not the end of the world of course, and the game still plays fine in VR (once you’ve gotten over the learning curve of placing commands without accidentally jumping your dog off the edge of a cliff) but not having complete freedom of movement feels like a missed opportunity.

There’s a strange beauty in seeing parades of miniature humans cascading and jumping and floating around a level in unison and in VR this sight can be both awe inspiring and mesmerising. So it’s a shame that you often can’t easily move to a position that’s comfortable to view this from without walking your dog off a cliff a couple of times in order to get there. The way the level disappears in front of you when you get close to it is a bit of an annoyance too. You can turn that down in the settings slightly, but why have that in there at all? If you go to a model village you want to lean in and look into the windows of the model houses to see what’s going on inside them without that house completely disappearing in front of your eyes, and the same can be said about Humanity’s VR mode.

Obviously these are minor critisms based on my own personal preferences when it comes to being in VR though. There’s little to find fault with in terms of the technical aspect of it all and, as a relatively stationary experience, Humanity should be comfortable to play for any helmet-head, old or new. As a puzzle game it’s a joy to play and that’s true in both flat and VR and, as I mentioned at the start of this post, the fact that you can choose to play through the entirety of Humanity in VR has to be commended. I just think I was hoping for a bit more of the ‘wow factor’ that I normally get from playing other flat games that have been brought to life by unofficial VR mods.

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