June 15, 2024
Competent but uninspired, can Humankind stand atop the shoulders of the 4X giants on PlayStation? The Finger Guns review:

4X games have traditionally been PC-only affairs, owing to their wealth of complex systems and layers of mechanics hoovering up the interface space. Despite some successes, such as with the Civilisation franchise flourishing on console, it’s never quite made the mainstream jump. Is Humankind, a turn-based strategy 4X title from Amplitude Studios ready to migrate the masses?

Probably not, truth be told. The original PC version of the game received… mixed… reception, to say the least. The console port follows this in kind, displaying a functional and fun-at-times history simulator, but one which is also sadly uninspired and lacking in a distinct personality.

Time to ascend through the ages and determine what kind of ruler you wish to be.

Humanity’s Teething Problems

Humankind’s first impression is actually a pretty good one. You’re welcomed with a variety of models and customisation options to craft your very own would-be Ghandi or Mussolini. Upon creating your chosen dictator, pacifist or religious zealot, you’ll enter the game’s tutorial. Look, 4X games are complicated at the best of times, but this tutorial is more frustrating than Boris Johnson making a coherent statement.

Overlay upon overlay of text is thrust upon you with the lethal frequency of a tommy gun. Sometimes, the “helpful” pop-up boxes get obscured but you can’t interact with anything else, so you just have to close it and wonder what essay of tips you’ve missed. Then just hope it wasn’t that important.

At the start of any campaign, you’ll select your starting type of people. Each has a unique aesthetic and they have various boons based on their chosen attributes. Some will favour warfare, others will be experts at producing food. Thankfully, you’re never locked into a single way of playing, as even more passive clans can still be ordered into bloodthirsty conquest if you so desire. They’ll just be as poorly equipped as the Polish army during the Saxon period.

The basic goal of any campaign is to achieve victory either through military, science or faith-related means. Naturally, with it being a history-based strategy game, you’ll be ascending through the various eras of humanity’s history. From the Neolithic to the Contemporary period, you’ll be modernising your way to success, one historical class at a time.

Humankind review

Falling Stars

In order to progress through eras, you’ll be expanding your clan’s influence on the overworld map. Just like Civilisation, the environment will be made up of hexagon grids with various terrains that will affect movement and buildings. Establishing settlements and watching them slowly grow into a fully-fledged metropolis’ is nice, though it feels incredibly slow and while the aesthetics do upgrade, they never fundamentally change as you progress.

Expansion, conquest and prosperity through monetary, religious or scientific means will earn you stars. Once you reach a threshold of said golden figures, you can either transcend your current people or select a whole new era of humanity. It’s a cool system, though the fact you can’t actually see what the meters for each star mean isn’t especially helpful. In fact, it’s quite obstructive.

Which is kind of the thread running through the entirety of Humankind. Each system and mechanic has a decent foundation and works functionally, but there’s just always some kind of minor issue that makes it more annoying than it should be. Whether it’s navigating units with obtuse pathfinding, the interface for selecting things being more clunky than an industrial factory or that food production in cities will fluctuate on a dime, everything in Humankind feels flawed in some way.

Developing my cities and watching my sphere of influence grow was fun in places, but the moment the game asks you to do anything on a micro level, things get finicky. After two full campaigns, I still can’t even explain to you how the manual battle system actually even works. Thank the ancestors that the game will just auto-complete them for you.

Humankind review

I Like Them, I Hate Them

You might think that if taking over the world by force doesn’t work, using diplomacy will be your better bet. In some ways, this is pretty accurate, in other ways, it’s really not. The AI seems wildly inconsistent, with even trusting allies randomly declining treaties or haphazardly declaring war at will. There are also very few options, making negotiation, trade and handling disputes feel as deep as a puddle, but as wide as the sea separating me from my inevitable victory.

As most people want to do in games like this, I found myself just relying on entering alliances at first. Once I’d then built up enough cities and troops, I’d mass my forces on their border (or outside their capital…), declare war and go to town on them. On harder difficulties, it doesn’t work as consistently, but the fact allies won’t react to 30+ troops in their territory is worrying.

Yet, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some fun forging the odd alliance or forcing my vassal to go and make bloody war with their ally. Humankind fundamentally works and is based on very successful, enjoyable games. Consequently, this game has some fun moments too. Creating cultural or religious landmarks from history felt really cool, as did seeing my settlements modernise.

It’s a shame then, that most of your time is just spent skipping through turns and waiting for things to complete or move forward. Higher difficulties make the AI more aggressive and basically give them a headstart on you whenever you progress, which actually just feels a bit cheap. I didn’t dislike the gameplay loop per se, but I wasn’t exactly itching to get out of work and keep playing either.

Humankind review

Progress, But At What Cost?

To its credit, Humankind has a ton of replayability value. The ridiculous number of societies you can choose from, the almost endless research tree, the fact you can play solo or online. All of these elements add substantial meat to the evolution of these strategy bones. Sadly, much of it just feels like it’s aesthetic value. No matter how far up the research tree I went, everything from buildings to units functioned the same.

Humankind has a colourful presentation and a pleasant overworld map to peruse. It also goes for the more cartoony look of recent Civilisation games in terms of character models and interactions. While nothing wondrous, the visuals are decent and the game holds up well, even with multiple societies spreading en masse across the landscape.

If you’re into your 4X strategy games or just want to try something new for a bit before returning to your old staple, I imagine this will serve a purpose. It won’t be replacing the best in genre and it more imitates than improves, but what’s here is fine, it just misses out on the “grand” in grand strategy. The slightly clunky controls and console interface don’t help, provided you even make it through the burgeoning tutorial.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery is how the old saying goes. Humankind is content to imitate the giants of the 4X strategy genre without offering a whole lot to distinguish itself from the crowd. While there’s some decent fun to be had, almost every element has some kind of flaw that undermines humanity’s evolution. Occasionally, you’ll conquer the world. More often, you’ll be sifting through bureaucratic mediocrity.

Humankind is available now on PlayStation 5 (review platform), PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and PC.

Developer: Amplitude Studios
Publisher: SEGA

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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