Our favorite martian.
Despite the intergalactic coziness of the concept that We Are Not Alone, my belief in extra-terrestrials is tenuous at best. I don't doubt that there are other living organisms scattered about the universe, but I'm skeptical that they have giant heads and eyeballs and visit Earth every week or two to examine the collective anal tract of our nation's farming community. What's the big deal, anyway? That happens pretty routinely here in the Bay Area. Our cows are fabulous.
No, I think real extra-terrestrials are smarter than that and wouldn't settle for raping rednecks or building useless pyramids. If they actually made it all the way from the Zolar Nebula to our cheery little rock called Earth in one piece, I imagine they would cure a bit of cancer, impregnate your mom and proceed to completely obliterate life as we know it using enormous ray guns. Good cop, bad cop stuff.
A chilling vision? Surely, but one that the folks at THQ and Pandemic happen to agree with me on, and that's saying something since the two companies are quickly becoming THE authority on intergalactic marauders. Set against the paranoid backdrop of 1950's America, their third-person alien biopic/warning shot Destroy All Humans! is more than one of the coolest upcoming games of 2005 - it's also all the evidence I need to convince the world that E.T. was a dirty, filthy lie. Open your eyes, people.
And open your minds, if you will, to the story of Crypto. The latest in a long line of Furon clones (think Martian, but meaner), our anti-hero is sent to a certain bluish planet a few stops from the sun to investigate the shady circumstances surrounding the whereabouts of his lost kinfolk, who crash-landed a while back in a certain infamous desert. The Furon bigwigs, seeing an opportunity to flex their imperialistic muscles, figure Crypto should also clear the way for a full-fledged Furon invasion - two birds with one stone, as it were. You play Crypto as he tries to locate the downed saucer, fight off the no-goodnick Earthling authorities and eradicate all who dare oppose the Furon Empire. Huzzah!
That's quite a full plate for a lone alien invader, but Crypto is certainly well-equipped to handle our weak, fleshy asses. Taking a cue from the solid Psi-Ops, Destroy All Humans! outfits its protagonist with both mental and physical weaponry, the ultimate surf and turf of wanton destruction.
Your mental abilities lead to some of the game's quirkier gameplay moments. The handiest is psychokinesis, which allows you to levitate any object – willing or unwilling – and fling it around like a frisbee. Hurl a tractor into a farmhouse! Throw some pesky humans into a nearby lake! Bovine bowling, anyone? Hoisting things and tossing them about is almost a game unto itself and already works well in the playable build of Destroy All Humans! implanted in our office Xbox.
But even aliens know that it's not nice to play with your food, so if you tire of treating the human scum like balls of yarn, you can go ahead and eat their brains. Yep, EAT THEIR BRAINS. This is accomplished through what Pandemic euphemistically refers to as "Extraction." We prefer to call it "ripping out brain stems," because that's exactly what it is. Feast on gray matter to replenish health? Sign us up!
There are more subtle ways to manipulate Earth's creatures, though, including astral projection (shape-shifting into human form for recon), hypnosis (great for causing distractions) and the ability to scan their thoughts. Useful for gaining access to hidden areas as well as uncovering interesting bits of backstory, mind reading really shows off the game's terrific sense of humor. Mentally eavesdropping on people is a blast. Our favorite line so far: "My mind says Amos, but my body says Andy!" We don't really get it, but man, we hope they leave it in.
Of course, you wouldn't be much of an alien threat without ridiculously destructive guns. Standards like the Disintegration Ray, Ion Detonator and handy-dandy Zap-O-Matic will keep the pesky humans groveling in fear. And yes, the game is rumored to include an Anal Probe, although we are unable to corroborate such claims at this time. Let's just say the developers might have found a new use for the PS2 and Xbox controllers' vibration function.
When all else fails, you can even hop into your spaceship and strike terror from above, blowing up buildings with your death ray and abducting creatures to prod with your alien sticks. The game will include an upgrade system as well, allowing Crypto to turn his disc of destruction into a virtual wrecking ball of hellfire.
With so many tools at your disposal, it can be a little tough deciding how best to deal with the sapiens. Pandemic seems to understand that gamers enjoy multiple solutions to such problems, and have designed the game to allow for a variety of styles. You can take the stealth approach by repeatedly assuming human form and sneaking through their ranks undetected, or you can pull an Independence Day and fry the heathens to a crisp. Of course, it's likely that both styles will have to be explored for maximum subversion.
Powering this violent little visitor is a cool engine that utilizes the Havoc physics engine to great effect. The whole levitation system is done very well thanks to the accurate rag-doll animations; the weight and mass of environmental objects are taken into account as you try to toss them about. Crypto's design is at once terrifying and adorable, a creepy spin on the classic Martian archetype.
Destroy All Humans! also exceeds expectation in its less obvious features – the writing and sound. Schlock is easy to attempt but difficult to master, yet Pandemic is showing a deft touch with the material by way of really smart, really interesting dialogue coupled with tons and tons of actual voices. Roaming around reading minds is astonishingly rewarding, and we've only played with the pre-alpha version.
In a panorama choked with unnecessary sequels and licensed properties, Destroy All Humans! offers the gaming industry a much-needed breath of fresh alien air. Its blend of irreverent, tongue-in-cheek style, multiple gameplay variations and diabolical sense of carnage could lead to one of 2005's top titles. We'll be first in line to welcome our new masters when they touch ground this Spring.
Fore more screenshots, check out our Destroy All Humans! screen and fact page.