For ages we have questioned the existence of intelligent life in the universe. If anything is out there, we want to know what it is and why it’s so preoccupied with exploring our anuses. An old-fashioned physical would probably work just as well, you know.
THQ and Pandemic have attempted to answer our extraterrestrial queries by offering Destroy All Humans! as proof that yes, there is life out there, and yes, it wants to probe our privates and harvest our brains. Now if they’d be so kind as to explain why they marred such a clever and stylish concept with such uninspired gameplay, we’d phone home and call it a day.
Destroy All Humans! is set in an alternate version of the 1950s, an era rife with clean living, repressed homosexuality and Communist paranoia. You play as Cryptosporidium 137, the latest in a long line of Furon clones. It seems your race is in deep trouble due to the fact that a.) you’ve overcloned so extensively that you’ve weakened the race, and b.) you can’t make strong little Furons since you have no genitalia. Sticky pickle, so to speak. Lucky for you and your encephalitic kin, it turns out that Earthlings contain a smidgen of DNA in their brain stems thanks to a romantic rendezvous with the Furons eons ago. Coincidentally, your brother Cryptosporidium 136 crash-landed on the planet and has been captured by its inhabitants. So under the guidance of Pox, a Furon bigwig, you make your way to our little blue rock and proceed to pretty much torch the hell out of it.
Though the plot itself doesn’t move around much, campy B-movie humor pervades nearly every inch of Destroy All Humans! and gives the game its unique feel and flavor. Taking cues from cheesy alien invasion films like Plan 9 From Outer Space, the world is equal parts Stepford and Pleasantville. Civilians react in confused horror upon sighting your enlarged skull and bug eyes, mistakenly branding you a Martian (to which you take great offense), while a nefarious group of black suits called Majestic labels you nothing more than just another Commie threat. The cops are Irish and the hicks wear overalls. Everyone likes Ike, everyone hates change, and everyone seems convinced that things will work out just fine despite being slowly eradicated by you. It’s a wonderful setting in which to enact wanton destruction.
And destroy you will. Using a combination of weapons, psychic abilities and your trusty UFO, you’ve got plenty of ways to kill pesky humans and extract their delicious DNA, the game’s currency. By far the most useful psychic ability is telekinesis, which allows you to toss objects around like ragdolls. Other abilities, like reading people’s thoughts (resulting in the game’s best lines) and hypnotizing them, are mostly used for specific purposes during missions.
Perhaps due to a sudden attack of good taste on the part of Pandemic, the lovely Anal Probe doesn’t work the way it should, instead just making victims run a few steps before collapsing as their brain stem pops out. Talk about sticking your head up your ass. Thankfully, the three other weapons offer colorful if slightly too lethal ways to kill things, and it all controls smoothly.
Then there’s your UFO, which you can hop into at any time to blow stuff up. While it looks and feels cool, there’s not much of a point since you can’t pick up or extract DNA while hovering around. Blowing up buildings while fighting off tanks and anti-air defenses is fun at first, but never evolves into anything more than that. No boss fights, nothing. Plus, you can only land your UFO in specific “landing spots” on each level. So much for higher intelligence.
But generally speaking, the carnage is enjoyable. Zipping around with your jetpack while dusting hairless monkeys with your Disintegrator or just tossing cows through the air with your mind makes for a pretty lively alien sandbox. It’s just a shame that the game doesn’t frame this premise well, constricting the experience in a hackneyed, tepid campaign.
The game features a linear single-player story spanning several large locales that run the gamut from a farm to a big city. But since you’re completing the same tasks everywhere you go, none of the environments feel as distinct as they should. The main missions require you to wipe out humans left and right during and after various bits of alien tomfoolery. Light stealth mechanics help in this regard as you can take the form of anyone you see (called “Holo-bobbing”), which drains your psychic power but allows you to pass by most people without incident. Majestic men, on the other hand, will sense your disguise in a second, triggering an end to your charade. Unfortunately, there’s no radar system in place to figure out how close is too close, often resulting in your being spotted without knowing why or how. You also can’t jump or use any weapons while Holo-bobbed. Not so fun.
The action fares better, but none of it is very involving. You kill people, you extract their DNA, and you move on to the next mission. You can upgrade your abilities a bit, but these become available in strict sequence, playing less like actual upgrades and more like required purchases. There’s little consequence to your actions beyond increased enemies, and you can quickly lose the heat by finding a cozy corner. The A.I. is pretty bad; enemies will follow you for a few steps but never persist, and other than an infrequently exhibited side-roll maneuver, no one dodges anything.
In a half-hearted effort to add variety, each level contains a few side missions, routinely boring fare like incongruous checkpoint races and timed variations on killing people, all for extra DNA. You never really need it, though, and if you do, you can just mine one easy side mission over and over again for extra cash because they never disappear.
It all looks good, at least, and the PS2 and Xbox versions look roughly the same. The game uses the Havoc physics system well, giving appropriate weight and gravity to the people, objects and vehicles you toss about. Hurl a couple cars into each other enough times and they explode in a glorious fireball with nary a framerate hiccup. While it’s evident that more time was spent detailing Crypto than the fairly basic human models, that’s no biggie. The limited draw distance is, however, and only serves to further highlight the game’s restricting nature.
Most of the sound is terrific, with a top-notch eerie soundtrack and really strong voice-acting all over the place. Except, that is, in Crypto, who intentionally has been made to sound like Jack Nicholson. The voice doesn’t match the beast and comes off as a weird, failed stab at humor, an oddity considering how well the rest of the game fares in that department.
I also take issue with the erratic difficulty level. The first half of the game is a total cakewalk, but the second half is riddled with frustrating missions that inexplicably cannot be saved in mid-stream. The game is also pretty short, clocking in at around eight hours.
If you’ve got that kind of time for an alien fix, you might go with a marathon of E.T., Close Encounters and Killer Klowns From Outer Space rather than watch your high hopes slowly disintegrate with Destroy All Humans. While there’s some good stuff here, its sense of humor and playful vision doesn’t extend to its repetitive gameplay. Must be another Commie conspiracy.