Destroy All Humans!
Initial sightings of Destroy All Humans suggested that it might indeed be that most elusive of gaming phenomena: a genuinely entertaining, highly polished title based on a brand-spanking-new intellectual property. In fact, after some hands-on time with the title at this year's E3, I was relatively convinced that the prophesies of its greatness would be fulfilled.
Is Destroy All Humans truly a force to be reckoned with, or can previous prognoses be chalked up to the prattling declarations of those brainwashed by media conspiracies? Read on, and the truth will be revealed!
Destroy All Humans puts the player in the role of Cryptosporidium (Crypto for short), a member of the extraterrestrial Furon race. Like the aliens from the paranoid science fiction of the cold-war era, the Furons are not a particularly benevolent bunch, and over the course of the game Crypto flattens communities, destroys government installations, and generally lays waste to the American dream. Crypto's antisocial antics, and the game's enthusiastic parody of mid-twentieth century American politics and culture, make for some truly memorable experiences. Unfortunately, some questionable game design choices and minor technical issues significantly detract from the game's appeal.
Destroy All Human's premise is arguably one of its strongest assets. At the outset of the game, we learn that eons of waging nuclear war against inferior species has mutated Furon genes, giving their race powerful psychic abilities. Unfortunately, they're now completely without genitalia, and can only reproduce by cloning. With each successive generation of clones, the quality of Furon DNA continues to decline, resulting in mental instability. As a result, Crypto, now in his 137th iteration, is an angry, unstable little creature.
We learn from the game's initial cutscenes that long ago, Furons of the genital-sporting variety stopped by Earth (after destroying the Martians) and partied with prehistoric humans, thereby commingling their DNA with human genes. Consequently, modern humans each carry a strand of ancient, unadulterated Furon DNA. Furons see this genetic material as the key to restoring their genetic health, and have come to Earth to reclaim it from mankind.
During an initial visit to Earth, Crypto's previous clone (version 136) inadvertently parked his flying saucer atop a nuclear warhead. The results were disastrous, and Crypto 136 and his saucer are now in the hands of Majestic, a shadowy government agency that employs the mysterious men in black. Orthopox (aka "Pox"), a Furon leader, has recloned Crypto aboard the Furon mother ship and dispatched him to earth to obtain both DNA and information about Crytpo 136's whereabouts.
At Pox's direction, Crypto visits a variety of landing zones, each representing a different slice of campy, postwar American life. Initial zones include a sleepy farmland community, with rolling hills and picturesque dwellings; a charming small town complete with a drive-in and country fair; and a sun-drenched, Leave it to Beaver-esque suburban paradise. Each area is seamless and expansive, and although Pox prevents you from wandering beyond the boundaries of each landing zone, there's plenty of room to roam.
Within each zone, Crypto must complete a linear series of missions. Each mission is comprised of a series of similarly linear, story-driven objectives, which include such activities as collecting DNA from human brains, researching government activities, abducting or hypnotizing human leaders, or simply inciting mayhem. Although Crypto must complete his objectives in sequential order, he's free to move about within the landing zones as he sees fit in order to reach his goals. Objectives are displayed on a mini-map in a corner of the screen, and in most cases completing a task simply involves getting to that point and performing some predetermined action.
Once each mission is completed, Crypto is given free reign to explore the landing zone as he sees fit, and a number of DNA-awarding mini-game challenges become available. Sadly, unlike the game's story-driven objectives, the DNA challenges are tedious, uninspired affairs that have Crypto mindlessly collecting objects or visiting nondescript waypoints within a certain time limit.
Crypto spends most of his time on foot (or hopping about with his handy jetpack), where he's controlled from a familiar third-person perspective. When it's really time to tear things apart, though, he takes to the skies in his stylish flying saucer. Piloting the spacecraft is a simple but satisfying arcade-style experience. When Crypto is airborne, the camera follows from a slightly angled, top-down fixed perspective. Although it controls quite nicely and can move horizontally in any direction, the saucer's hovering height is fixed, and unfortunately it can only touch down in a handful of predetermined locations in each landing zone.
Crypto has a variety of psychic abilities at his disposal, including telekenesis, hypnosis, holographic cloaking, and brain extraction. Each ability depletes his concentration reserve, which recharges on its own but can be replenished quickly by reading humans' minds. Extracting the thoughts of unsuspecting humans (and the occasional cow) is one of the game's more amusing features; you'll encounter suburban housewives, for example, who proclaim the sexiness of the word "Tupperware," and disconcerted farmers who worry about their uncomfortable fixations with Rock Hudson. Though you'll hear the same thoughts more than once, they're varied enough that you probably won't mind.
Pox gives a variety of weapons to Crypto as the story progresses, all of which are eventually upgradable provided that you've collected enough DNA for Pox. From the disintegrator ray, which reduces victims to ashy skeletons, to the zap-o-matic, a handheld electrocution device, they're all a joy to use. The same is true of Crypto's saucer weapons, like the sonic boom and the quantum deconstructor, both of which are capable of quickly leveling entire city blocks. Both saucer and handheld weapons require ammunition or must recharge between uses, but ammo drops are plentiful and recharge times are practically instantaneous.
One item in particular deserves special mention: the anal probe. Rather than an invasive mechanical device, the probe is a handheld weapon that fires a stream of an ectoplasm-type substance in the direction of your hapless victims' nether regions. A quick burst with the probe will cause your victims to run away screaming, while clutching their buttocks in fear. Hold the trigger to charge up the device, and your unfortunate specimens will be probed with such violent force that their brains will explode from their craniums. In the early missions it's the most powerful weapon available, thereby encouraging the player to resolve whatever personal issues they may have with such behavior in favor of collecting as many DNA-soaked human brains as possible.
Despite the game's terrific weapons, the combat is fairly dull, run-and-gun shooting and dodging. The AI is adequate, if unsophisticated. There's not a lot of variety to enemy tactics, and you'll probably grow weary of seeing the same rolling and dodging animations over and over again.
Destroy All Humans features a graduated enemy alert/awareness system, similar to the one used in recent GTA titles. At full alert, you'll be overrun with police, military, and Majestic agents. The difficulty level is a little unbalanced, due in part to the tendency of enemies to swarm you if you stay in place for too long. Keep moving, and the game is relatively easy. Hunker down and shoot, and you'll soon be overwhelmed. Crypto has a Halo-esque shield that will automatically recharge if he doesn't take damage for a period of time, so if you're hurting you can usually just duck behind something until your shield is back to full strength.
Crypto's psi powers are of limited utility in combat. His telekenetic abilities are useful for tossing aside vehicles and the occasional enemy, and they really show off the game's great object and ragdoll physics. Still, they're not nearly as effective as the more powerful weapons. Crypto's stealth abilities are also cool, but they can't fool the Majestic men in black that appear everywhere after the first few levels, so sneaking around isn't a viable option for much of the game.
One of Destroy All Humans's greatest faults is its inexplicable lack of an autosave or checkpoint feature between objectives. Though some of the missions aren't particularly challenging, many involve time-limited, stealth, or escort objectives that can easily result in instant mission failure. Even worse, restarting a mission results in the tedious process of returning to the mother ship, reselecting the landing zone, and waiting for it to load again. Mercifully, loading times are brief.
Another of the game's significant problems centers around Crypto's collection of DNA. Though brains are easily extracted from the hapless citizens of the earlier levels, the omnipresent Majestic agents and soldiers of the latter portions of the game are not so easily probed. Because a certain number of DNA points are required to unlock new missions and acquire necessary upgrades, the player is forced to return to earlier landing zones and complete the previously optional mini-games for additional DNA. Slogging through these challenges to collect enough DNA to continue the game really breaks the continuity of the story, and feels like a cheap tactic on the developer's part to extend the game's short length.
Visually, Destroy All Humans is a real treat. While it doesn't employ any groundbreaking graphics technology, its scenes of sterotypical Americana are postcard-perfect, and its human and alien weapons manage to look simultaneously campy and intimidating. Unfortunately, the game exhibits significant draw-distance problems. Pop-up isn't just limited to grasses and other subtle environmental features; occasionally, whole homes or parts of buildings will snap into view as Crypto approaches.
The game doesn't pull many punches with the nature of its material. In fact, it's bold enough to have Crypto assassinate the president, gun down droves of senators, and destroy the nation's capitol. While there's no actual blood in the game, human enemies still die gruesome deaths, and Crypto, despite his endearing grumpiness, is a sadistic, homicidal maniac who delights in invasive probings and interrogations. The fact that none of this content comes off as heavy-handed is a testament to the title's carefully crafted tone.
Destroy All Humans's sense of humor is evident in nearly every aspect of the game's presentation. References to postwar pop culture, politics, and paranoia are everywhere, and though they're not always laugh-out-loud funny, they're consistently entertaining. The frequent discussions between Pox and Crypto, which inevitably end in Crypto's shouting, "Pathetic humans!" or denouncing all things Earthly, are especially enjoyable, provided that you're not put off by the fact that Crypto delivers his lines in a dubious Jack Nicholson imitation.
The well-paced but unremarkable storyline follows Crypto's alien shenanigans as he progresses from small-town USA to the nation's capitol city. It probably clocks in at around 10 to 15 hours, depending on how you play. Even so, it takes a fair amount of dedication to complete, given its aggravating gameplay and graphics issues. The fact that the concluding missions consist primarily of series of especially tedious boss fights (which are thankfully absent in the earlier portions of the game) doesn't help.
It's a shame Destroy All Humans doesn't fully live up to its potential. The brain-snatching, bovine-roasting, havoc-wreaking experiences it offers are truly memorable, and if the game didn't wear out its welcome a few hours in, these moments would qualify it as a bonafide must-have title. As it is, there's certainly enough quality content to recommend it as a rental, but the overall package just isn't cohesive enough to make it worthy of its full retail price.