Destroy All Humans!
I’m sure most of you remember the movie Independence Day. It used to be one of my favorite movies when I was young and had incredibly low cinematic standards. All I needed were explosions and random violence in order to be satisfied. I honestly have no idea where I’m going with this, but I guess I’m somehow trying to connect cheesy sci-fi movies with Destroy All Humans. I obviously failed at that, so I’ll just keep things simple: the latest game inspired by the Grand Theft Auto formula successfully combines pop culture references, B-movies you’ve seen on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and incredibly satisfying amounts of destruction.
The main difference between Destroy All Humans and most sci-fi films is that here the alien is the star. Crypto, a sadistic Furon clone that sounds like Jack Nicholson, is sent to Earth on a mission. More specifically, he is sent to the 1950’s America at the height of the Red Scare. According to Crypto’s superior, Pox, the human DNA contains some Furon DNA that would aid greatly with the quality of their clones. You see, thousands of years ago the Furons stopped on Earth for some sexual relief, inadvertently blessing lowly humans with some of their DNA. Now Crypto has to harvest some genetic material and survive against a shadowy organization known as Majestic all while destroying everything around him. It should be easy for such a vicious alien.
The similarities to GTA are obvious while playing Destroy All Humans. The massive areas (which are accessed from a “world map” of sorts), ranging from a farm town to Washington DC, beg to be explored. There are also plenty of not-so-smart people walking around, accident prone vehicles and even hidden items that can be collected. The most striking similarity is the use of an “alert level” system. The more pandemonium you cause the more advanced the enemy forces become. However, the rest of the gameplay is worlds apart from GTA.
Crypto comes equipped with a few telepathic powers. He has a HoloBob that disguises himself as any human in his line of vision. Not only is this a great way to run around undetected, but impersonating important people is sometimes required to help take down mankind. Mind reading is a great way to refill your psychic power bar and also to find out what those silly humans are thinking of. These powers are tame compared to the incredibly entertaining psychokinesis. People can be picked up and slammed into the ground, cows can be tossed into the air, and eventually even tanks will be at your mercy. To make things even more amusing you can use psychokinesis while disguised with your HoloBob and the authorities are none the wiser. The controls are intuitively laid out so using any of the telepathic powers is easily executed.
As entertaining and handy as telepathy is, the actual weapons are nearly just as satisifying. There’s an anal probe which makes harvesting brains relatively easy, but that weapon is nowhere near as awesome as the Disintegrator Ray. It’s basically a machine gun except that it vaporizes human flesh and turns the target into a skeleton. Aiming can occasionally be a little difficult with no lock-on system like in GTA. Sometimes you think you’re hitting a person but you’re only shooting an object in front of you, but at least a health bar appears when you’re hitting someone. There is also only four weapons altogether, but each one has been designed to be used in certain situations so each one useful in its own way.
Crypto himself is fairly agile with his useful jetpack, but no one can catch him when he is in his flying saucer. It handles like a dream, and the powerful weapons it comes with are also a delight. Making things even better is that every single building can be blown up. Although when you leave an area and come back the buildings also return, the satisfying explosions make things worthwhile. Initially it’s a bit jarring not being able to adjust your altitude, but once you get used to that the flying saucer becomes one of the most exciting parts of the game.
The gameplay mechanics of Destroy All Humans are strong, but what really matters is how it all comes together in the many story-based missions. Fortunately things work out well here. The missions are sometimes short with very simple objectives, such as killing all congressmen trying to enter the capitol or causing X amount of damage. However, most of the missions are much more complex than that. They usually involve sneaking into an area under disguise or getting to a certain point, and then getting in some intense firefights with some other objectives thrown into the mix as the mission progresses.
The best part is that many of the missions involve some actual strategy. Simply running in with your telepathy flared up and guns blazing will get you nowhere. You have to use your surroundings to your advantage and decide which powers and weapons are best for the job. As well-designed as most of the missions are, they’re still not exactly perfect. Some of the missions can be long and there are no chances to save in-between. Having to redo the same lengthy mission for the fourth time is far from fun, but fortunately most of the levels aren’t too challenging.
Many of the stealthier stages require the alertness level to not go above a certain point. While restraining your violent urges is nice once in a while, the missions are at their best when the alertness level skyrockets. First, the cops come in to try to fix things, and then the army comes in with tanks and soldiers. If that isn’t enough to bring you down, the Majestic come to play. With supernatural powers and the ability to make you lose your HoloBob disguise, these agents certainly raise the level of tension. With so much action going on it’s possible to become disoriented, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. With so much destruction at your fingertips it’s hard not to have a good time.
Aside from the story missions there are still a fair amount of things to do. Each area has a few simplistic missions such as killing X amount of people or beating the clock in a race. It’s not terribly entertaining, but it’s not a bad distraction either. Plus, completing these stages nets you with precious DNA that can be used to move onto the next story mission or to upgrade your powers.
Perhaps the best part of Destroy All Humans is the sense of humor. There are references ranging from Marlon Brando to Half-Life and even a joke about George Bush’s military record. The insults to humans are particularly funny, and the writing is simply excellent. One stage has you impersonating a mayor and delivering a speech about the recent alien attacks. You’re given some hilarious options, such as blaming Communism and accusing the other towns that aren’t being attacked as being un-American. Not many games have actually made me laugh out loud, but this one did on a few occasions.
The graphics are more than adequate thank to the large, detailed environments and the refreshing retro-50’s style. Vintage cars, poodle skirts and drive-ins are just a few of things you’ll see. Each one of the areas looks and feels totally distinct, whether it’s Area 42 or the sunny suburbs. The Havok physics are especially satisfying when you’re slamming a hapless person into the ground multiple times. The only problem is that there can be a fair amount of pop-up which makes some of the flying saucer segments more difficult than they should be.
At least the audio presentation is top-notch. There’s heaps of voice acting and nearly all of it is exceptional. Some of you may recognize the voice of Crypto’s superior, Pox, from Invader Zim. His mission updates are amusing, and the rest of voice actor’s also do a great job at being funny. The solid music pays homage to the spooky sci-fi music of the old B-movies, but it also does a great job of matching up with the on-screen action.
There’s a lot of good things going for Destroy All Humans but the biggest problem is how short it is. The whole thing can be beaten in less than ten hours. Sure, you can spend more hours trying to get 100%, but the rewards aren’t really worth it. However, the features that unlock automatically as you progress through the story missions are rather good. There are some trailers, a making-of video, and an entire feature length movie. Granted, the movie is the truly awful Teenagers from Outer Space and there’s no chapter selection, but having such a cheesy sci-fi flick is a great addition to the overall package.
Even with some great unlockable goodies, the shortness of Destroy All Humans is its biggest fault. The sheer amount of destruction is satisfying and the sense of humor is refreshing, but the short length and lack of saves during lengthy missions are what makes this potentially great game merely a good one. Even so, it’s still hard to resist the Destroy All Humans’ charm.