I’m a massive fan of classic 1950s monster and sci-fi movies. Paranoia abounded in the American B-movie cinema of the 50s – reflecting the post-war, Communism-obsessed times. In the midst of this, stories of alien abductions seemed to be at an all-time high; the supposed UFO crash at Roswell, New Mexico – and the alleged cover-up that followed – coupled with the idea that alien lifeforms were being kept, alive and dead, at the Area 51 military base nearby, fuelled this interest in extra-terrestrial life and the notion that we are not alone in the universe.
Though the special effects technology of the time wasn’t at a level that allowed these situations to be depicted in movies clearly and explicitly without looking silly, many film makers resorted to shadowy half glimpses of alien creatures, which was often much more effective in selling the otherworldly menaces.
Destroy All Humans, originally released in 2005 for PS2 and XBox, took that 1950s paranoia/alien aesthetic and ran with it, the aliens being front and centre (no shadowy, budget-related half-glimpses here) in a glorious sandbox that saw you take control of a diminutive ‘grey’ (the most recognisable of the classic, clichéd alien ‘types’) causing havoc on Earth in the middle of the 20th century. It was hilarious fun, with your character able to use anal probes (which never gets old, somewhat worryingly) on the terrified human populace, harvesting their DNA in the process. Your character – Crypto – can holographically disguise himself as a human, as well as use his flying saucer to cause chaos and throw around massive objects, using a satisfyingly implemented physics engine. The game also acted as a neat satire of 1950s values and views, with some great writing throughout.
A sequel followed in late 2006, with the game set at the end of the 60s. With a more globe-trotting feel than the US-based original, James Bond and the swinging 60s in general were a big target of the satire this time around – though there are other locations such as Japan and even the Moon. With a bodysnatching ability allowing you to take control of NPCs and a number of new weapons available, Destroy All Humans 2 was a great addition to the series.
Which brings us to the third game, a Wii exclusive – set in the 1970s – which drops the number sequencing and adds a seriously innuendo-laden subtitle: Big Willy Unleashed. It’s a bit of a disappointment following the first two games, unfortunately – it definitely feels like a step back in a number of ways.
Being on the Wii, there’s the dread spectre of ‘exclusive’ controls, which means unresponsive and inconsistent motion controls have been applied (which is the downfall of so many Wii games that would be perfectly decent without them). It makes the game a lot more challenging than it should be – and not in a good way. The quality of the visuals is poor, too – blurry in many areas, with some dreadful pop-up of objects and characters occurring; not to mention the awful frame rate.
As the game is set in the 70s, the references are era appropriate but unlikely to be understood by many players (I’m old enough to get them, which I guess I should either be thankful for or depressed by) – especially the heavy usage of a character parodying kidnapped, Stockholm Syndrome-afflicted heiress Patty Hearst (here called ‘Patty Wurst’ – single-handedly demonstrating that the quality of the writing dropped drastically between instalments, if the title hadn’t already done so).
The blatant innuendo of the title is repeatedly hammered home in the game’s dialogue and in the usage of the eponymous fast food mascot, Big Willy (a parody of the ‘Big Boy Burger’ US fast food chain), which – in addition to using your flying saucer – you’ll also get to control.
It’s in the usage of the vehicles that the controls become particularly unwieldy, though it’s an early on-foot mission relying on rudimentary stealth via bodysnatching that’s likely to have you hurling your Wii remote and nunchuck at the TV in frustration; here, the remote pointer-based bodysnatching becomes a far too inaccurate and punishing mechanic, which leads to repeat failure that feels completely unfair. The other element that leads to this failure is accidentally walking into random cars, which the too-close, not very well behaved camera (relying too much on IR pointing, which can be near-impossible to utilise properly at speed and under pressure) can cause you to do at frequent points – and this leads to the mission needing to be restarted in many cases. It wouldn’t be so bad to repeat the mission several times – except for the fact that the exact same, unskippable dialogue snippets occur in game at each point you reach in the mission – and this soon becomes beyond tedious. With no mid-mission checkpoints either, you’ll either give up or be driven near-insane by the time you’ve completed this specific mission.
That’s just one example, however. Though a few other missions throughout the course of the game do have similar issues, thankfully there’s often more than one choice of mission that can be tackled at any given time and many are a lot more straightforward and satisfying to play. Causing destruction on a massive scale in the Big Willy (I can’t believe I’ve written that sentence!) is a great way to relieve the frustration in any case.
Though Big Willy Unleashed is a bit of a mess from a technical standpoint and the controls do frustrate, I did still have fun with it. The puns get old incredibly quickly, but there’s still satisfaction to be had in wandering around and causing chaos with the weapons and vehicles at your disposal; the flying saucer and Big Willy are fun to use if you can get around the awkward controls – giving you ample opportunity to destroy buildings and throw around objects. There’s a nice variety in the stages you’ll be let loose on, too.
Due to the issues I encountered, I can’t unreservedly recommend Destroy All Humans: Big Willy Unleashed, but – as another of those Wii games that can be purchased very cheaply right now – there’s still enough here, especially for fans of the series, to justify spending at most a few quid on it.
The original game is being remade by THQ Nordic and is due out next year for PS4, Xbox One and PC. It made a brief appearance in a video from Nintendo, so it’s safe to say that it’ll be coming out on the Switch too. Though Big Willy Unleashed is – to put it mildly – very rough around the edges (and not just the edges, either!), it has at least given me the desire to revisit the first game; I’ll definitely be picking up the remake as soon as it’s available.
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