When the original Destroy All Humans! was released way back in 2005, it was a real breath of fresh air. It was packed full of humour and endless references to pop culture, as well as real world conspiracy theories and political figures. It even featured actual footage from what was, at one stage, regularly named as the worst film of all time – Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space. It was a delight.
Unfortunately, the sequels – set in successive decades from the 1950s backdrop featured in the first game – didn’t really do anything fresh or interesting with the semi-open formula of the original title and the series faded into obscurity after a single title on the Wii and a separate entry on the Xbox 360/PS3. Both were hugely underwhelming. However, there’s still a lot of nostalgia for the original game – which remains a touchstone in terms of the combination of satirical sci-fi subject matter and third world action it provided.
The story concerns Crypto-137, an alien called into action when his genetic forebear, Crypto-136, is captured on remote, backwards planet ‘Earth’ in the 1950s. Tasked with rescuing 136, Crypto-137 is soon drawn into a much larger conspiracy involving the US government, who’ve learned some very valuable scientific lessons from the captured alien technology…
It’s clear from the beginning that the visuals have been updated beautifully. They’re incredibly detailed and colourful; there’s a wonderfully cartoony sheen to the proceedings and the level of detail is really impressive, especially if you’re familiar with the original game. Human characters look plasticky and caricatured, which is an excellently leftfield design choice – and the dialogue, frequently referencing commies and Uncle Sam, is gently amusing as well.
It plays wonderfully in comparison to the original too; there’s an awful lot of gameplay options, as there were in the original, with a nice variety of weaponry – including the infamous anal probe – and some fun stealth options in which you can disguise yourself as any human character in the game. For the first few missions at least, it’s an absolute blast to carry out both open and stealthy destruction, on foot or from the even more destructive flying saucer. Lots of upgrade options are available too, which allow you to customise and improve your loadout to suit your playstyle.
However, there’s a number of problems that stop it from being an unqualified success; most of the issues stem, unfortunately, from the issues that are now apparent (with fifteen years’ worth of hindsight) with the original game’s design.
The aforementioned dialogue snippets don’t take long to become incredibly repetitive and the writing is never as hilarious or outrageous as it seems to think it is. Some of the pop culture references are even more dated now – fifteen years on – than they were when the game first came out (Dr Strangelove, for example, which doesn’t even fit with the era the game’s set in). There’s a number of weird difficulty spikes; you’ll find yourself breezing though some levels and having an absolute nightmare with others, with no proper sense of escalating difficulty until the end – at which point the boss fights become incredibly dull, repetitive and frustratingly unfair battles of attrition.
The levels themselves also fall prey to game design tropes that have long since – thankfully – passed into history, with silly fail states such as invisible level boundaries, letting a target get slightly too far away or unforgiving and illogical time limits applied for no obvious reason. Terrible design such as just throwing waves upon waves of repetitive enemies at you become commonplace in the latter stages too. I do wish that the same upgrade that the visuals – as well as Crypto’s arsenal and general movement – have had was also applied to some of the more archaic design elements of the game.
Talking of Crypto’s arsenal, there’s not much opportunity or incentive to use most of it during the course of the campaign – and issuing commands to hypnotised humans ( aside from just having them follow and defend you) is relegated to specific instances during missions, which is a disappointment.
That said, once you’ve powered up Crypto and unlocked some of the open areas that loosen many of the restrictions you’ll find in the campaign mode, there’s a lot more fun to be had and challenges to overcome. The main issues with the campaign only really start to rear their head towards the latter stages of the 22 mission story anyway, so for the most part you’ll be having an awful lot of fun trying to thwart the US Government’s often clandestine plans. Your nostalgia for the original game may well increase your enjoyment of the experience in any case. I enjoyed most of my time with Destroy All Humans, but I would be much more interested in a fully fledged sequel with more modern design sensibilities, perhaps taking cues from the more open and varied sandbox fun of games such as Just Cause and Crackdown. Hopefully, the remake proves financially successful enough for this to be an option for THQ Nordic.
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