Sinister Reviews #10: Destroy All Humans!

#10: Destroy All Humans! (PS2)
Genre: Action-Adventure, Sandbox
Platform: PS2 (version tested), Xbox
Release Date: June 2005
Developer: Pandemic
Publisher: THQ

If Edward D. Wood Jr. could have made video games, he’d have produced Destroy All Humans!; heck, there’s even a trailer for Plan 9 from Outer Space included in the game’s bonus feautres. An homage to old, Fifties B-movies like Plan 9Day of the Triffids and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the game focuses on the plight of Orthopox and Cryptosporidium from the planet Furon: two extra-galactic creatures with a lone flying saucer, charged with invading Earth and placing humanity under the iron fist of the Furon Empire. Like its B-movie counterparts, Destroy All Humans! is highly-entertaining with some cheesy action and even cheesier comedy, but ultimately won’t bring home the silverware.

The action revolves around Cryptosporidium-137 (hereafter Crypto) in an errand to discover the whereabouts of the previous Furon scouting mission that was shot down near Area 42; containing his predecessor, Crytosporidium-136, who was eventually captured by the secret governmental department, known as Majestic. Everything plays as a relatively standard mission-based sandbox shooter while the action doesn’t revolve around the Furons’ flying saucer, with Crypto traversing terra firma armed with a variety of extra-terrestrial weapons and equipped with a short-burst jetpack to explore the lower altitudes. Orthopox acts as the elder general leading the invasion from the comfort of his officer’s chair in the saurcer, dishing out not only Crypto’s orders as and when required, but also weapon and saucer upgrades in return for DNA extracted from primitive Earthlings. The Majestic act as the primary antagonists, hell-bent on quelling the perceved invasions of both Extra-Terrestrials and Communists alike, and attempting to maintain a vice-like control on the human populace themselves; meanwhile, Orthopox and Crypto have ideas of their own, attempting to bring Earth and her populace under the yoke of the Furon empire. The plot, such that it is, is serviceable enough, but too often feels like each mission is a standalone one that Pandemic have gone great strides towards tying to a single, ongoing storyline; the main problem being that it doesn’t quite satisfy. Look past the rough narrative and take each mission on its own merit, however, and there’s plenty to enjoy.

Things kick off in the rural and suburban locales of Turnipseed Farm and Rockwell town: telekinetically levitating cows, electrocuting slack-jawed farmers with the Zap-o-matic gun and incinerating drive-thrue movie theatres, and it engages from the off. The game’s broken up into twenty-odd missions, each ending with a B-movie -style newspaper headline explaining away the mysterious alien activity; usually blaming events on Communism, which does a nice job of keeping up the 1950s setting. The main story doesn’t put up a huge challenge (expect to get a good twenty hours’ play, though), and the majority of mission failures experienced may be blamed on unclear or poorly-defined objectives. Still, the girl’s got legs, and the first half rattles through like nobody’s business as you visit the first of six open-world levels, eventually leading to Capitol City and the seat of government itself. The latter quarter begins to get sluggish as the learning curve suddenly ramps up and through tanks, artillery and giant robots, sends bullet hell your way: One high point is charging around Area 42 looking for the crash site of predecessor Cryptosporidium-136 and scooping up Furon technology that mustn’t fall into human hands – it’s a glorified rescue/escort mission, but flying around around military bases crawling  with military, Majestic and minefields whilst simultaneously ionising everything in sight has a certain charm. In the context of the Furons’ increased brain capacity, the Holobob ability lets Crypto replicate the form of a civilian and leads to some keen-but-frustrating stealth-based missions, while telekinetic prowess permits picking up of people and objects in the area to throw around and destrust. The psychic abilties are criminally underused, though, and suffer from under-nourished missions – as it turns out, guns are just more fun.

The writing is punchy throughout and filled with plenty of comedy; both subtle- and not-so-subtle digs at B-movies and conspiracy theories alike. The story is supported by some excellent voice acting including the talents of Richard Steven Horvitz (the voice of Invader Zim) as Orthopox, and J. Grant Albrecht doing his best Jack Nicholson impression while playing Cryptosporidium. The visuals are pretty enough for a mid-term PS2 title, and an admiral layer of polish has been applied all round to maintain the well-rounded constitution. The main controls are solid, and the run-and-gun action is rarely hampered by camera troubles, leaving the path clear to electrocute, laser, grenade and telekinetically destroy pretty much everything in your path.

Fancy a break from the main action? Well, never fear, because there’s a bunch of side-missions which closely resemble Grand Theft Auto‘s familiar ‘rampage’ missions, albeit within a frustratingly narrow spectrum: ‘Destroy x houses’, ‘Collect y brain stems’ and ‘Get from here to here in the shortest time’. Collection of Furon Probes scattered around levels and completion of the side-missions provide human DNA (also available by extracting from Earth’s inhabitants) which may be spent on upgrades, but you’ll largely have armfuls of DNA that you’re patiently waiting for Pox to hand out each new upgrade rather than having to save up for the dream blaster. Frustratingly, there’re no armour/health/jetpack enhancements to collect: Particularly in the later levels, caution is required at all times as a single artillery shells or hit from Majestic weapon can reduce health considerable, making a secondary shot that sends you all the way back to the Hangar screen to start the mission again all the more likely; thank heavens for rechargable shields, then.  Crypto can also jump in the saucer at pretty much any time to rain death from the skies as well as the ground, but the operation is disappointingly one-dimensional: largely confined to razing towns, and with a limited selection of armaments which do little to mix things up.

Destroy All Humans! wants to be Grand Theft Auto so much it hurts: Take the sandbox setting; the big, glowing mission markers; the wanted levels; the copious destruction. Still, you can do worse  than to be inspired by the best, and while it doesn’t re-write the genre, it at least adds a novel, sci-fi/conspiracy spin on the usual dope-running, gangster-whacking action that the genre rarely wanders far from. Altogether, Destroy All Humans! is a fun, light-hearted title that’ll put up a decent fight for a reasonable time, providing plenty of enjoyment while it’s happening and delivering a commendable level of satisfaction once it’s completed. It may not be out of this world, but neither does it crash and burn. [7]

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2 thoughts on “Sinister Reviews #10: Destroy All Humans!

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