Review: Destroy All Humans
Developer: Pandemic Studios
Release Date: 6/21/05
Any fan of science fiction is probably familiar with the hokey old flicks of the 1950’s, filled with terrible plotlines, horrendous acting, and cheesy special effects. A good portion of these films enjoy a cult following, and were even revitalized somewhat due to being featured in shows such as “Mystery Science Theater 3000”. Destroy All Humans is a loving homage to this particular genre, taking some of the best (or worst, as it were) aspects of these films and tossing them together into a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek video game.
Of course, having a great premise does not guarantee that a game is going to be good. The storyline may be one of the most important aspects of a video game, but it can only take you so far. So let’s take a look at whether or not the developers could manage to combine a great idea with great gameplay…
Under normal circumstances, you would start off the game playing a member of the military fighting off the invading alien menace. However, this game is anything but normal. Instead, you take on the role of a member of the invading Furon Empire, Cryptosporidium 137 (or just Crypto). Your predecessor, Crypto 136, happened to stumble across a nuclear test site while on a routine scouting mission on Earth, managing to crash his ship and get captured by the humans in the process.
For all intents and purposes, the human race is of very little interest to the Furons. However, it seems that eons ago the Furons lost their ability to reproduce and instead turned to cloning. Over the course of time the genetic material in their cloning banks has begun to degrade, and now they are in need of a new source. It turns out that back when the Furons still had genitalia they visited Earth and enjoyed the company of the nubile women of the planet. Thus, within every human existing today, there is a tiny strand of pure Furon DNA.
With Orthopox, the resident science expert, acting as your commander, you take off for the planet Earth, armed with the latest technology and your telekinetic abilities, in order to collect large samples of human DNA, prepare the planet for conquest, and hopefully rescue the previous Crypto from the hands of those vile hairless monkeys. Along the way you’ll also have the chance to burn down entire towns, implant subliminal messages, abduct beauty queens, torture livestock, and anally probe everything in sight.
This is definitely one of the more unique storylines that I have come across in quite some time, and the way it is executed is incredibly fun. The game never takes itself too seriously, and the end result will have you bursting out in laughter numerous times. While the game does have its issues, which I’ll discuss below, the story is practically enough for me to suggest a rental to any fan of science fiction.
Story Rating: 8/10
Destroy All Humans is certainly not going to win any awards for Best Graphics this year, but there is still plenty here to enjoy. For the most part the game looks very much like a comic book or cartoon. It doesn’t try to be realistic, and it succeeds because of that.
The character designs and graphics for Crypto are excellent. He may be the stereotypically large-headed and bulbous-eyed extraterrestrial, but his animations and textures are incredibly well done. As he moves around, you’ll see the detail that went into the character. And since you’ll obviously be seeing him on screen at all times, this is a good thing.
Unfortunately the other character models are nowhere near as detailed, with the exception of Orthopox (who doesn’t do much really). There are only a handful of unique character designs for the humans which all suffer from low poly count and average textures. These can be lumped into four different categories… civilian, police, military, or Majestic Agent (the game’s version of “Men In Black”). The only real variety is with the civilian models, in which you’ll run into about a half dozen or so different men and women. Otherwise, all the police look the same, all the military units look the same, and all the Majestic Agents look the same. And here I thought it was the Furons that were supposed to be the clones? This isn’t a huge deal as I understand that you can only have so many different looking people wandering the streets, but a little more variety, and a little more detail, would have been welcome.
The actual level designs all have their own look and feel, and range from rural farms to bustling cities. There are a decent number of unique looking buildings and they are interspersed in such a way so as to not look too repetitive. While running around in grassy areas you’ll also see plenty of foliage which add a real sense of life to the zones.
Unfortunately each of these areas suffer from an excess of sudden pop-ins. Far away structures and people will suddenly appear out of nowhere, and sometimes the draw distances vary greatly within the levels. As you walk, you’ll see one building show up far away, but a few moments later, a closer one will come into view.
On the bright side, graphical effects for the various weapons are a ton of fun to watch, especially the Zap-O-Matic, which, as its name suggests, sends out a bolt of electricity to fry your target. The disintegrator ray is another great one, as when it hits your target you’ll see them burn up until they are just a skeleton and then turn into dust.
Overall the graphics are a mixed bag, with the main characters and graphical effects looking great, but everything else suffering from low texture and poly counts. The odd draw distances and extremely noticeable pop-in also hurt the overall appearance of the game.
Graphics Rating: 6/10
While the graphics are somewhat less than stellar, they really hit the nail on the head with a number of the sound effects.
To start with, the main voice acting in the game is great. I never once got tired of hearing the banter between Crypto and Orthopox (although I am forced to wonder why Crypto sounds like Jack Nicholson… perhaps a nod to “Mars Attacks”). The actors sounded like they were having a ton of fun, and they both have some great lines. Whoever voices the various town mayors also does an excellent job, and sounds almost exactly like Mayor Quimby from “The Simpsons”. The remainder of the voice cast is pretty good, although the random dialog from pedestrians and such tends to get a little old. It sounds like they picked one male and one female voice and just recycled the same lines over and over again. Fortunately, the actual lines they were given seem to very by zone, but in missions where you are forced to read peoples thoughts often they can get a bit tiresome.
The weapon effects also sound great and really help add to the idea that you are using a piece of alien technology. The resulting explosions, incinerations, or splats, as the case may be, really help to add to the overall experience. Using your various mental powers can also produce a number of interesting sounds as you throw around people or cars, read the minds of animals, and implant suggestions in the weak minded.
The game’s music is pure 1950’s nostalgia, complete with a classic sci-fi warbling main score. There isn’t a ton of music, but what is there is good. For the most part while wandering around on foot or in your spaceship you won’t hear much until you get into combat.
On the whole the sound is great, and helps to add to the feel of the game. The repetition of various voices and sound effects can get a bit tiring, especially in some missions, but in the end it isn’t enough to justify turning off your speakers.
Sound Rating: 7/10
4. CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY
Controlling Crypto is fairly simple, and will only take a level or two to master. For the most part, Destroy All Humans plays like a first person shooter with a third person perspective. You run around with the left analog stick while turning and aiming with the right. The various buttons on the controller switch weapons, select mind powers, or jump, while the right trigger fires your weapons and the left trigger activates your mind powers. Once you hop into your space saucer the controls remain pretty much the same, except you only need to worry about moving around and firing your weapons. There are quite a few different things that you can do over the course of the game, but they managed to create a simple and intuitive control scheme that works out perfectly.
My only major complaint with the controls involves using your various mental abilities. When you want to activate them, you need to pull and hold the left trigger. Once you release it, your mental abilities shut off. This mostly causes problems when you are trying to do several things at once, especially when in a major skirmish. I would have preferred hitting the trigger once to activate, and then again to deactivate. Or better yet, have been able to assign mental abilities to the control pad for quick use. I suppose some might consider this a minor quibble, but there were a number of times when it would have really been nice for the mental powers to be easier to use.
As I mentioned above, the game basically plays like a first person shooter while you are running around on the ground. As far as combat is concerned, you have a small handful of different weapons to choose from in addition to a few offensive mental powers. Sadly, the targeting in the game is a serious drawback. Many times, especially with the anal probe, you’ll be firing point blank only to see the blast go straight through the person ineffectively. Most of the weapons that fire a single pulse have this issue, and it is incredibly frustrating, especially when you fire off a full charge and have to wait to do it again.
The single most annoying aspect of the game is when you are sent on a stealth mission, and this is where the repetitive sounds mentioned above really come into play. With your mental powers, you can cause yourself to look like any random person wandering the street. Unfortunately, once you do this you can no long fire a weapon, jump, or do anything other than walk around and use mental abilities. Using mental abilities slowly drains your energy, and once you are out of energy, you have to wait a while for it to recharge. While in the form of a human you can help replenish your energy by scanning the humans around you, at which point you will hear the same voices and the same lines ad naseum. Adding to the frustration, especially in later levels, is the seemingly uncanny ability of the Majestic Agents to break through your illusion and ruin the mission for you. Variety is nice, but I want to destroy the humans! Not play hide and seek with them!
Stealth missions aside, the remainder of the game is dedicated to wanton destruction and DNA collection. DNA collection is mostly for mission goals, however, as you progress through the game Orthopox will research upgrades for you and your ship which you can purchase from him with DNA. DNA collection is incredibly simple, but also somewhat annoying. You can gain it in a few different ways… either by hitting a human with a full anal probe blast (which causes their brain to shoot out of their head immediately; also suffers from major targeting issues), mentally extracting their brains once they are dead (hard to do in later levels while in combat), collecting probes hidden throughout each level (also used for unlocking hidden content), or completing side missions (to be discussed momentarily). For the most there is no reason to collect DNA unless the mission directs you to, or Orthopox has an upgrade ready. At which point the easiest thing to do is go find the easiest and shortest side mission you can and just run it repeatedly until you have all the DNA you need.
Side missions show up once you have completed an area and can be run as many times as you like to collect DNA. Anytime you see a bright yellow beam of light from the sky hitting the ground, you’ll know there is a side mission. The side missions themselves are fairly routine and mostly involve killing X number of humans, collecting X number of brain stems, or visiting X number of locations, all within a certain time limit. Unfortunately there are no incentives for completing these except for the aforementioned DNA, so they really only serve as a distraction from the main storyline.
In addition to running around on foot you can hop into your flying saucer and wreak havoc on the various cities you visit. This isn’t nearly as enjoyable as it sounds though, as there is really no strategy or skill involved. Your ship remains constantly at the same altitude and avoiding rockets or tanks shells is as easy as continually strafing around targets until they have been destroyed. You get a few different weapon options as the game progresses, but for the most part running around on foot is far more entertaining than flying your spaceship.
In the end, Destroy All Humans contains pretty tight controls, but suffers from a lack of innovative gameplay. It’s enjoyable, but there is really no depth or anything that hasn’t been done better elsewhere.
Control and Gameplay Score: 5/10
As I mentioned earlier, there are a number of side missions that you can complete, but the only incentive for doing so is to collect more DNA. And since you can repeat the same mission as much as you like, you can just keep running the same one over and over again until you have however much DNA you need. It’s really a pity that completing all the side missions in a particular area doesn’t unlock anything or give you some sort of prize for your work.
Speaking of prizes though, scattered throughout each area are probes that you can collect. Once you find each one you’ll unlock another option on the main menu. This varies from an art gallery to saucer blueprints to a mini documentary on an aspect of the game. These probes are fairly well hidden in a lot of cases, and will definitely take some time to find for you die hard completionists out there.
Beating the game itself unlocks a movie (more on this in a bit), but doesn’t offer up any extra difficulty levels or other reasons to come back again.
Replayability Score: 3/10
Overall, Destroy All Humans is actually a pretty easy game. Even in the later levels there really aren’t any missions that will drive you up a wall. The stealth missions are frustrating at best, but even these aren’t too bad once you figure out the best way to tackle them.
As with most games, things start off pretty simple and you are given a bit of a tutorial on how to use the controls while harassing a field of cows. As you progress, however, you’ll start encountering missions where you’ll have to take on numerous members of the military and Majestic Agents. But even this isn’t a big deal as the upgrades that Orthopox provide always help give you the edge.
In addition, I’ve found that staying to the rooftops in most places seriously tilts the game in your favor. Police and such that want to kill you tend to run right up to the walls of the house instead of staying at a range, effectively keeping them from firing at you. At this point you can just pick up a nearby car and swing it at them. Missions that involve you taking out large numbers police are made incredibly easy due to this.
Even without that little trick, the game is never overly difficult. The developers seemed more interested in telling an amusing story and having fun than in creating something that was hard to beat. As such, the game is definitely balanced in favor of the player.
Balance Score: 3/10
I don’t know about you, but I can’t name a single game where an anal probe is one of your main weapons. And no, porn games don’t count.
However, the game suffers from a lack of unique gameplay. It’s basically a first person shooter/action game, which is certainly nothing new. And the free roaming aspect presented in each area upon completing your mission is similar to “Grand Theft Auto”, only with a lot less to do. Basically the game takes bits and pieces of several established genres and blends them together, and for the most part does a pretty good job of it.
Destroy All Humans does manage to keep a distinct feel about it due to the heavy influence of 1950’s sci-fi flicks. The last games I’ve played that really capture that spirit were probably “Maniac Mansion” and “Zombies Ate My Neighbors”, neither of which are recent. As such, Destroy All Humans is a pretty unique romp combined with aspects of traditional action games.
Originality Score: 4/10
This game is a ton of fun, and while I am sure that sci-fi fans will get the most enjoyment out of it, there is plenty here for anyone. With its quirky sense of humor, easy control system, and fairly enjoyable gameplay, it’s not hard to get sucked into this one. You’ll want to keep playing just to hear what the next exchange between Crypto and Orthopox is, or to find out what your next kooky ability will be.
The only downside is the lack of unique gameplay. Sure, you can levitate cows or send women screaming in terror with a well placed shot from your anal probe, but in the end you have just another standard action game. Albeit one that will probably keep your glued to your chair.
9. APPEAL FACTOR
This game is going to appeal to anyone who is a fan of sci-fi, and probably to many who are not. The whole idea of being on the other side of an alien invasion is one that hasn’t really been explored before, and turns out to be a blast to play. Additionally, this game has gotten a lot of push lately with various adds and banners on many websites, so I’d imagine there is quite a bit of interest for it.
Appeal Factor Score: 7/10
Remember earlier how I mentioned that beating the game unlocked a movie? Well, it’s not just a small little extra, but the entire 86 minute film “Teenagers from Outer Space” from 1959. That, in and of itself, is worth playing through the game for, especially if you enjoy classic 50’s sci-fi.
There are also a ton of movie clips, interviews, documentaries, and other fun extras that are unlocked as you play or available from the get go. These are all humorous and insightful looks at what went into making this game and the material that it is based off.
Finally, those who pre-ordered the game should also have received a free copy of the 1959 movie “Plan 9 from Outer Space”, which is arguably one of the worst movies ever made. Although I think it falls into the “so bad it’s good” category.
In the end, Destroy All Humans is a pretty average game, but the excellent storyline, voice acting, and tons of extras help to bring it up a few notches.
Miscellaneous Score: 8/10
Appeal Factor: 7
Final Score: 6.0 (Fair)