Chris Leigh
28 Jul, 2005

Destroy All Humans! Review

PS2 Review | A missed opportunity of extra-terrestial proportions.
Aliens eh? For so long, they've been plonked in front of gamers, waiting to be shot from the skies. From Space Invaders to Halo, extra-terrestial beings have littered our screens for over two decades now, the target for our digitised reticules. It's just one of the reasons that the Australian-developed Destroy All Humans! feels so, well, refreshing and original. Because for once, we're in their shoes, playing the role of the almond-eyed, grey-skinned ones, zapping the pathetic humans rather than vice-versa. It makes more of a difference than you might think to begin with, but sadly the novelty swiftly fades as the experience quickly becomes a little too familiar for it's own good.

Which is a shame, because it all starts so well. Straight from the gun, Destroy All Humans! makes an impression. It's humour is quick and knowing, and from the first cut-scene - a quick-witted repartee between Furon Mothership commander Pox and hero Crypto - you get the feeling that you've just sat down in front of a title bulging with potential. But scratch the slickly presented surface of Pandemic Studio's game, and a depressing realisation sinks in: that despite the clever humour, top-class voice-acting, and admirable scripting, Destroy All Humans! is, like an increasing number of games nowadays, brought to you by the letters 'G', 'T' and 'A'.

Of course, it's a common problem that's intensified ever since Rockstar's franchise first started making megabucks. Like so many desperate, bit-part actors, games have been queuing up since, gagging for a slice of the Grand Theft Auto pie. Jak & Daxter was one of the most enjoyable, purest platformers of it's generation, only for Naughty Dog to take an envious look at the Rockstar bank balance and then try and copy the GTA formula in the sequel to Jak by installing a huge 'living, breathing city', one where navigating through the identical buildings and pedestrians quickly became tiresome. And whereas Tony Hawk used to grind and flip his way about well-designed, compact skate parks, there's now a veritable metropolis to 'be street' in. But slapping a big, go-anywhere virtual sandbox map into your game rarely works well (except in Rockstar's GTA games, where it works magnificently), and that's a lesson that Pandemic has obviously yet to digest. Still, more of that later.

For now, we'd like to give some kudos to Pandemic. After all the moaning PALGN does about half-arsed narratives, weak characterisation and drab acting in videogames, it's only fair to say that Destroy All Humans! boasts some of the best scripting, voice-acting and characters we've seen in many an Earth year. Set in 1950s American suburbia, the game amusingly satirises the Cold War/fear of aliens paranoia that had gripped America at the time and does it well, with numerous gentle nods to 1950s sci-fi along the way.

A cow. About to be chucked to the other side of the map.

A cow. About to be chucked to the other side of the map.
Players take up the role of Furon warrior-cum-explorer Cryptosporidium 137 (or 'Crypto' as he's known throughout the game), sent to Earth in a bid to retrieve as much human DNA as possible. See, the Furon race back home are faced with something of a predicament: their stocks of DNA are running low, and no DNA means no cloning future generations, which in turn means no Furon race. Admittedly, the curious absence of Furon genitalia is never touched upon, but perhaps that's for the best. Conveniently however, it's been discovered that Furon DNA is also to be found embedded in the human genome. Which can mean only one thing: it's time to extract some human brains.

To do this, Crypto is blessed with some extra-terrestial gifts, including the likes of telekinesis, mind control, the ability to read thoughts and holographic identity theft. These attributes provide some laugh-out loud moments from the very start, when Furon's UFO settles down in the middle of Turnip Seed Farm, amidst a herd of cows. Whether it's using Crypto's mind-reading abilities on cows ('Mooooooo!!' is the most profound thought you'll get from them) or flexing your telekinetic muscles by suspending a cow in mid-air then flinging the hapless kicking and mooing bovine far into the landscape, you'll find it difficult not to at least crack a smile during the opening hour of play.

Typically, it's not long before you draw the unwanted attention of the knuckle-dragging yokels (who possess some of the best lines in the game) that inhabit the farm, who come at you wielding pitchforks and shotguns, and it's here that you'll get to try out your weapons for the first time. The Zap-O-Matic is the default weapon in the game, a nasty piece of work that releases bolts of electricity guaranteed to quickly fry human flesh. It's rather underwhelming however, and is typical of the weapon design throughout the title, in that it falls back all too easily on science-fiction clichés. We can fully appreciate that parodying science-fiction is one of the game's strongest attributes, but this rigid adherence to satirising sci-fi also means that things come across as a little samey: there are not enough wonderful, new alien gadgets there to slot alongside the clichés. The result is an unvaried arsenal based on tazers, grenade launchers and lasers, and it's one of the game's most fundamental crimes.

We also have some beef with the combat system. Plenty of games have mastered third-person combat during this generation of consoles, but it saddens us to say that Destroy All Humans! isn't one of them. Frankly, it all feels a little hackneyed: point Crypto in one direction, fire weapon, point Crypto, fire, point, fire, point, fire. Eyes...glazing...over. The targets of your alien weaponry hardly help matters, running towards you in the manner of headless chickens. But then there's the problem with brain extraction. Taking a human down is one thing, but then Crypto is given a limited amount of time to extract the brain from each victim, thus increasing the DNA stock that they need back on Furon (incidentally, DNA also allows you to upgrade your weapons). Herein lies the problem, with each brain extraction eating up a few seconds of your time, during which Crypto is vulnerable to attacks from other humans. Getting hit and being unable to counter these attacks is hugely infuriating, and many of PALGN's deaths in the game could be attributed to this design flaw. Which, y'know, isn't very fair Pandemic.

As engaging as they may look in screenshots, the UFO sections are actually painfully underwhelming.

As engaging as they may look in screenshots, the UFO sections are actually painfully underwhelming.
Then there's the rather bland UFO sections. See, in what we can only presume is a bid to be a bit like that Grand Theft Auto game that everyone seems to like (see: second and third paragraph), Crypto can run to his craft and take to the skies, obliterating humans, vehicles and buildings as he sees fit with his Death Ray. Regrettably, things aren't necessarily any more exciting here either, with these sections often turning out to be far too easy and - as much as it pains us to say it - a bit dull. This kind of vehicular combat has been done before, and it's been done far, far better. In Rockstar's game for one.

The design of many missions is equally braindead, particularly the side-missions that pop up throughout the game and that give the player the chance to earn some more DNA. Being asked to merely run from one pink marker on the map to another against only the clock is hardly the most engaging thing we've done all summer. Whilst the locations may be impressively large in parts (though not quite of GTA proportions), being asked to run across them isn't exactly fun. These kind of things worked in GTA's maps of course, largely because whilst you were running/driving to different parts of the map in order to complete missions, you were being shot at, crashed into and generally held up by police, rival gang members and other troublesome obstacles. There, it gave each mission an element of risk. Here, you just run. With no obstacles in your way whatsoever. Yawn.

Even when the missions do throw up the odd, interesting situation, the execution more often than not lets the side down. This is most notable in the 'stealth' portions of the game, where Crypto gets to assume the identity of human beings in the game, thus slipping through crowds with minimal fuss. It's a nice idea on the surface, but here's the snag: stealing the identity of a human eats away at your 'concentration bar' (to be found in the top left corner of the screen), which can only be topped up by scanning the thoughts of other humans. Yet because the accursed concentration bar is constantly reducing too quickly, there's never any time left to sneakily extract the odd brain, and being stealthy becomes a matter of repeatedly scanning thoughts in order to maintain your stolen identity. Worse still, weapons can't be used whilst you're incognito, so shedding your disguise and blasting away is by far the better option. Which renders the stealth sections - which could have been great fun - pointless. Grrr.

All of which explains the sad, sinking feeling in our stomachs right now. Because although this is a game that boasts an array of deft comic touches, smart soundbites and visuals that are easily solid and above-par by current-gen standards, a lot of the core gameplay mechanics mar the overall package. It's a shame this had to happen to a game which has evidently had so much creativity and attention poured into it. We can only hope there'll be a sequel that mends the flaws, because the potential here is all too evident.
The Score
Great concept; shame about the execution. Here's hoping THQ is willing to fund a sequel to iron out the flaws. It's the least that Pandemic deserves. 5
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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8 years ago

i was looking forwards to this title for so long... it's sounded so great in concept icon_sad.gif
8 years ago
Damn indeed.

I still think this might be worth a rental at least. I had the demo on the PS2, and it was pretty good. I never thought flinging cows into the strathosphere could be so much fun and hilarious! Actually, I kind of did... As for the extras, the complete movies Ed Wood's "Plan 9 from out of space" a.k.a the worst film of all time and "Teenagers from out of space" plus a whole bunch of other stuff, could make this a worthy purchase.

And the voice of Orthopox is the guy that does Invader Zim's voice, which was great to hear again.
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