July 27, 2020
When gazing out towards the stars, one can only wonder what life dwells beyond the reaches of our galaxy. Could it be something as hostile and dangerous as Destroy All Humans! protagonist Cryptosporidium-137, an alien clone with a perfect grasp of the English language and a voice like a gruffer-than-usual Jack Nicholson, and his master, Pox? Or perhaps a more benevolent extra-terrestrial lifeform, like E.T., an alien whose sole motivation was merely to go back to whence he came?
Regardless, it's the destructive War of the Worlds-style alien that proves the more enticing when it comes to a video game subject (the landfill of E.T. Atari games amply illustrated that), as Crypto's quest to exact revenge upon planet Earth crackled with potential to wreak pure and unbridled havoc. And yet, Star Wars Battlefront and Mercenaries studio Pandemic never quite managed to fulfil the high-concept promise of a game with a title like 'Destroy All Humans!', wanton destruction held back in favour of stealth missions, escort missions, and every other kind of loathsome objective that has since become synonymous with abject misery.
The main issue with the Destroy All Humans remake, then, is that the 2005 original wasn't particularly brilliant to begin with. It never quite managed to deliver on its premise, and, while there's been a clear, commendable effort to make a number of adjustments to suit more modern tastes in this remake, hoary old design quirks and things that we thought had been left in the past persist – even if blowing shit up and liberating brains from popping human skulls seldom grows old.
As the tip of the Furon Empire's big spear, Crypto-137 comes to Earth packing a Zap-O-Matic electro weapon that can fry humans with arcing tendrils of electricity; while the Disintegration Ray is self-explanatory, cooking people's skin to leave a white-hot skeleton behind before it dissolves to ash. Later, you'll acquire the Anal Probe, a largely useless weapon that seemingly exists only for comedy value; and the Ion Detonator, an explosive ball of energy ideally suited to blowing up enemy vehicles, like tanks and mechs. Using psychokinetic powers, you can throw objects (like irradiated cows) around, and beat a hasty retreat with Crypto's powerful jetpack or a quick dash (that can be upgraded into a full-blown skating ability).
The act of actually destroying all humans and blasting buildings to smithereens with your UFO's glowing hot death ray is enormous fun, which is why it's a shame that many of the game's missions involve a disproportionate number of instant failure stealth objectives. Using Crypto-137's ability to adopt the guise of any human, with his Holobob gadget, you'll infiltrate military bases, read the minds of scientists, break into labs, and wreak havoc, but it's all very prescribed and not particularly exciting.
It always struck me as odd that Destroy All Humans! wasn't a purely open-world affair (like its sequel was), instead unfolding as a series of self-contained missions. In fairness, developer Black Forest Games' remake enables you to return to areas you've unlocked and explore them at your leisure, zapping people, vehicles, and buildings alike with impunity, watching the devastation spread in a festival of charred earth, flaming towers, and melted faces. There's something wonderfully cathartic about bringing a small town to its knees, sending folks scattering, witnessing houses burning down, and sowing general chaos from the comfort of a deadly alien spaceship.
Despite some minor performance issues, including a somewhat choppy frame-rate when things get a bit busy, the new art style injects bright, cartoon colour into Crypto's madcap conquest, doing away with the drab, muted palette of the original – missions like the fun fair look far more vivid and suitably gaudy than they originally did. What's not quite as appealing are the grotesque human character models – oddball plastic ventriloquist dummies that deserve nothing less than laser-flavoured death. They're nightmarish.
During Destroy All Humans!' nutty narrative, optional mission objectives give you something extra to aim for, while there's incentive to return to the game's six locations (from the rural expanses of Turnipseed Farm to the west coast beaches of Santa Modesta, and seat of power in Capitol City) to complete Abduction, Race, Armageddon, and Rampage challenges, or just mess around free of restrictions. When you are flattening idyllic US small towns, few games are as deliriously fun as Destroy All Humans! – the game's knockabout sense of humour, with a story set in the thick of 1950s American paranoia, is also enjoyably silly, as the media blames Crypto's wave of destruction on sinister communist forces in a grand conspiratorial cover-up. As a villain, General Armquist, his hapless military and the men in black of Majestic are enjoyably stupid, too, ensuring you always feel justified in your quest to take 'one giant step on mankind'.
Across 22 missions (23 if you count the newly-restored 'lost' mission), Destroy All Humans proves a slice of knowingly daft carnage, and the remake does much to ensure the experience is less muddled than the original game. But it does nothing to modernise the intrinsically dated design, meaning the same frustrating final boss (a horrid war of attrition), the same dodgy missions, and not nearly enough humanoid termination. If you played the original fifteen years ago, then clearly this isn't going to come as a surprise. Destroy All Humans!, despite its streamlined controls, revamped menus, and added challenges still feels like a 15-year old game, which of course, is exactly what it is. Unfortunately, no amount of digital paint can cover that up. It's still funny, though.
Retaining the game's original audio means that Crypto still sounds like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, but it also means it can often sound a bit muffled at times.
A chunky, colourful game, with bizarre looking characters. Crypto's Unreal Engine makeover is fantastic; his little breathing holes and slimy skin brought to vivid life. Environments, too, look big and bold.
A marked improvement over the 2005 original,with a welcome revamp of the controls, make for a tighter, more accessible experience, whether you're on the ground as Crypto or in the sky creating terror with a death ray.
While checkpoints are usually fair, instafail stealth missions are never particularly enjoyable, especially when you're greeted with a lengthy loading screen. And there are loads of them in Destroy All Humans! When you are doing the destroying, the frame-rate can sometimes falter, too. It's not the most polished remake.
A list that invites you to return to missions to mop up optional objectives, or explore the game's locations. It's good to have more to do beyond the game's 8-10 hour campaign.
Destroy All Humans! is never better than when you're carrying out the remit of the game's title. When you're doing stealth missions, it's not nearly as fun. As far as its remake credentials are concerned, meanwhile, this is a perfectly solid, serviceable piece of entertainment, if somewhat unremarkable. That said, if you lapped up Destroy All Humans! fifteen years ago, you'll no doubt be more than happy to do it all over again.