As gamers find themselves on the verge of next-generation consoles, they also find themselves embroiled in discussions about “sequel-itis” and the apparent lack of original games. Fresh ideas, new franchises, original gameplay concepts … they all seem to be missing as publishers opt for the comfort of a sequel or “me too” game. Yet THQ and Pandemic have bucked that trend with Destroy All Humans!, a humorous title that places gamers in the little gray shoes of an alien in 1950s America seeking to, well, destroy all humans.
In a sense, Destroy All Humans! borrows from the successful Grand Theft Auto formula, using a handful of “living” cities as a virtual sandbox. The key difference, and what makes the game more amenable to those looking for anti-violence controversy, is its comic presentation. Sure, gamers can still shoot innocent citizens, but it’s with far-out death rays and electric guns. Sure, players can blow up police cars and military vehicles, but it’s done from the sky in a 1950s-style flying saucer. And sure, gamers can interact with citizens, but it’s done through mind-reading and mind control. In other words, those who scorn GTA for its realistic violence will find little to nothing realistic to scorn in Destroy All Humans!. And that’s just fine by us.
The gameplay in Destroy All Humans! is decidedly simple: players can read citizens’ minds in order to gain clues and new objectives, coerce them into chicken-dancing distractions to avoid detection, use telekinesis to pick up and throw vehicles (and people) at one another, and generate a hologram that makes them appear human so they can walk in the open without raising alarm. Each of these feats is accomplished with a simple button press, and each one works on every citizen in the game.
The exception to this rule is the hologram function, called HoloBob, which does not fool the government agents who know about aliens’ existence and are trying to save Earth from invasion. These agents are also equipped with special guns, which are far more damaging than the simple shotguns used by backwoods farmers and the pistols of city police. Fortunately, like in Halo, Riddick and select other videogames, players can hide behind a building or stand still long enough to let their life bar regenerate.
Destroy All Humans! also includes a smattering of vehicular play, with a death ray- and tractor beam-equipped flying saucer ready and waiting to unleash mayhem in each mid-century city. Unfortunately, the vehicular play is little more than a fun distraction, because only a few of the optional mini-games benefit from its use. This is exacerbated by players only being able to land in pre-determined areas, a rather awkward rule in a game that’s otherwise incredibly open and free-form.
Still, it’s obvious that the developer wanted players to take advantage of this free-form style, because playing through the game strictly on an objective-completion basis leads to about 10-12 hours of play. Pandemic wanted players to explore the 1950s world, and there are plenty of random minds to read to accommodate that desire. On the one hand, that’s fine; there are more than enough anal probes to go around, there are more than enough cows to levitate and slam into silos, and there are more than enough tanks to pick up via the tractor beam and toss into one another. On the other hand, thoug, those 10-12 hours of core play are really all the game provides, because after playing a dozen missions, the basic objective becomes basically the same for each.
Several missions involve protecting landmarks from government agents, others involve locating or destroying objectives in a set amount of time, and others involve simply blasting an area to bits. From time to time the game mixes it up with requirements such as not alarming police, but the gameplay is essentially the same. With all the cow tipping and anal probing included in the game, Destroy All Humans! doesn’t necessarily get boring, but it definitely earns its fair share of “OK, what’s next?” comments.
To its credit, there’s something to be said for a game that can avoid getting too boring because of its audio. True, the concept that you earn upgrades by harvesting human brains and harvest those brains by conducting anal probes is a riot, but it’s the audio that really make those experiences what they are. Every non-playable character has multiple lines of dialogue, each of which depends upon the situation. Read their mind, and you might get a phrase from an innocent farm girl like “My mind says Amos, but my body says Andrew.” Hit them with an anal probe, and you might get a line like “Oh, no, that’s gonna hurt.” As kitschy as 1950s alien movies are, Destroy All Humans! is equally slapstick. Pandemic clearly had fun doing dialogue, and gamers will in turn have just as much fun listening to what they came up with.
Graphically, Destroy All Humans! is just as entertaining, although the sheer setting of 1950s America provides much of the entertainment value. Neon diner signs grow brighter as players fly or walk closer. Vehicles are individually animated and articulated, with lights that flash and cannons that fire believably. Each neighborhood and city has a distinct feel that seamlessly transitions to the next as players traverse the city. Heck, certain cars in the drive-in theater even rock rhythmically. Pandemic paid attention to the details, and it really shows.
But that’s perhaps where Destroy All Humans! falters most: its big-picture implementation. Conceptually, this game is fresh, new and completely entertaining. Aurally and graphically, it’s on par with the best of this generation of consoles. But when it’s all put together, the one ingredient that doesn’t quite pass muster is the gameplay. As creative as Destroy All Humans! is, it relies a bit too much on players going through the same motions over and over. And as funny as those motions may be, a bit more variety, and even a bit more creative freedom, would have gone a long way toward making it as classic as the alien films it satirizes so well.
- Gameplay: 7.8
- Simple controls and a creative premise, but not enough variety to keep you entertained by gameplay alone.
- Graphics: 8.5
- Solid characters, vehicles and special effects, and it still has minimal load times.
- Sound: 8.5
- Witty and laugh-out-loudable, just like the films it mimics.
- Replay: 7.9
- Plenty to see, explore and anally probe, but there’s still only so much single-player fun to be had.
- Overall: 8.1
- Fun, creative and surprisingly fresh, but not quite enough gameplay variety to carry the load.
— Jonas Allen