Release Date: April 2005
I was reminded immediately of two things as I initially played through the preview copy of Destroy All Humans: Grand Theft Auto 3 and cult classic Nicktoon Invader Zim. I wouldn’t have expected anyone to be able to blend GTA-style exploratory gameplay seamlessly with a Jhonen Vasquez-style sense of dark humor, but Pandemic has actually made this marriage of concepts a very happy one. Destroy All Humans is shaping up to be one of best action games that early 2005 has to offer.
The premise for Destroy All Humans is almost something you could take seriously in a science fiction novel, but also believable as the plot for a lost Futurama episode. During the game you control a Furon invader named Cryptosporidium-137 (‘Crypto’ to his pals), who takes directions from Orthopox (‘Pox’ for short), his commander. Pox monitors Crypto’s progress from the orbiting Furon mother ship, occasionally contacting him to give instructions and point out noteworthy objects. Pox gives you most of your tutorials and shoots convenient purple lasers down from orbit to highlight plot-relevant objects.
The Furons are invading Earth because their race, in the course of becoming mighty intergalactic overlords, was tragically mutated by repeated exposure to radiation such that they “have no genitalia”. They’ve overcome this reproductive handicap by use of cloning technology that lets them make a new copy of an individual shortly after his untimely death. As such, the 137 in Crypto’s name indicates that he is the 137th copy of that particular individual. Unfortunately, this practice has caused Furon DNA to degrade over time, and has reduced the total number of individuals to about 2,000 or so. In order to save the Furon race, there has to be an infusion of fresh, uncorrupted DNA.
Now, it just so happens that in the wild days before the Furons conquered the universe and lost their genitals, a group of Furon sailors happened across a sexy young planet named Earth, and… well, I’m sure you can imagine the rest. Thanks to this singular event, strains of Furon DNA are buried within the genetic code of every human being alive on Earth today, so all Pox and Crypto have to do to save their species is to find some way to extract it all.
They frequently disagree about how to go about this, of course, which makes for a lot of entertaining dialogue. Pox is a bit more thoughtful in his violence and considers the mission at large, while Crypto just wants to get on with destroying all humans already. Both characters are very well-portrayed by their voice actors, Crypto being played by J. Grant Albrecht and Pox played by Richard Steven Horvitz (who previous played Zim himself in Invader Zim). The rest of the cast is rounded out by veteran voice actors, who all turn in fine performances. Destroy All Humans is the sort of game where you even enjoy hearing what every character has to say, and can even stand some repetition. Although the voice acting steals the show, the soundtrack and sound effect for the game is also inspired. The music isn’t overbearing, and there’s a nice variety of tracks that will play when Crypto’s in different situations. The tracks themselves tend to have a cheesy, 50’s B-movie flavor to them that really helps set the right mood.
When it comes to graphics, Destroy All Humans is, well, unearthly good. This preview looked at the PS2 version, where Pandemic seems to have really pushed what the hardware is capable of. The textures on objects felt natural, and everything was rendered with just enough detail to build a feeling of realism. Crypto himself is amazingly good-looking, both standing still and in motion. Most humans move in a manner that’s slightly unnatural and jerky compared to Crypto’s fluid movements. This appears to be intentional, since the game’s storyline strongly implies that humans are by nature an unnervingly stupid lot. However, smart humans like MiBs will also move more fluidly and generally be guided by cleverer AI.
Gameplay will immediately begin to feel familiar to vets of GTA3 and similar console games. Each mission of the game is divided into two segments, one on foot and one where you fly Crypto’s flying saucer around. You have to complete both halves of a mission to clear it and unlock “sandbox mode”, which basically lets you run around the stage doing whatever you please. Sandbox mode isn’t complete in this early build of the game, but will probably be the most fun aspect of Destroy All Humans when it’s completed.
In the foot segments, you move Crytpo about with the left analog stick, and control which way he’s facing (the camera) with the right. Objects you can interact with will be highlighted by a light blue auto-targeting circle. R1 will fire his active weapon, and you can cycle through his current armory with the R2 button. The x button will let Crypto jump, and hitting it twice will activate Crypto’s rocket pack. You can use this to give your jumping height a boost, or hold it down to let Crypto fly for a short period of time. The circle button will let you impersonate the appearance of any human your auto-targeting circle is highlighting. The L1 button, held down in combination with one of the other controller buttons, will trigger Crypto’s psychic powers. You can scan the minds of living creatures to glean information, extract the brains of humans you’ve killed with the Zap-o-Matic (to get at the delicious DNA insane), psychokinetically move objects, or hypnotize humans. Both the psychic powers and your ability to disguise yourself draw power from your “concentration” bar, a series of yellow blips just underneath the green health gauge display. Just as running your health gauge down to zero means that you die, you can’t use your psychic powers any more after you’ve run down your concentration bar. Each power has a certain defined cost, while a disguise will only run down your concentration bar if a particularly smart human (like a cop, soldier, or MiB) catches sight of you. Your concentration bar will naturally regenerate over time when you’re not doing anything psychic.
Spaceship controls are similar to the foot controls, but a bit simplified. You can orient your spaceship’s directions using the right analog stick, and move it around using the left. The R1 button will let you fire your weapons, and you can cycle through your weapon selection with the R2 button. While most foot missions are demanding exercises in stealth tactics, the spaceship sequences are often entirely about using your spaceship’s lasers to smash buildings and army tanks, and are really quite fun.
Destroy All Humans is one of those rare games where I think just about any player could find something to like about it. It’s enormously fun even in the much unfinished preview copy I got to look at, and I can only imagine how great it’ll be once everything’s in place. There are lots of cool, strange weapons like the Anal Probe and the Disintegrator Ray to play around with, and much fun to be had experimenting with all the other ways Crypto can interact with his environments on foot. The plot is engaging and the humor genuinely funny, which is surprisingly rare in video games. While the gameplay is nothing revolutionary by itself, the way the game incorporates it into the science-fiction feel of the story is not something many games can manage. Destroy All Humans will be hitting stores in April for X-Box and PS2, and is definitely a game that’s worth looking forward to.
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