There's something to be said for irreverent humor in games, but there's less to be said for irreverence just for the sake of irreverence. Destroy All Humans!, last year's action adventure game from developer Pandemic Studios, which stars a snarky, snarling alien invader that was hell-bent on reaping precious DNA from helpless humans, was funny in the right ways. The game's antihero, Crypto Sporidium 137, was the perfect blend of unreasonably angry and ridiculously overconfident, making for some hilarious exchanges between Crypto and the various denizens of Earth. On top of that, the game created an excellent send-up of 1950s-era B-grade science fiction, with flying saucers, death rays, theremins, and all. Now we have Destroy All Humans! 2, a fairly by-the-numbers sequel that adds some new weapons, a new storyline, and a few other goofy touches to the same basic framework that was found in the first game. However, this latest Crypto adventure simply isn't as funny as the first game because it lacks the singular focus the first game had on what it was parodying. Destroy All Humans! 2 tries to take stabs at hippies, the British, Japan, communism (again), a smattering of random films, and even the first game, and regrettably, it isn't able to maintain a consistent level of humor. However, despite its lack of focus and familiar gameplay structure, Destroy All Humans! 2 still can be fun, if not especially impactful.
The year is 1969, and following Crypto and the Furon Empire's successful takeover of the American government, Crypto is living the high life. He's the fake president of the United States, and through various forms of illicit science, he's even managed to regrow genitals (a possibility long since abandoned by the Furons, a species that breeds exclusively through cloning). He's using his newfound libido to party it up with the loose women of the era, though that all comes to a screeching halt when Crypto's mothership (and his boss, Pox) are blown to smithereens by a Russian-launched nuke. As you might imagine, this displeases Crypto a great deal, and with the help of a hologram that contains Pox's mind, he ventures off to find out what the deal is and why the KGB is out to kill him. From there, things get rather convoluted as rogue Russian spies, British secret agents, hippy revolutionaries, cosmonauts, and even rival alien races get tied up in the whole mess.
It's hard to call Destroy All Humans! 2's storyline particularly good. It's kind of a mess, though it's the kind of mess that seems very much on purpose. The whole game is so self-referential and geared toward comedy that trying to make any sense out of it would be a fool's errand. And for what it's worth, much of the game's attempts at comedy are pretty good. Crypto's as psychotic as ever, and with his Jack Nicholson vocal inflection and murderous tendencies, it's hard not to love him. If there's any real flaw with the game's humor, it's that none of the surrounding characters are interesting. Like in the original game, you can choose from any number of different dialogue options while talking to various other characters--but unlike in the first game, the secondary dialogue options aren't as funny this time around. Crypto and Pox have a wide variety of hilarious conversations, but the stuff between Crypto and just about anybody else tends to fall a touch flat.
Another problem is that there's not much focus on what the game wants to parody. While the first game spent the vast majority of its time parodying cheesy science fiction from the '50s, Destroy All Humans! 2 can't quite figure out exactly where it wants to go. The hippy humor isn't clever or unique, banking more on your personal desire to murder hippies than properly sending up the hippy culture. Likewise, when you travel to 1969-era England and Japan, there are some amusing gags that involve British pop culture and ninjas, respectively, but there are also a lot of jokes that don't go anywhere or make any sense. The best parts of the game occur when it goes outside the confines of the era and starts rattling off random film references, as well as pseudo in-jokes about the game itself. But like the rest of the humor, some of these are absolutely hilarious and others just come off a bit labored.
For the most part, Destroy All Humans! 2 plays a whole lot like its predecessor. There are five different areas to explore, though you begin the game with only the San Francisco-inspired Bay City available to you. Mission icons display on a minimap, and you--as Crypto--can wander about each world as you please, free to take on whichever missions are available. One of the biggest issues with Destroy All Humans! was that its missions weren't that interesting as the game progressed. Story missions involved too much mindless shooting, with limited weaponry and a few too many annoying stealth missions. Pandemic has somewhat remedied this by adding in more weapons to play with and downplaying the stealth to a mostly optional endeavor.
Though the majority of Crypto's arsenal is the same as last year (including appropriate alien weapons like disintegrator rays, zappers, and anal probes), a couple of new standout weapons add some chaos to the mix. One new weapon lets you rain down hellish meteoric death on targeted buildings, destroying them completely. Another weapon lets you launch a hologram of another dead Furon named Gastro, who will then float around and shoot at any nearby enemies while spouting off at the mouth like some kind of extraterrestrial Chris Rock. Crypto also has a few new telekinesis-based powers. He can still pick up people and objects, making them float around helplessly, as well as extract their brains, but now he can also transmogrify any piece of TK-able scenery into ammo for his various weapons. Crypto can also hide by taking on human form once again, though this time he'll steal a human's body and roll around in it for a limited period of time. If other humans see him do this, they'll freak out, but Crypto can psychically calm them by forcing them to forget or by using a "free love" attack that makes everyone dance around like a bunch of stoned idiots.
Still, even with all of these new abilities and gadgets, Destroy All Humans! 2 plays an awful lot like the first game, faults and all. The difficulty level of the game is still very easy, with only a few completely random missions that are difficult. The problem is that these missions are far more difficult than anything else in the game because of the copious number of enemies that get thrown at you, as well as some suspect partner artificial intelligence. Crypto will sometimes have to escort a character from one area to another, but this becomes troublesome when that character is incapable of finding cover and frequently dodges right into your line of fire. You'll end up restarting these missions far too many times simply because you accidentally siphoned off too much of that character's health during the course of the mission. Even more annoying is the fact that most missions don't even require a restart if you die--yet these missions do. So even if you keep the non-player character alive and you die, you still have to start the whole thing over. At least enemies do tend to die rather easily, so it's not as if you'll find yourself struggling to survive against foes that won't go away.
For some, the mindless murder of hippies, mods, ninjas, KGB agents, and various other passersby will be enough entertainment. There's no shortage of ways to do it, thanks to the added weapons, as well as the saucer-based combat that pops up from time to time. You only hop into a saucer every once in a while, and usually it's to fight off some giant boss or blow up a piece of the scenery. Periodically, you'll have to use your abduction ray to transport items and vehicles to other places, and you can even abduct humans of varying types to experiment on them and gain new abilities. But largely the saucer action is about action, and it's about the same as it was in the first game. You still end up having to fend off way too many tanks and rocket launchers as you fly around, though once you upgrade your saucer's weapons high enough, they become less of an issue.
Completing the game's story probably won't take you more than eight hours, but there are a solid number of side missions to take part in, as well as a host of collectible weapons and upgrades to track down throughout each world. The side missions in this year's game are far more interesting than in the original. They're more like full-on, fleshed-out missions, as opposed to tacked-on fetch quests and destruction missions. There's a whole subplot that involves the Furon god Arkvoodle (a very horny god, we might add), and your attempts to convert earthlings into blind worshipers of the Furon faith. These, along with some of the missions that specifically task you with ruining people's lives via one foul deed or another, probably provide some of the best comedy in the game.
One particularly strange addition to Destroy All Humans! 2 is cooperative play. Basically, at any point, you and a friend can engage in some human destruction simply by plugging in a second controller, going to a section of the start menu, and pressing start. Once you're in, the camera splits into two halves, and you just hop into the action. The game doesn't go out of its way to explain why you suddenly have a partner in a red space suit, nor does it include any sort of co-op-exclusive missions or content. It's just kind of there because it can be. Still, co-op is amusing, if a bit annoying in spots because you can't wander away from your partner without getting teleported back to your partner's location once you reach a certain distance.
Destroy All Humans! 2 looks and sounds a lot like Destroy All Humans!. The graphics engine hasn't been meddled with much, and as a result, you'll see a lot of the same issues as before. Characters besides Crypto or Pox don't look very good. Costumes are blurry, faces don't move or animate much, and, in general, there isn't much going on with the character models. You'll also see heinous levels of texture pop in as you walk and fly around the world--and even sometimes when you're standing still as a cutscene is loading. Still, the game earns style points, if nothing else. The environments are amusing representations of the real-world environments they're parodying, and they look good--at least once all the textures have loaded. Both the Xbox and PlayStation 2 versions suffer from these issues, though the Xbox game isn't quite as bad.
The real standout of the presentation is the voice work, which is once again hysterical and spot-on for each character. As mentioned before, the writing isn't always on point, but the actors deliver their best, especially the guys voicing Crypto and Pox, who clearly have a good rapport with one another. Unfortunately, the soundtrack is less amusing than in the first game, with less emphasis on cheesy sci-fi scores and era-specific tunes. The few '60s-sounding songs in the game don't stand out either. Sound effects are mostly great, though there's a weird issue with the mix that makes some dialogue and some audio effects vary wildly in volume. Sometimes two people will be talking, and one will be significantly less audible than the other. Sometimes you'll hear a big laser blast and then hear no sound at all for the ensuing explosion. These issues aren't constant, but they happen enough to dampen the audio experience.
When it gets right down to it, Destroy All Humans! 2 is the sort of sequel that seems to exist specifically to be a sequel. It's pretty clear from the nonsensical storyline, constant self-referential humor, and general sameness of play and presentation that this game exists primarily to put another game with Crypto on store shelves. But it's a fine update of the formula, with a solid number of amusing gags and enjoyable missions that don't aim high but reach their modest goals. If you liked Destroy All Humans!, you'll likely be pleased and amused by this sequel, provided you don't expect the moon from it.