Stories of alien invasion are nothing new to gaming, though the usual methodology involves humans having to fend off some vile extraterrestrial species from wiping them out. Well, what if you don't want to save humanity? What if you wanted to join up with the evil aliens to kick humanity's self-righteous ass into oblivion? That's the premise of the newest action game from developer Pandemic Studios. Appropriately titled Destroy All Humans!, you take on the role of a comically murderous alien on a mission of domination and destruction against humanity. It isn't all just blasters and explosions, however, as the game takes a decidedly tongue-in-cheek stance on the subject matter, modeling itself after the good-natured cheesiness of 1950s-era B-grade science fiction. Flying saucers, death rays, mysterious G-men, government conspiracies, and lots of anal probing are the order of the day here. And while the gameplay doesn't really do anything especially remarkable, and the adventure is unfortunately quite short, Destroy All Humans! shows such enthusiasm for its thematic inspiration that you can't help but at least appreciate what it tries to do.
Crypto Sporidium 137 is the name of Destroy All Humans!' hero...or villain. Hell, he's just an alien who wants to kill a lot of humans. And can you really blame him? Crypto comes from a race of black-eyed, gray-skinned aliens called the Furons, who survive almost exclusively thanks to cloning technology. Crypto's predecessor, Sporidium 136, has crash-landed on Earth, and now the humans (or the monkeys, as Crypto so affectionately refers to them) have him and his Furon technology. Crypto's apparent boss (or at least his slightly less homicidal cohort), Pox, assigns Crypto to investigate Earth and its inhabitants, for these silly human creatures actually harbor precious Furon DNA in their puny brain stems (as the direct result of some crazy experiments from the past, of course). And that DNA is much needed to keep the genetic purity of the Furon species intact. Crypto is then sent to Earth, only to discover a clandestine plot by a secret government agency, called Majestic, to capture him and develop Furon technology for their own clearly insidious purposes. Crypto, being the gung ho soldier of the Furon empire that he is, won't stand for such nonsense, and with his buddy Pox helping him along the way, he destroys an awful lot of monkeys by the time the ending credits roll.
Crypto doesn't seem like much of a warrior at first, given his relatively slight stature. But when he's armed with Furon weaponry, humanity is toast. Crypto is given three basic weapons throughout the game: his trusty gun, his psychic powers, and his flying saucer. All have various types of upgrades. For instance, the gun can launch grenades, send out electric blasts, discharge painful anal probes, and disintegrate anyone unlucky enough to get in front of its blast. The only psychic power he can upgrade is his telekinesis power, which works pretty similarly to practically every other TK power recently featured in other recent sci-fi action games. When bigger threats appear, Crypto is directed back to his saucer, and from there he can launch everything from basic death rays to sonic blasts to even quantum explosions. The game breaks up the on-foot and airborne combat sequences relatively evenly; though while these would seem like two vastly different combat mechanics--regardless of which one you're engaging in--it all kind of feels the same.
This is because the overall combat really feels pretty basic across the board. There isn't a lot to it other than just running around while blasting humans, periodically harvesting their DNA via the brains that pop out of their recently exploded heads. This isn't a terribly involved process, and it becomes even simpler when you're in your saucer, as all you have to do is just keep dodging and moving and you'll barely ever be hit as you lay waste to droves of military vehicles and entire cities. It's a touch harder on foot, as you'll find yourself fighting off the inevitable authorities that come running once you tip them off to your presence. The game uses a GTA-like tiered alert system, where setting off varying degrees of panic alerts the cops, the military, and, finally, the Majestic agents. It makes sense here, since you can actually wander about any of the game's environments all you please once you've completed a mission, and during that time, you'll probably want to get in on some DNA collection. Unfortunately, even when you're being bombarded by soldiers, tanks, giant robots, and Majestic agents, it's still supereasy to just duck into a corner, regain your health, and then just run around blowing stuff up without too much worry of death. While there's a certain visceral thrill to it, it does get kind of old.
While you're in between main missions, you can also get into some occasional side missions. You'll need to get into them, actually, since some missions can't be unlocked unless you collect a certain amount of DNA. (DNA can be used to purchase character and saucer upgrades from Pox.) Sadly, you're unlikely to have much fun with the additional tasks. They rarely transcend the two basic concepts of simple checkpoint races and killing missions, where you just have to kill enough of a specific type of human or creature to earn a DNA bonus. A few of these missions are also easily exploitable, to the point where you can just do them over and over again to get superquick DNA boosts.
The story missions are quite a bit better. When you're not being ordered to lay waste to any nearby humans or cities, you'll find yourself wandering about, discovering the ins and outs of this peculiar society. Mostly you'll do this by taking the form of a human through a unique form of cloaking that disguises you as a human for as long as you can maintain concentration. You maintain concentration by scanning the minds of random passersby. Each time you scan their minds, your concentration meter boosts, and you get access to a random thought that happened to be running through that person's brain. The stealth mechanic itself is mostly just functional, and there isn't much to it, save for the fact that you have to be extra-careful to avoid G-men (as they can see through your disguise). But the dialogue you get from scanning people's minds makes the whole process a lot more engaging...and hilarious, for that matter. There's a pretty insane amount of random dialogue bits to be found, and though it occasionally repeats, there's more variety than you'd expect.
Humor is really what makes Destroy All Humans! a more interesting game than just the basic sum of its parts. The people involved with the making of this game must have spent a great deal of time watching an awful lot of 1950s drive-in movies, because the game's take on '50s culture and that era's version of the sci-fi genre is wonderfully done. From the goofy designs of the alien ships and weaponry to the nonstop running jokes about communism and random era-specific celebrities, ranging from Marilyn Monroe to Adlai Stevenson, Destroy All Humans! knows its subject matter and does a great job of sending it up with very funny results.
Aesthetically, Destroy All Humans! absolutely has the right look for what it's trying to do. You'll find yourself in everything from a top secret military base out in the middle of the desert, to a rural farm out in the middle of nowhere, to a sleepy California beach town. And all of them look just great. The character designs are equally good. Sure, Crypto and Pox pretty much look just like the typical little gray men you'd see in any cheesy sci-fi flick, but that's sort of the point. You'll encounter all sorts of random people types, like black-suited G-men, wooly haired German scientists, teenagers in varsity jackets and poodle skirts, and, of course, lots of archetypal Dobbs-like, pipe-smoking, sweater-vest-wearing men of the '50s. Destroy All Humans!' graphics engine does a great job on the technical side by using some beautiful light-bloom effects to give the game a nice overall look, and all the while running quite smoothly. The one fatal flaw of the graphics is the draw distance, or its apparent lack thereof. Pop-up is readily apparent all over the place, with trees, people, and even buildings simply popping into view in extremely obvious ways. It's even worse when you're in your saucer, as entire blocks will sometimes just appear in your plane of vision with nothing done to cover it up. It's a bigger issue on the PlayStation 2 than on the Xbox, but both versions suffer from it.
Destroy All Humans! also gets the audio experience just right. We won't gush anymore about the great human dialogue, but there's also plenty of great dialogue between Crypto and his superior. Crypto sounds like some kind of weird cross between Jack Nicholson and John Wayne, and while that might not be the kind of voice you'd expect from a four-foot-tall alien, his gruff demeanor and overwrought bloodlust make him altogether endearing. He and Pox have some pretty hysterically weird conversations, and they have a lot of them, too. The game doesn't leave too many lulls between comedic bits, so you're unlikely to find too many dead spots in the comedy. The soundtrack is another big bright spot, and, again, it's readily apparent that the developer really paid serious attention to B-grade science fiction while putting this stuff together. The mixture of melodramatic orchestral music with a heavy dose of theremin is highly reminiscent of Danny Elfman's work on Tim Burton's Mars Attacks, and it's just perfect for what the game is going for. There's also an absolutely brilliant remix of The Crew Cuts' "Sh-Boom" over the end credits that's completely bizarre...and good enough to make you hold out hope for an actual retail release of the soundtrack.
Ultimately, what makes Destroy All Humans! work isn't its gameplay. Rather, it's everything else that goes around it. The combat isn't really interesting enough to hold your attention by itself, and the game is only around eight hours long (it's longer if you try to get 100 percent on every level, which you probably won't want to do). So it isn't exactly teeming with lasting value. However, some of that is forgivable simply because the game does such a great job of creating a splendidly goofy world. The comedy is frequent and consistent, and from a purely presentational standpoint, this game does its concept extremely proud. Though perhaps that isn't enough to make the game worth its full retail price tag, games don't come much more suitable for rental purposes than Destroy All Humans!.