It’s been just over 15 years since the original Destroy All Humans released on the 128-bit generation of consoles and it proved successful enough to spawn three sequels over the following 4 years. Having lay dormant for a decade, THQ Nordic decided to resurrect the franchise and have overhauled the first game with modern graphics, some updated mechanics and even an extra level. The adventures of Cryptosporidium 137 can now be experienced on the latest generation, letting gamers run amok in 1950’s Americana, terrorising the populace, and yes, destroying all humans. Given the gap in time though, has the game aged as well as its fictional setting, and will Crypto have to psychically encourage the masses to buy it?
Cryptosporidium 137 is a clone from the Furon Empire, and despatched to Earth to investigate the whereabouts of his brother, Cryptosporidium 136. His boss, Pox, is on the hunt for a planet they seeded centuries before, because Furon’s propogate through genetic replication and the quality of their stores are dwindling. Earth is a haven of pure DNA that will revive their species and they must conquer it at all costs. It won’t be that easy though. Humans have evolved and spread across the globe and are on the look out for invasion with the mysterious Majestic agency directing things in the background. Crypto must investigate the US during the paranoia of the 1950’s, keeping one step ahead of the military whilst not forgetting to Destroy All Humans he comes across. On paper he’s got the advantage with psychokinectic abilities, high tech weapons and a flying saucer, but don’t rule out the ingenuity of the people in his way.
Aptly, Crypto’s journey starts out looking at cows, which are a metaphor for the vast majority of the town populations he encounters. The herd are there as fodder, directed and controlled by a few in power, and it’s those at the top that need taking down in order to subjugate the rest. Plus, how can there be a game about playing as an invading alien that doesn’t involve abducting a cow or two? The first forays into mid-West America teach Crypto a couple of things, mainly that he needs to look elsewhere for his missing brother, and that he needs to spend a lot of time hiding his true form if he’s to make any kind of progress. Contrary to its slogan, Destroy All Humans doesn’t really want that to happen because it’ll mean extinction for the Furon’s as well, but if they’re going to put up a fight then bring it on. Heading to facsimiles of LA, Area 51, New York and Washington, Crypto will discover how to ready the world for domination and take out all threats to his success.
It’s a bit of a blend of genres to experience through the story with sandbox style levels and mission structures demanding stealth, third person shooting, physics manipulation and flying. On foot it’s pretty standard run around and blast controls, with the interesting elements being the psychic abilities that let Crypto take the form of a human, cause distractions, pick and throw objects, and pull brain stems directly from people (eww). Using the Holobob disguise that masks his true alien form requires power top ups to stay active and is done by reading people’s minds. Similarly, brain stems replenish shields and the transmogrification of inanimate objects replenishes ammo. At any one time there’s a couple of elements to juggle and stay on top of, and doing all of it in combat means it gets pretty chaotic. This was a pretty unique combination at release – particularly the telekinesis power – and gives a lot of variety and options to approaching each mission. Or rather you’d think it would.
Whilst Destroy All Humans does a decent job in the first couple of areas of mixing things up, as the story gathers pace and moves to larger cities it forces a sneaky approach most of the time. It also features that cardinal sin… mandatory stealth sections with insta-fail. It’s got the tendency to be a bit unpredictable with lines of sight from enemies and the Holobob disguise dropping out for no apparent reason. When it also adds in characters that can cause any disguise to deteriorate it changes the gameplay from 3rd person open world to top-down navigating a dot through a maze on the minimap. The core premise is destruction of humanity (it’s in the title), yet the gameplay has an awful lot of avoiding that. When it does let loose though it can be pretty satisfying, at least early on. Again, as it gets bigger and grander in scope the action intensifies and the mechanisms start to struggle under that weight. Managing shield restoration and ammo creation alongside not getting ripped a new one by a platoon of soldiers can be very fiddly. Then there are the boss fights which in no way does it prepare the player for, these can be lessons in major frustration.
Fortunately, if something is particularly taxing there’s the option to revisit areas without any story beats getting in the way of collecting DNA. There’s quite a bit to pick up through the challenges that unlock, and through exploring the environment. This abundant material is the currency for upgrading Crypto’s abilities, weapons and ship. Between each level Pox is on hand to perform upgrades for the right amount – which is usually very expensive, but will have a noticeable positive impact. There are a lot of items unlocked through the course of the game, and each has a minimum of 3 upgrades, usually it’s 6, so be prepared to grind to buy them all. The ability to revisit the sandboxes is a welcome one as there are significant restrictions during the missions themselves that stop any kind of free roam, and with the Holopoxdeck it’s possible to replay missions and pick up bonuses for missed optional objectives. Where the main story levels are short and focused, there is replay value outside those.
Interestingly, Destroy All Humans hasn’t lost everything from 2005. The team at Black Forest Games have redone the graphics to modern resolutions and particle effect standards; they’ve revamped the character models and recorded new motion capture; but they’ve kept the original audio, just cleaned it up a little. The voice of Crypto retains that manic Jack Nicholson vibe, Pox is the slimey overlord, and the key humans are clear stereotypes from 70 years ago. The tongue-in-cheek representation of a country recently entered into the Cold War and obsessed with Communism getting a foothold plays out nicely as an unintended allegory for today’s society too. It hasn’t lost that B-movie feel either and still manages to remind of Mars Attacks at nearly every turn. The conversion feels pretty faithful then, and whilst I struggle to remember the specifics of a game I played 15 years ago, it feels like the same one in my hands today.
What’s hard to shake though is that the shiny coat of paint has been slapped over a rusty set of mechanics, and it’s not long before it starts to peel and its age shows through. This is clearly a game of its generation and the limitations of the hardware at that time. Levels are short and not overly populated, the free roam areas small, and mission structure based around the fancy mechanics at the time rather than what would make a better story experience. I can’t emphasise enough how annoying the boss fights can be too when the game effectively strips away the health and ammo replen due to the control scheme. There’s love gone into remastering Destroy All Humans, and it’ll raise a nostalgic smile for many in more ways than one, but when the gameplay feels as old as its story setting you might be the one getting probed.
A PS4 review copy of Destroy All Humans was provided by THQ Nordic’s PR team, and the game will available from 28th July 2020 on PC, PS4 and Xbox One for around £24.99 depending on platform.