Destroy All Humans is an endlessly entertaining alien-superpower playground, but tends to crush under the weight of its own structure.
I first played Destroy All Humans in elementary school at a friend’s house on their original Xbox. Back then, the game was crass, addicting, and full of big words and jokes that I didn’t quite get. While I do get the jokes and understand what ‘Communism’ is this time around, playing Destroy All Humans in 2020 simply isn’t as awe-inspiring as it used to be. Instead of the silly anal probe jokes standing out, I couldn’t help but notice the game’s aged mechanics and flat-out repetitiveness.
That’s not to say the game is all bad though; its arcade-style gameplay is entertaining enough, although its writing doesn’t come up to par. On its Steam page, the game is advertised as “one of the funniest ever created,” which may have been true back in 2005 when it originally came out.
Today, the game’s repeated jokes about 1950’s Americans worrying about coming out of the closet, heavy alcoholism, and men beating their wives land like a crashing UFO. More often than not, I found myself cringing at these would-be zingers–although some stay relevant today regarding police brutality and the fate of Jimmy Hoffa.
But, the fun of Destroy All Humans isn’t its writing–it’s… well… destroying all humans. Throughout the game, you’re given six worlds to harvest brain stems, ranging from a backwater rural town in the middle of America to its own version of Washington D.C (dubbed Capitol City), complete with a White House and Washington Monument to burn down if you so choose. The game’s missions also occur across these six levels, although you may not know it at first glance.
Each one is actually decently sized; for a while, I thought going into a mission had the game load up a different, smaller area each time. It’s also in these levels that you get an eye full of the fairly well-done remastering Destroy All Humans has received. The game looks detailed but retains that goofy cartoonish stylization that it originally had. During my various rampages, I would often have to stop and just watch as a victim satisfyingly turned into a charred skeleton and then ash.
That is, until I began exploring each area without an objective. When Pox (your alien commander) isn’t barking orders at Crypto, he can do what he does best — let off some steam by vaporizing humanity and its creations. Of course, a job like that needs the right tools, and Crypto has quite the arsenal. Besides his telekinetic powers, which are probably the most fun weapon in Destroy All Humans, Crypto has access to a lightning gun that arcs electricity between targets, a disintegrator ray that leaves humans as smoldering piles of bones, an ion detonator that vaporizes anything in its shockwave, and of course an anal probe, because why not.
These weapons, paired with Crypto’s shield, leave the little grey alien much, much more powerful than any enemy he faces. The game makes you feel overpowered as you decimate entire army battalions with a single explosion, or pop their brains out one by one for easy harvesting. Having so much power at your fingertips in these sandbox environments is simply enjoyable — even when I had to grind for DNA to upgrade my gear, it didn’t feel like a grind. It just felt like fun.
This only makes it more of a shame that the same feeling doesn’t translate to the flying saucer Crypto uses for more wholesale destruction. As opposed to Crypto, who manages to be quite agile (especially with a dash that can quickly get him out of a sticky situation) the saucer is cumbersome and clumsy.
When flying the UFO you have two options for camera angles, a 45-degree angle facing downwards or another shifted just below that to give you a better view of the ground–ideally for using the ship’s death ray. Neither of these viewpoints works well for the UFO – the former prevents you from looking out ahead while the latter just isn’t useful. I understand that this version of Destroy All Humans is just a remaster, but leaving the saucer as it was over a decade ago just feels lazy. This tool of destruction that should be the end all be all for anything standing in my way was left hobbled.
Of course, there’s more to do in Destroy All Humans than just ‘destroy.’ Many of the game’s missions force Crypto to refrain from his violent tendencies in favor of a more stealthy approach. These missions are where you’ll use Crypto’s other tools and telekinetic abilities.
For instance, one mission tasks Crypto with infiltrating a state fair — easy enough when you’re not four feet tall, grey and have shark teeth. To work around his appearances, Crypto can use a ‘holobob’ that disguises him as whatever human he targets. However, this holographic costume runs out of juice quickly and can only be recharged by reading minds. This is the game’s way of making sure you hear some of its jokes, which unintentionally made me dread using the holobob. In case you couldn’t guess, the jokes usually aren’t that great, and repeat often. Besides that, players can hypnotize humans into following them or make others dance like a chicken as a distraction.
Just like those jokes, the game’s missions also repeat often. Many of them follow the same pattern:
- Disguise yourself
- Read minds
- Destroy the area
The pattern repeats so often that I would usually dread the destruction. This repetitiveness is offset somewhat by challenging secondary objectives that reward the player with more DNA, a currency used to upgrade weapons and abilities. Despite this, by the time I beat Destroy All Humans I felt that most of the missions had been so repetitive that I couldn’t differentiate between them.
What’s worse is that the ones that did manage to stand out usually only did because they were particularly dull or difficult. These missions usually centered around escorting a person or vehicle, or they were boss fights. Each was flawed in their own way — failing an escort mission led me to a checkpoint where my objective’s health was already nearly depleted, meaning I had to restart the entire mission for an actual chance to succeed.
Boss fights, on the other hand, are simply dull. There are only two, one at the game’s midway point and one at the end. Both don’t require much on the player’s part except for a willingness to hold down the left mouse button for about five minutes. Of course, failure in these missions means you have to start over again from the beginning. My dread for restarting these fights didn’t stem from their difficulty like a Dark Souls boss fight. Instead, I simply didn’t want to go through the dreadfully boring process of whittling down a life bar again.
After beating the final boss of Destroy All Humans, I was relieved that I was done with the game more than I was excited to spend my massive DNA reward on upgrades. Destroy All Humans is excellent at destroying one thing in the real world: your time. It’s easy to just play in the game’s satirical world, to lose yourself in the waves of chaos and destruction you can cause. However, when the game tries to apply too much structure, it begins to feel held back.
I had fun with Destroy All Humans, I mean how couldn’t I? You can give Crypto an alien skateboard to ride while he makes brains pop out of human heads. That sentence alone is reason enough to at least check out the game. That being said, Destroy All Humans doesn’t have the staying power of the alien Furon Empire, and I doubt I’ll be booting it up again any time soon.