After fifteen long years, Crypto 137 is back on Earth, ready to use an inventory of comical weapons against the populace. The re-release of Destroy All Humans! reminds us that being the bad guy can be a lot of fun, especially when he can fling people across hillsides.
Platform: PC, also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
Developer: Pandemic Studios, Black Forest Games
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Release date: July 28th, 2020
Price: $29.99 via physical or digital download
Availability: Steam, PlayStation Store, Microsoft Store
File Size: 15.9GB (PC)
Currently, sandbox-based franchises are abundant, with properties like Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs, and Just Cause all letting players loose across vast, open worlds. But it is was Los Angeles-based Pandemic Studios that was one of the pioneering influences for the genre. 2005’s Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction provided a sweeping battlefield where players could accept contracts, as well as procure the tools for annihilation. Once vehicles or firearms were acquired, you were often free to plot your own riotous course. Largely, the departure from linear-based missions felt gratifying.
Pandemic followed up Mercenaries with an open-world title set in the cold-war era1. Blending ground-based and saucer-based hijinks with a healthy dose of irreverent humor, Destroy All Humans! might have lacked the militaristic mayhem of Mercenaries, but doubled-down on the feeling of subversive vandalism. Fifteen years on, Black Forest Games (Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back, Rogue Stormers) has given the title an impressive visual makeover, while preserving much of the gameplay and humor. Save for the intermittent outdated mechanic, Destroy All Humans! could nearly pass for a contemporary title.
2005’s Jokes About 1959 Still Land in 2020
Players take control of Cryptosporidium 137 (aka Crypto 137), a bipedal extraterrestrial with an oversized head and an abhorrence for humans. But he’s arrived on Earth for two undertakings: to save Crypto 136, who crash-landed and was subsequently captured by the army. His secondary objective is to compete his compatriot’s original quest and secure enough human DNA to prevent his species from growing extinct. As such, Destroy All Humans’ plot rekindles the kind of sci-fi camp that captivated movie-goers in the late ‘50s. But the fun is witnessing the governmental cover-ups for all your turmoil, which is often blamed on communists.
While some might take issue with Destroy All Humans! equal-offender humor, which pokes fun at positions on the entire political spectrum, the military, rural communities, and almost any other target that it can skewer. But in an era when games are becoming increasingly sanitized and scrubbed of anything that could be interpreted as insulting, I found the satire refreshing. Sure, some of the jokes haven’t aged gracefully, and it’s refreshing to see Black Forest Games preserve the playfulness of the script.
Probing the Boundaries of Good Taste
Fundamentally, much of the gameplay is remains just as solid. For the first few missions, Pandemic Studios didn’t provide too much autonomy, and these stages act as a tutorial for your mischievous toolset. One of the first powers you’ll earn in telekinesis, capable of grabbing people or animals and flinging them into the horizon. This was persistently entertaining in 2005 and doesn’t lose an iota of enjoyment a decade a half later. Later, your arsenal will grow, allowing to electrocute groups of people, offering cartoonish x-rays as they twitch from the electrical current. And of course, there’s the anal probe, that doesn’t just culminate in a satisfying head pop, but allows for the collection of DNA, which can be used to augment Crypto’s arsenal.
When DAH! shifts away from pandemonium, things aren’t quite as compelling. You’ll be able to disguise yourself as a human to make your way into restricted areas. When this happens, you can raise the suspicion of humans who will follow you around each of the game’s six environments with relentless determination. After you’ve passed the first few missions, there’s the occasional difficulty spike where the game expects you to tackle adversity in a very specific way. This can be vexing, but quite often the game rewards you afterward with another joke, weapon, or upgrade making exertion almost bearable. The exception are the game’s culminating showdowns which are exceedingly challenging.
And then there’s the saucer sequences that take up about twenty percent of the game. Although the number of devastating tools at your disposal are fewer, it’s here that Destroy All Humans! flaunts its visual upgrade with some of the best explosions around. These are often mindless sorties, which arrive with less frequency once your spaceship is powered up. But they do provide a pleasing outlet for all the times those pesky humans brought out their elevated weaponry.
Aesthetically, Black Forest Games makes some solid decisions for this remake. Detail has been injected to the game’s locales, and weapon effects. Whether it’s the texturing on Area 42’s rocky hillsides, or the meticulously trimmed hedges and above-ground pools that signal suburban tranquility, the game delivers delightful milieu that are fantastic for destruction. Adding to the appeal are comically imprecise lip-syncing and prodigious performances for the voice actors. Hearing Cryto-137 shift from his normal cantankerous state to pensive candidness when he’s close to death is thoroughly charming.
Inevitably, some picky players will ask if Destroy All Humans! needed a remake. Spend a few minutes with Black Forest Game’s adept remake and the answer is a clear and resounding, “yes”. While there is a wide selection of sandbox titles, few provide such a spirited outlet for intergalactic vandalism. Being a bad guy in Destroy All Humans! presents a plethora of ways to be malicious- and most of them feel utterly satisfying. Hopefully, this isn’t the last Pandemic Studios’ sandbox we’ll revisit. Returning to Mercenaries and The Saboteur would be magnificent.
Destroy All Humans! was played on PC with review code provided by the publisher.
1 While Destroy All Humans! And Destroy All Humans! 2 were created by Pandemic, Destroy All Humans! Big Willy Unleashed (2008) and Destroy All Humans! Path of the Furon (2008) were developed by Locomotive Games and Sandblast Games, respectively.