Destroy All Humans (DAH) is an excellent definition of a noble failure. You can tell just by watching it that Pandemic put in a lot of effort, and it is a blast for ample stretches. It could’ve been a classic though had Pandemic spent a little more time and manpower in the right places. In its shipping incarnation, the game suffers from basic problems that make it a better as a rental than a purchase. Unless you’re keen on owning an expensive copy of Teenagers From Outer Space.
Literally, finishing the story missions unlocks the complete 1959 movie, which is incredible as an extra even if it falls under the category of cinema so bad, it circles back to good. It probably helped sound the death knell for the “B-movie flying saucer” genre from which DAH gleefully rips so much.
It begins with the typically post-modern approach of casting you as the alien invader, the Jack Nicholson wannabe Cryptosporidium-137. The Furon race has survived for generations by cloning, but the process has degraded their DNA. Conveniently humans have strands of unaltered Furon DNA buried deep in their genes, so Crypto is assigned the grunt work of subjugating Earth in third-person action sequences, to make harvesting that DNA simpler.
Spoofing 1950's America has been popular since the decade was over. DAH is original however in that it incorporates clichés of flying saucer flicks into its gameplay. Among other weapons, Crypto’s saucer incorporates an “abducto-beam” and a death ray out of The War of the Worlds (the pre-Spielberg film). On foot, where you’ll spend most of the game, his arsenal includes the Zap-O-Matic, psychokinesis, and the anal probe - which is actually a gun that causes humans to run away clutching their buttcheeks, until their brainstems explode out of their heads and they collapse. I never got tired of that. Which pegs my mental age at about 10, I think.
One of the beautiful things about 50's B-movies was transparent paranoia about “the new generation” and commies, commies, commies, epitomized best by films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Crypto can use the HoloBob to impersonate anyone in line-of-sight, which becomes essential to infiltrating certain locations or avoiding the attention of heavily-armed authorities. Sometimes, he’s called upon to infiltrate American society. A shining moment of the game is when Crypto impersonates a Kennedy-esque mayor giving a speech. One of the response options to a citizen is, of course, “blame communism.”
The structure of DAH is semi-freeform. That is, during or after missions Crypto can explore previous maps to collect extra DNA for trade with Orthopox (Invader Zim’s Richard Horvitz), who provides weapon upgrades in exchange. The missions themselves have linear objectives. The important bit about upgrades is that they aren’t critical to progress, but simply make the game’s later stages easier. The power to psychically throw robots saved me some anguish in Capitol City.
Oh, what anguish the game can cause. A major issue I had with DAH was the absence of mid-mission checkpoints. Minus setbacks the later missions can take upwards of 15 to 30 minutes to finish, and if you die or otherwise fail them, you can’t even select “restart mission;” you have to return to the mothership, reselect the zone you were in, and wait through two loading screens again until you’re given control. The ordeal is magnified by rigid success conditions, like “no police awareness” in a map crawling with enemies, who can strip your HoloBob disguise from you at range. I was so angered by “Mr. Crypto Goes to Capitol City” I found myself yelling at the TV and on the verge of breaking my controller.
The shortage of enemy types is insignificant, by comparison. If you hold up one hand and two fingers on the other, you’ve got the number of generic enemies who pose a threat to you in the game. I do mean generic too. Every Army grunt is identical, down to the thoughts you hear when you scan their minds. It’s pointless to have witticisms like “Don’t ask, don’t tell. Works for me!” if the player’s going to have heard them each 40 times by the end, while recharging his psi abilities.
The most fundamental problem of the game: it wraps up in a hurry, at about 8 to 12 hours of play tops. The game does encourage you to go back and unlock more extras, or go on movie-style orgies of destruction. Realistically though it has nowhere near the content of its competitors in this area, like the Grand Theft Auto series or its inferior knockoff, True Crime. If you can’t beat True Crime, you probably shouldn’t try. It’s obvious from the making-of videos on the disc that Pandemic had big plans to do so. Instead, they should’ve concentrated on making the core elements more enjoyable.
The combination of frustrating mission mechanics and limited replay value leads me to strongly suggest renting Destroy All Humans before buying, if at all, regardless of your love for bad sci-fi. The chance to probe and incinerate the Cleavers isn’t necessarily worth much money.