Retro Review: Destroy All Humans! (2005)

Whether it's the cheap effects, cheesy dialogue or comical vibes, one of my biggest guilty pleasures is watching those brilliant sci-fi movies from the 1950s that became cult classics among film fans. With its funny take on alien invasion stories and political thrillers, Pandemic Studios' classic probe 'em up Destroy All Humans! recaptures the spirit of a lot of these low-budget romps, with many of the themes and imagery deriving from the culture of that era: government conspiracies, communism and the rise of the silver screen.

You are Cryptosporidium-137, a clone of the extraterrestrial furon race who arrives on Earth to collect human DNA that bears almost identical similarity to the genetic makeup of his own species. But humans are less than willing to give up their brains than you might think, so Crypto has also brought a lot of powerful weaponry along. These resemble the ray guns you see in classic sci-fi pictures, and they each offer a wide range of uses, from the electrically charged Zap o' Matic to the big boom of the Ion Detonator. But then there's also the Anal Probe, which does exactly what it says on the tin.
If that isn't already enough, Crypto also has access to a bunch of mental abilities. PK (psychokinesis) lets you hurl people away at great speeds, whereas Hypnotise can influence them to do your bidding. The best ability in the game by far is Holobob, which lets Crypto project a hologram of a human around himself to use as a disguise. This is a useful tool to hide yourself amongst the Earthling populace, but also completely breaks some missions in how easy it is to infiltrate tough areas.

Rather than being a large open-world game, Destroy All Humans features a set of smaller sandbox locations inspired by real places associated with '50s American culture such as Santa Monica, Roswell, and even Area 51. Although these areas are fun to mess around in, because of the limited hardware capabilities at the time, many of them are tiny and empty. This is made worse by render distance for NPCs and vehicles also falling short, making it hard to see anything at a further range. I'll pretend furons have poor eyesight instead.
In these areas you can terrorise humans on foot or take to the skies in your flying saucer to wreak havoc on a larger scale. Both modes of play are drastically different from each other, with one more suited to fighting individuals and the other at vehicles and large enemies. Firing up the saucer's arsenal at a building also showcases the stunning Havok physics engine, where buildings blaze up in flames, crumble and eventually collapse entirely. 

If you cause enough mayhem, the authorities are called in using a GTA-style alert system. From the police to the army and even the government, every wave of enemies brings new challenges. By the end, you're fighting men in black and anti-aircraft defence units, practically turning everything into a war zone. With each area feeling like a small playground to use your weapons, it's the best way to spend time when off-mission.

But speaking of difficulty, many of the missions themselves aren't drastically hard. As mentioned earlier, Holobob can completely break certain moments by allowing you to disguise yourself as a human and pass through fortified areas unnoticed. There are enemies equipped to detect these camouflages, but PK also does a good job of dealing with them. To counter this, Holobob depletes energy from a concentration metre - the source of power for Crypto's mental abilities - which at least adds a challenge to the system.
The most frustrating aspect of these missions is the checkpoint system - or rather the lack of one. Die or fail, you're sent back to game's central hub and must retry a level from the beginning. There are some rubbish sections in the game that can cause an instant loss, whether it's a hard boss fight or dreaded escort mission, making these moments feel like sluggish repetitive tasks rather than interesting stages.

Despite that, there are many unforgettable missions scattered throughout the game. Sure, they all involve destroying humans, but it's hard to ignore the charm of a level that has you mind control a radio presenter to brainwash his listeners or one where you hypnotise the viewers of a drive-in movie theatre. I'll never forget probing a group of scientists to find information on a local politician's location, it really felt like I was taking part in an old sci-fi film. Overall, these stages feel fun in their own right when things are working correctly.
Although originally pitched as a joke, Destroy All Humans! was strong enough to become a memorable game on sixth-gen consoles. We're all used to open-world crime games where you shoot at other humans, but taking that concept and giving it an alien invasion twist was a brilliant move. Even if it's done a little awkwardly, it lands most of its shots and remains a clever tribute to sci-fi and pop culture of the 1950s and beyond.
Reviewed on: PS2

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