Sometimes it’s best to leave nostalgia buried in the past where it belongs, since you risk revisiting something you once considered sacred, only to discover it hasn’t exactly aged gracefully. Pandemic’s Destroy All Humans is one such relic.
For those who missed it back in 2005, this game is a long-awaited refresh of the PS2 and Xbox classic that comes with new visuals and a number of gameplay refinements by Black Forest Games.
Sadly, this makeover isn’t enough to detract from a painfully outdated third-person shooter that feels out of place in the modern landscape. Its humour is juvenile and offensive, while its shooting mechanics possess the clumsy obsolescence that plagued third-person games before the age of Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War.
An overly brief campaign and generally lifeless world prevent it from standing out, despite a number of enjoyably goofy moments resonating throughout the handful of hours I spent blasting through Crypto’s debut adventure. Unlike the recent remaster of Spongebob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom, Destroy All Humans doesn’t possess the timelessness required to truly draw you in decades after its original release.
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Destroy All Humans is surprisingly faithful to its PS2 and Xbox predecessor. Cutscenes have been recreated with the same camera techniques and visual directions, although every character and environment has been improved with modern sensibilities. However, I’m not a huge fan of the new direction. Humanoid characters look strangely ugly and eccentric, like they’ve been pulled out of a satirical newspaper sketch.
Gaudy facial features and harsh textures aren’t easy on the eyes, and having to stare at them during extensive cutscenes simply isn’t very enjoyable, and that’s without mentioning the rather tiresome dialogue. Performance and audio issues also surface in a number of cutscenes, which is unusual since the framerate during gameplay is relatively seamless. Black Forest Games may have been trying to emphasise the gross ignorance of humanity with such designs, but this doesn’t fly when the satire is weak and many major female characters are needlessly objectified.
The humour is equally as scattershot. Banter between Crypto and Pox is frequently hilarious, largely thanks to two excellent performances from J. Grant Albrecht and Richard Steven Horvitz. They’ll poke fun at strange human traditions, US politics and constantly present unorthodox ways of taking over the planet. It feels like a kooky mixture of Invader Zim and Mars Attacks, two things I genuinely adore.
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Sadly, much of the dialogue gained from scanning humans while exploring the game’s many environments veers into unnecessary bouts of misogyny and homophobia. You could argue it’s period accurate, but it isn’t part of a wider cultural critique throughout the campaign, it simply feels like it comes from a place of prejudiced spite. Obviously, I didn’t notice such flaws when I was younger, but now it sticks out like a sore thumb.
These outdated principles are present through the entire game, and they’re a constant stain on what should be a quirky and charming adventure. In a lot of situations the enjoyable action would salvage things, but Destroy All Humans doesn’t quite have this privilege. But it’s still fun in short bursts as you jump from 1950’s suburbia to secret military bases, murdering humans and harvesting their brains for upgrade points.
Missions are normally pretty short, tasking you with simplistic objectives like tailing scientists without being spotted or defending specific locations from waves of enemies. In the modern landscape they’re incredibly short and underwhelming, and the open-world environments are fairly barren aside from a handful of collectibles and side activities. Beyond farming them for upgrades, I never had much of a reason to revisit older locations.
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Crypto’s varied repertoire of weapons and abilities thankfully make Destroy All Humans’ brief missions more engaging. You can strike multiple enemies with lightning using the Zap-O-Matic or melt them to dust with the iconic Distintegrator Ray. Or, you can be an old-school invader and suck out their brains using the Anal Probe.
All of these weapons, alongside abilities such as mind reading and telekinesis have distinct upgrade paths, which you’ll be building on right until the credits roll. This sense of progression is appreciated, but it’s a shame that the only challenging moments in Destroy All Humans come from a handful of boss battles and horde sections, otherwise the entire campaign is trivial in its difficulty.
The remake’s new targeting system and streamlined movement only smoothen things further, with even the largest of adversaries going down in mere moments with even an inkling of consideration for strategy. Destroy All Humans certainly conveys the power fantasy of being an unstoppable invader from another world, but it’d be lovely if humanity put up a better fight.
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Destroy All Humans’ narrative thrust simply revolves around Crypto seeking to overthrow the United States, infiltrating their government and military as you eliminate the highest figures of authority. I must admit there was a a big sense of satisfaction when melting down a President who looked suspiciously like a certain orange wotsit. But it soon becomes clear that the world is much larger than our little grey man first envisioned, which will likely be explored in any future remakes.
It’s a passable story, both propelled and held back by its charming characters and cringe-inducing dialogue. Sadly, nearly everything about Destroy All Humans is constrained by design conventions we’ve long since abandoned, leaving it to stew in a cauldron of boredom and frustration. Sadly, this isn’t something a new coat of paint can fix, no matter how stellar a job Black Forest Games has done here.
Black Forest Games’ remake of Destroy All Humans is a worthwhile adventure for fans of the series and those who grew up with Crypto’s antics on the PS2 and Xbox. However, you’ll need to make peace with its outdated gameplay mechanics alongside tired dialogue and story beats, many of which feature a number of offensive stereotypes.
It’s a crying shame, since there’s definitely space in the modern gaming landscape for a tongue-in-cheek alien caper like this. Perhaps if this remake proves successful, THQ Nordic will explore a new, more ambitious direction for the franchise that happily leaves the past behind, and likely be much better for it.