For many years now, the Sci-Fi theme has been used and used again for the inspiration of videogames. Alien Syndrome, Escape from the Planet of the Robot Monsters, Duke Nukem, even Halo have fallen back on this trusty narrative setting, but what do all of these previous titles have in common? The destruction of a common alien threat by a singular humanoid hero, that?s what. Now publisher THQ and developer Pandemic Studios have seen fit to turn the sci-fi genre on its head with their new title Destroy All Humans!, and put the player in control of the dreaded alien, in this case, one Cryptosporidium 137.
Crypto, as he will be referred to from now on, is a member of the Furon race, and has been charged with the vitally important task of harvesting DNA from a planet called Earth. The reason for doing this is certainly humorous, and need not be spoiled by revealing here, but the importance of this task to the Furon Empire is paramount ? he must return victorious as, quite literally, their survival depends on it?
Straight from the title screen it is obvious what the developers have tried to do. The art style and music all provide a credible, and enticingly cheesy 50?s Sci-Fi vibe, and the introductory movie is just the frosting on the cake. The atmosphere of this game is set up very early, and never wanes. It is truly enjoyable to see an open ended game display something thematically different from the increasingly clich?d urban gangster tale.
The gameplay in DAH is reminiscent of Pandemic?s earlier effort Mercenaries, in that its central gameplay mechanic is an open ended world where you can really see and do what you like, although there is an over arcing storyline to fall back on should you become tired of the wandering around, looking for pick ups or harvesting brain stems (your source of human DNA) from the ?simple folk?. It is this choice of gameplay style that really allows DAH to shine. There is always something going on to keep you entertained, even if it?s just a silly little side quest or deciding that you wish to go on a carefree rampage, the game really fits what the player may want to do at any given moment. Of course, this couldn?t be a cheesy Sci-Fi game without a flying saucer, and Crypto is well catered for there. As a welcome break of pace, you can leap into your space ship and level various towns and social gatherings with your lovingly named Death Ray, should the situation call for such wanton destruction. Of course, the acquisition of DNA cannot effectively be carried out by the systematic vaporization of humankind, so Crypto also has some very interesting tools at his disposal that allow him to achieve his goal from ground level.
An alien race can?t be fearsome without a jaw-dropping array of weaponry with which to cull the humanoid threat, and so Crypto decided to bring along his arsenal for the ride. Beginning the game with the Zap-O-Matic, which is essentially the alien equivalent of a tazer gun, Crypo soon graduates to more effective means of homo sapien genocide, including the Disintegrator Ray (a legendary weapon steeped in sci-fi cheese), and the Ion Detonator (which provides the projectile part of the weapon set, allowing for the placement of a devastating charge which can be detonated manually). This assortment would be enjoyable on its own, but Pandemic has seen fit to provide their psychopathic little alien with arguably the most hallowed alien instrument of all time ? the Anal Probe. Not content with just ?examining humans?, the device can also (when sufficiently charged) lead to a rather unexpected display of buttock clenching, brain stem extraction. Useful indeed!
Crypto?s saucer is no slouch either, coming equipped with both a Death Ray, and the Abducto Beam ? a device which can pick up virtually any object, and allow its transportation to another area (whether that be the middle of nowhere, or for the more deviant player, the middle of a lake). Rounding out the saucer?s compliment are the Sonic Boom, which issues forth a devastating shockwave that severely damages anything it comes into contact with, and the Quantum Destructor, which is the most enviable weapon in a Furon?s arsenal, firing radioactive bombs which decimate ANYTHING within its blast radius. Unfortunately though, these are very rare, and Crypto can only carry a small amount at any given time.
In a non-lethal capacity, Crypto?s bulbous head is full of useful psychic powers, which are invaluable when lethal force just isn?t a viable option. Psychokinesis is the first of Crypto?s many powers and allows objects (and people) to be manipulated and thrown around as if they have no need for gravity. Filling out an already adequate set of powers are the Hypno Blast and Holobob, respectively. Hypno Blast allows the devious little creature to effectively ?possess? a human, and implant a suggested behavior into their already feeble mind. Once implanted, the victim can be coerced into falling asleep, following, or causing a distraction. Holobob, as at least part of the name will allude to, is the ability to project an image of any encountered NPC over Crypto, so that he may move freely among the humans without causing any panic, and it also provides the game with a token stealth mechanic. Crypto?s mission to gain DNA via the use of these powers would be fruitless if he did not have the means of extracting DNA, and this too, is one of his psychic powers.
Once a foe has been incapacitated, Crypto can draw the brain stem out from the corpse of an enemy, using his Brain Extraction skill, and add it to his collection (which will both add to the Furon gene pool, and allow him to purchase weapon and power upgrades from the mothership). All of these powers come in useful throughout the adventure, but they require sustained periods of concentration. When using these powers Crypto must be constantly vigilant in maintaining his concentration level, which utilizes the final ?psy? power ? the Cortex Scan. This scan is neither offensive, nor defensive strictly speaking, but it allows Crypto to rebuild his concentration level. An unusual side effect of this however, is that it allows a humans thoughts to be read. While some of these thoughts are innocuous and dull, others can be simply hilarious, and it really contradicts the smiling, happy 50?s atmosphere hearing what an upstanding member of polite society is ?really? thinking about.
The graphics in DAH have an obvious inspiration, and this is also what lends the game some of the most enjoyable graphical choices I have seen in a game in recent times. Everything in the environment looks as it should, from the humans being dressed in 50?s gear, the vehicles present in the environment, and the movie posters for Ed Wood?s most notorious film ?Plan Nine from Outer Space?, which are scattered around the landscape. While all of this lends an awesome sense of authenticity to the game, Crypto himself steals the show, being both wonderfully animated and humorously expressive. His 50?s style ?astronaut? suit, and the effects of his weapons all help bring a whimsical sense of sci-fi kitsch to the proceedings. There are a couple of elements graphically that lower the overall quality though, which largely involve the NPC character models. As they exhibit a lower quality than Crypto, they can look really quite basic, though this is only really noticeable during cut scenes which utilize the in game engine, and tend to show them at a much closer view than maybe they should be seen. Another NPC issue that is somewhat bothersome is the selection of NPC models, which is limited. Unfortunately, this often leads to being able to see several of the same character walking down the street at one time. Although this can taint the atmosphere just a little, it could also be seen as an intended feature the developers put into the game to emulate the ?cookie cutter? similarities that everybody shared in movies and TV shows from the 50?s. The one other graphical issue present with this title is the fairly obvious draw distance. Whether walking or flying, trees and buildings will just begin popping into view, and although tolerable it tarnishes the polish that the rest of the game exudes, if only by a small amount.
Of course, graphical prowess would be wasted if the sound was not up to par, and the developers have obviously lavished a lot of care and attention to this aspect of the game. Sound is arguably the highlight of DAH, and really helps to solidify the theme of this title. The music is just as you would expect it to be in a classic sci-fi movie, consisting of an overly dramatic and spooky warbling tune that will subconsciously make a gamer smile. The voice acting is also very well implemented, consisting of a deliciously hokey quality that really accentuates the humorous nature of the games narrative. Grant Albrecht, the actor providing the voice of Crypto does a wonderful job conveying a jaded toughness about his character, and sounds somewhat like a cross between Michael Ironside and Jack Nicholson. Perhaps the most inspired character voicing however, is that of Orthopox, the alien commander, who is expertly voiced by Richard Horvitz, who provides the voice of the title character in Jhonen Vasquez?s Invader Zim.
Replay value in DAH is largely dictated by its open-ended style. There are many things to do in this game, and it is largely up to the player whether they will take their time, or move the story along at a much more aggresive pace. There are many objects to collect within the environments, should you wish to take the time seeking them out, and side missions prove to be engaging distractions. Like many other games of this nature, additional gameplay can also be found through approaching the same situations different ways. Should you go in guns blazing, or approach a task more stealthily? The choice obviously lies with the player, and that makes the game an attractive proposition for a second, or maybe even third run through.
Overall, Pandemic and THQ have not tarnished their reputations with this game in any way. In fact, they are fast becoming two of the most versatile developers and publishers in the industry today. Destroy All Humans! is a title which they can both be proud of. Though the gameplay in general consists of nothing drastically new, the style and narrative flair that oozes from this game really do deserve attention from the gaming public. As the lazy days of summer (and the general drought of quality games that tends to go hand in hand with it approaches), check out DAH: it might just be the breath of fresh air you need on a hot day.