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Destroy All Humans
game: Destroy All Humans
four star
posted by: Shawn Rider
publisher: THQ
developer: Pandemic Studios
ESRB rating: T (Teen)
date posted: 12:00 AM Fri Jul 29th, 2005
last revision: 12:00 AM Fri Jul 29th, 2005

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Pre-ordering Destroy All Humans earned you a copy of the Ed Wood film Plan 9 From Outer Space. Most of the audience for Destroy All Humans will only recognize the film from Tim Burton's film, Ed Wood, which has also clearly influenced Pandemic Studios, the developers of Destroy All Humans. Clearly aware of historical precedence, and cleverly knowledgeable about the realities behind the culture that created all of those great B-movie Sci-Fi hits, Destroy All Humans is probably the funniest game I've played since Psychonauts.

Based on pretty standard platformer-cum-adventure gameplay, Destroy All Humans puts you in the role of Krypto, a trash-talking operative who sounds a whole bunch like a Jack Nicholson impression. Sent to investigate/avenge the death of the Furon society's peaceful envoy, Krypto is a human harvesting machine. The Furons have been cloning themselves too long, and they require bits of human DNA to reinvigorate their own genetic makeup.

Destroy All Humans has a great story. It combines a whole slew of classic alien conspiracy theories and sci-fi stories to weave a narrative that feels just right. There's not a lot of new material here, but the writing is handled well, and the story appropriations are done with a wisdom that makes it not feel like a complete rehash. Krypto can scan the minds of innocent bystanders, and, indeed, must do so in order to maintain his human disguise. These thoughts often reveal funny hidden secrets, made funnier if you know about Hoover's crossdressing or the prevalence of hidden drug and alcohol addiction. You'll work against the Majestic conspiracies to brainwash America, but only so you can use the corrupt gameshow hosts to enslave the people for your own commercial purposes.

It should be apparent from the title that this game is fairly dark. The cheery graphics, models, and packaging are all undercut by a deep sense of satire. As a player, you are not the big-toothed hero working to save the human race; rather, you play a shrimpy little grey alien with a bad attitude and an anal probe. In order to retrieve human DNA, you must collect human brains, which you can accomplish through variously humorous and gory means. When things get too hot, you'll vaporize the humans with your advanced alien weaponry, or jump into your Furon saucer and death ray the human resistance.

The gameplay is not really breaking new ground. You are given a mission, which is played out in a fairly large level. These levels are generally made up of different towns, and are well-designed. There are different characters in each level that you will interact with in special ways (i.e. one character may help you, or another may present a unique challenge). Once you complete the mission, you're given a chance to wreak havoc on the community or pursue bonus goals. The bonus goals are mostly similar destroy everything in X amount of time? tasks.

Creating carnage is a gleeful experience. The Havoc physics engine lends to some excellent combinations of ragdoll flailing and massive explosions. Psychic abilities allow Krypto to fling police cars and army trucks into people or buildings, and explosions are satisfyingly destructive, large, and full of causal ramifications.

On each level you can board your saucer, although some levels require more saucer action than others. This is a welcome diversion, but the saucer does seem underpowered. The death ray takes several upgrades to get good, and even so other weaponry usurps it eventually. This is one instance in which the limited upgrade availability is especially frustrating; the death ray upgrades should be available much earlier in the game.

As you progress through the game, you can buy upgrades for current weapons and occasionally receive new weapons. These upgrades, overall, come too far between. It is easily possible to accrue large amounts of DNA credits? and have nothing to spend them on. Although it is especially frustrating with regards to your saucer, the other weapons would also benefit from more consistent upgrades. Finishing a level and not having the chance to purchase a new upgrade is a total letdown.

The mechanics of the gameplay, the audio, and the graphics are all very well done. It is obvious that Pandemic, a well-regarded development studio, has really put a lot of effort into this title. As such, it is easy to get comfortable with the game, and the learning curve is nicely paced. Some challenges are difficult on first approach, but a re-evaluation of tactics will almost always quickly reveal a solution.

A few pacing issues (such as the upgrades) and a bit too much repetitive mission types prevent Destroy All Humans from being a universally appealing game, but if you're a fan of old science fiction movies and videogames with a clever sense of humor, then Destroy All Humans should definitely be on your list this summer. It's rare to find a game with such a mature view of the genre in which it is working.

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