Reviewed: November 11, 2006
Released: October 17, 2006
There are a few games that I could have kicked myself for missing out on in the last generation of games – games that sounded cool, games that had a unique hook, or games that came from under the radar and rated exceptionally well with the media. Of those games – Rez (I once passed that up for $10 – doh!), Mercenaries, Shadow of the Colossus, etc. – one caught my eye with its retro B-movie, Area 51-meets-McCarthyism-meets-Grand Theft Auto shtick, Destroy All Humans from Pandemic Studios.
Destroy All Humans may not have garnered the best reviews, but the reviews were generally positive in nature, and the title was well-received by gamers. It was a given that Pandemic would take a few months to tune up their alien sandbox adventure and pump out one last version for our now-retired console. The result is – get this – Destroy All Humans 2, Make War Not Love.
When Destroy All Humans 2 hit the offices of GameChronicles, I didn’t want to have one more title to regret having missed, so I snatched it up immediately. But now, after actually having played through the game, I wonder if wasn’t better off before when I simply thought that the game seemed like a cool concept, instead of now knowing that Destroy All Humans really isn’t all it is cracked up to be.
Destroy All Humans! 2 tries hard to achieve the open-ended sandbox play of the GTA-inspired games. And for the most part, it does an admirable job. The storyline follows the exploits of how Cryptosporidium, an alien sent to earth to, er, “Destroy All Humans”. He quickly learns of the KGB’s evil plot to take over the world and somehow sees it in his best interest to rid the world of their evil agents first so he can eventually exact his own discipline on the populace. During the course of the lengthy story, Crypto will find himself in faux versions of San Francisco, London, Tokyo and finally Russia – on his quest to foil the KGB’s plans.
Most of the combat occurs on foot, with Crypto sluggishly running from point to point accepting a series of missions that bring him closer and closer to the heart of the KGB and foil whichever diabolical scheme they are working on.
As Crypto doesn’t really fit in to the general population (as a three foot purple shaded alien, he kinda sticks out in a crowd) – he employs a body-jumping mechanism in which he transforms into body of a passing pedestrian and can temporarily use their form to pass unnoticed through crowds. The effect is temporary, lasting only as long as the possessed character’s stamina can withstand – leaving Crypto to find a new body to possess.
If spotted by passing pedestrians or drivers, Crypto can quickly use his mind control to incite “Free Love” which causes all of the surrounding people to temporarily fall into a kind of trance dance – very similar to something you would see from a bunch a neo college hippies at a Dead show. This acts like the Pay and Spray in a GTA – eliminating the attention and giving Crypto a few precious moments to possess another body.
Crypto can also use his powers of telekinesis to quickly lift and throw characters and objects around the levels – which comes in awfully handy in battle – especially during a certain mission on an Alcatraz-inspired island (hint, hint). Crypto starts the game with the power to pick up the smaller and lighter objects and people in the environment, and with DNA upgrades, the power to control progressively larger and heavier objects.
The levels aren’t that large compared to a San Andreas or even a Vice City (and nowhere near the massive Just Cause, obviously) but due to Crypto’s small stature and sluggish gate, traveling is a bit of a chore. Especially for seasoned gamers, who will constantly find themselves trying to jack cars to no avail. Thankfully, Crypto can eventually power up his jet pack to help him skip over fences and walls and utilize some of the many shortcuts in the game.
Every now and then, Crypto will have to take to the skies with his flying saucer – either to abduct humans to use in simple gene-splicing experiments (leveling Crypto up), to pick up vehicles and objects for particular missions, or to lay down reckless destruction on the masses. The saucer contains a finite energy bank that must be juggled between maintaining the ships cloak of invisibility and having the fire power to wipe out masses of people and vehicles below. And believe me, you want to remain as invisible as possible, because any notice of your ship will immediately incite a full force military strike with multiple SAM-carrying tanks and hoards of soldiers firing from below.
Luckily, anytime your ship is destroyed, you are restarted from nearly the same spot – but with full energy meters, a full weapons cache, and no alert level. This allows you a brief moment to click into invisibility and hightail it out of the region – that is, if that’s what you want to do.
The weaponry is varied and extremely impressive. Considering the game is designed to look like a sci-fi B-movie from the 60’s – there is a complete arsenal of pulsating laser guns, flamethrowers, plasma shooters and much, much more for our antihero to incite a ruckus. Each weapon is unique and can be upgraded using the much sought-after Furon cells that are awarded for completing missions and can be found scattered throughout the levels.
The effect of each weapon is likewise very unique – like the blasters that leave their targets as charcoal skeletons that fall to the ground in a piles of ashes, or the aptly titled Anal Probe that bores itself in through the enemy’s posterior, only to return with the enemy’s central nervous system in tow. Don’t worry parents, the results are really more humorous than gory, and there’s no blood to speak of.
My favorite weapon by far would have to be the cool-as-cool Dislocator gun, which fires a series of purple plasma discs that latch onto targets (vehicles, objects, people), lifting them off the ground and slamming them around the surrounding environment – bouncing off the trees, pavement, buildings, and vehicles. While the Dislocator alone won’t kill an enemy it has latched onto, you can create effective collateral damage by dislocating a tank or car in a crowded area – which comes in handy when surrounded by dozens of relentless soldiers or KGB agents.
Each of the areas has a series of mandatory storyline missions as well as a number of optional side missions that can be completed. The storyline missions are fairly straightforward and simple once the gamer realizes that there is little or no recourse for dying – in fact it generally helps to die every now and then, thanks to a, incredibly forgiving continue system that respawns Crypto in pretty much the same position as he left but with full energy and weapons.
The side missions generally find Crypto trying to recruit followers for the Cult of Arkvoodle – the apparent religion of the aliens. These will generally task Crypto with performing some miraculous feat to wow the crowd to Arvoodle’s power. These missions tend to be a bit more difficult than the main storyline missions, and it becomes quite easy to simply avoid them in lieu of progressing the story.
So, it sounds like Destroy All Humans! 2 has everything a gamer wants in a game, right? Well, I’m not sure. Call me jaded, call me spoiled, call me what you want – but I just didn’t seem to have the kind of fun I expected to have laying gratuitous devastation on unsuspecting humans. I can’t attribute it to one particular aspect, but Destroy All Humans! 2 just seemed to feel claustrophobic and confined the whole time I played it.
Maybe it was Crypto’s sluggish pace, or maybe the constant body-hopping and free-loving mechanic, maybe it was the constant and unyielding onslaught of the soldiers and KGB agents that pop up the moment Crypto makes an appearance in his alien form – whatever it was, the game just became more and more confining and stressful as it progressed. I found myself feeling forced to trudge through the story, which is an awful shame considering that the game has so many individually cool aspects – it’s only too bad that these aspects do not seem to mesh cohesively for the long run.
Destroy All Humans! 2 looks absolutely gorgeous on the PS2 – at least for what you see on the screen. What I mean is that while the rendering and textures are top-shelf stuff, the game is so riddled with pop-up and draw-in that it severely affects the gameplay. These problems are commonplace with sandbox-style games – even the holy grail of sandbox gameplay, GTA, is one of the worst offenders – but the pop-up doesn’t generally have a negative affect on gameplay. It does in Destroy All Humans! 2 – especially in the saucer-flying missions when you can’t see assigned targets or avoid the unyielding Army convoys.
Regardless of the pop-up – which seems to affect pedestrians and vehicles, not buildings and scenery – the backgrounds are vibrant and colorful, and really do a great job of capturing the look and feel of the faux San Francisco, London, Tokyo and Russia that the game presents.
The character models are heavily reused, but they play off lighthearted stereotypes of Hippies, Yippies, KGB agents, Mods, and even members of Her Majesty’s Secret Service a-la James Bond. The animations are a bit over-the-top, and the idle stance gesticulations make the characters look like they are hopped up on one too many goofballs – it might make perfect sense for the Hippies, but for the Paul Anka fans...
The sound department deals the final blow to Destroy All Humans! 2 – not so much for the quality of the sound, but more for the cheesy and embarrassing voiceovers that really ruin the overall experience. Not the least of which is our hero Crypto – who is voiced by second rate actor / video game voiceover artist / Jack Nicholson impersonator, J. Grant Albrecht. Don’t get me wrong, I like Jack Nicholson’s unique cantor, but this hack makes a mockery of a classic actor.
The script tries hard to be witty – a tad too hard at times. Some of the references and “in jokes” were good enough to make me chuckle (especially after a few beers), but most of it is corny and almost all of it degrades to bathroom-quality sexual humor. Simply picturing a wrinkly old alien like Crypto (or a wrinkly old Jack Nicholson for that matter) popping constant boob jokes and double entendre is nauseating enough, but actually having the women subjects responding suggestively is downright creepy. I mean, if a green extraterrestrial were to hook up with an Earth chick, wouldn’t that be borderline bestiality?
They say that every cloud has a silver lining, and the silver lining to this audio cloud would have to be the killer soundtrack within the game. The retro and neo-retro garage rock tunes from the likes of The Greenhornes, The Lyres, The Morlocks, and Nic Armstrong and the Thieves fill out a soundtrack that stands second in my book to the Xbox’s Stubbs the Zombie as the coolest game soundtracks of all time.
The effects also come with great quality, with all the cool zings and bleeps you would expect from a game that is supposed to be taking place in a 60’s era B-movie. Everything from the laser blasts to the explosions sound rich and are quite effective at reviving that retro-spaceman vibe.
There are quite a few hours of gameplay to be had – but after the fist few hours, as things begin to get more and more irritatingly repetitive, the frustration sets in and it becomes difficult to justify playing Destroy All Humans! 2 over some of the more interesting releases of late.
Still, I have to admit that the game will have appeal to the younger gamers who like to hear a grizzly old Jack Nicholson impersonator dropping boob jokes hour after hour.
At $40, there are worse ways you could spend your money, but then again there are plenty of better ways out there as well. Destroy All Humans! 2 isn’t necessarily a bad game – it just isn’t all that great. I was hoping that laying waste on hippies, yippies and KGB agents would be a bit more fun and a lot less confining.