Reviewed: May 23, 2008
Released: February 25, 2008
The Destroy All Humans series has been a bit of a guilty pleasure for gamers since Pandemic first introduced the wisecracking alien, Crypto, and his bumbling plans for earthly eradication in 2005. By blending sandbox style open world gameplay with tongue-in-cheek scripting, the Destroy All Humans series succeeds at poking fun not only at human society’s wanton consumerism and blind follow-the-pack mentality – but also at the videogame industry, itself.
The original Destroy All Humans title took on the real 1950’s postwar mania that had Americans digging underground sanctuaries and bomb shelters in their back yards to hide away from communist infiltration, nuclear attacks, alien takeovers. The second release advanced Destroy All Humans by a decade, addressing the 1960’s era cold war fears, anti-war hippy movement, and taking the war across the pond to England to touch on James Bond style spy flicks and the Beatles-inspired Mod scene.
Now we have the third title, which takes the series into the 1970’s – tackling typical 70’s era subjects like the women’s movement, corporate economy, fast food chains, and yes – disco fashion. But this time around, the invasion takes place on the Wii, and without the help of the folks at Pandemic – who are busy finalizing oft-delayed Mercenaries and Lord of the Rings titles for their new owners, EA. In their absence THQ has signed Locomotive Games, which has had its fair share of experience in the past with some last-gen racing titles and the Cars film tie-in for the PSP.
Sadly, while Destroy All Humans: Big Willy Unleashed has all the trappings that should make it a great addition to the series, a handful of serious hardware issues rear their ugly heads, leaving us with a frustratingly tedious experience that would have been better left to traditional console design.
For gamers who have played the previous Destroy All Humans titles, the main framework of Big Willy Unleashed is largely unchanged from its predecessors. The gameplay takes the form of a guided open-world sandbox game in which our hero (or antihero?) Crypto travels about, blasting, blowing-up, and lobotomizing (via anal probe) the wacky citizens of earth, all while attempting to avoid being spotted by the authorities and follow a loosely tied mission structure.
This time around, rather than tackling the post-war fears of the 50’s, or the antiwar movement of the 60’s, the subject matter is the gluttonous overindulgence of the 70’s – the main vehicle of infiltration being the wildly popular Big Willy fast food chain which has been recently purchased by Crypto’s boss, Pox. But in a rather disturbing Soylent Green twist, rather than featuring the traditional recipe ingredients, the Big Willy chain’s inexplicably delicious meat is made from the bodies of the humans destroyed in the previous two Destroy All Humans titles. Nifty, eh? Crypto’s main tasks revolve around maintaining the Big Willy franchise, progressing the wacky storyline, and continuing the wanton annihilation of earthly peoples.
Much like the previous titles, Crypto not only dishes out destruction on foot, but also from the cockpit of a transmogrifying flying saucer (which can assume the form of an Big Willy advertising blimp), as well as the newly-added Big Willy mechanized robot that serves double-duty as the storefront statue.
It is fairly obvious that developer Locomotive Games had good intentions with Destroy All Humans: Big Willy Unleashed, so it only the more sad that the game falls apart due to the same few hardware-based issues that have plagued so many other games on the Wii; the visuals (as related to gameplay) and the motion based controls.
As for the visuals – I will go into a little more detail in the Graphics section about how poor Destroy All Humans: Big Willy Unleashed looks on the Wii, but the fact that the choppy framerate and poor detail actually mars the gameplay requires mention in this section as well. Point blank, the game chugs so heavily whenever there is a lot of action onscreen, that it becomes almost impossible to properly control your character – especially given the incredible awkward control scheme, which when coupled with these bad visuals renders movement, much less precision targeting, nearly impossible when the heat is on.
As for those controls, Locomotive Games attempts to incorporate the Wii’s motion-based controls into an existing dual-analog mechanic – and the results are dreadful. The game maps the character movement to the nunchuk’s analog stick, with the look movement mapped to the Wii remote’s pointing function – and while it sounds like a plausible combo, it is implemented in such a touchy-yet-imprecise way, that even the simplest camera rotations become a tedious exercise in patience.
This forces the gamer to constantly be pointing the linear controller at the screen with an outstretched arm, which can be a real test of forearm and wrist strength – and even momentary movements to a more relaxing position will require major screen readjustment. And if the remote’s motion happens to go beyond the game’s sensing range, gamers are treated to an extended period of lag before the game syncs back with the remote.
We have seen a number of games recently that have been pushing the limits of the Wii’s underpowered graphics processor – but Destroy All Humans: Big Willy Unleashed is not one of them. In fact, the game’s visual quality is pretty terrible overall – so bad that it really puts a serious damper on the gameplay.
The most noticeable downfall is the game’s 3D modeling and textures – which exhibit such poor resolution and detail that the game seriously looks like it was designed on a handheld and then ported to a full-size console – which may well have been the case given Locomotive’s recent success with the PSP’s Cars title. Basically, the game would have looked good in 2001 on the Dreamcast or PS2, but it looks terrible in 2008.
But even more detrimental of an issue is the inconsistent framerate, which (as mentioned earlier) drops so low it kills the motion-based controls altogether. When a developer makes an attempt to capitalize on a console’s unique hook like motion-based controls, you would hope that something as core to the experience as visuals would not hamper the attempt…well, with Destroy All Humans: Big Willy Unleashed, it does.
All of the unique details put in the original – the polygonal trees and shrubs that sway and rustle in the wind or when brushed against, and the animals that kick up dust when strolling along – have translated well to the Wii.
Now here’s a wacky concept – while Destroy All Humans: Big Willy Unleashed looks absolutely dreadful, it sounds pretty darn good. Granted, the series has always been known for quality sound and voiceovers – and the developers most likely had an extensive library of prerecorded sound clips and effects to choose – but I have to say that I prefer the sound quality of Big Willie Unleashed over any of the previous titles.
Crypto still sounds like a one-off actor trying to do his best (or worst) Jack Nicholson impersonation – but the fact that the scripting in Big Willie Unleashed is much more enjoyable than the previous two titles makes him seem a bit less annoying. In fact, whereas the last two games rarely elicited more than a chuckle, the conversations between Crypto and Pox had me rolling on the floor with their industry in-jokes and societal commentary.
For instance, when Pox first mentions that the restaurant’s meat is had been manufactured from the human bodies harvested during the previous two games, Crypto replies with surprise, stating “And I thought those bodies disappeared whenever I turned the corner!” If that is not a classic quip making fun of the previous game’s coding, I don’t know what it.
The NPC’s have a large library of one-liners and comments that are sure to make gamers laugh, and the sound effects are solid and fitting to the subject matter.
If the gameplay were not so marred by the visuals and controls, I would have no problem recommending a purchase – but as it stands, the technical issues render Big Willy Unleashed to be an exceedingly frustrating experience.
Although Destroy All Humans: Big Willy Unleashed shows a lot of potential – the few areas it misses are so detrimental to the gameplay that you would be better off giving this one a pass.