What is a remake in 2020? Well, look at Resident Evil 3 and you’ll see a game that is entirely different from the original, mostly for the better, but in some ways also for the worse. In the same vein, a look at Final Fantasy VII Remake will tell you that remakes can be more than a re-adaptation of the original. Destroy All Humans!, a remake of the 2005 game, bucks this trend by being vastly more conservative.
What Is It?
Destroy All Humans! is a sandbox action-adventure game in which you play as Cryptosporidium-137, an alien of the Furon species and a subject of the Furon empire, as he is sent over to Earth in an attempt to rescue Cryptosporidium-136, 137’s clone-brother, and eventually invade and subjugate Earth–hence the title. The game is set in the late 50s and draws on many B-movie tropes of the period and evokes comic science films such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, and Plan 9 From Outer Space.
As for how the game plays out, Destroy All Humans! boasts a simplistic mission structure that has players control Cryptosporidium-137, or simply Crypto, as he disintegrates and lasers his way through various stages in six alien-related locations such as Rockwell (after Roswell, New Mexico), Santa Modesta (a nod to Santa Monica, California) and Area 42 – both a reference to the military base famous for alien conspiracy theories and a shout out to one of the best science fiction novels, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Why Should I Care?
I’ve always been a fan of science fiction and so the premise behind Destroy All Humans!–that of taking control of a tiny, ugly alien and just wrecking havoc on humanity–was irresistible to me.
Sadly though, the game does not really live up to its inspirations and/or premise. This is not the fault of the remake necessarily. The original was, allegedly, not any better either, but I am truly disappointed that developer Black Forest Games and publisher THQ Nordic were not more ambitious this time around.
By this I mean that even if I welcome the remake including features such as multitasking, streamlined movement and having more abilities, upgrades and mission objectives, the game is still fundamentally the same underwhelming experience it was 15 years ago. In fact in many ways, I think I would have had a better time playing Destroy All Humans! in 2005 than playing the remake in 2020.
This is because everything about the remake shows its age and because none of the wonder of being introduced to Crypto and the Furons for the first time is, quite naturally, present the second time around. And to its detriment, the remake is simply basked in nostalgia both for the bygone Cold War era as well as the original 2005 game as well.
Making matters worse is the fact that the game elements that were preserved from the original mostly do not hold up.
For starters, the game barely has a story tying it all up together. What I mean by this is that most of the narrative threads are ‘set-dressing’ and merely serve to propel the player from one game scenario to the next. In other words, the story contextualises the game and not much else. As for the characters, no one is particularly interesting and, actually, I found Crypto, the player-character, to be especially unlikable.
It also never helps that Destroy All Humans! beats the player over the head with references to communists, Marlon Brando, or Marilyn Monroe. And whereas it is cute that they do so and it is genuinely amusing that the U.S. government denies the possibility of an alien invasion and blames it all on Soviet interference, the game never really has anything poignant to say and instead thinks that just name-dropping is enough to elicit smiles or laughter. Case in point, I did not laugh the first time I heard “Here comes Johnny!” and I certainly did not laugh after hearing it for about a dozen or so times.
The gameplay is how Destroy All Humans! somewhat redeems itself. It is entertaining and fun to run around and employ Crypto’s many weapons and abilities on farmers, army men, or members of a spy organisation called Majestic.
Once deployed to the battlefield, Crypto has access to weapons such as the Disintegrator Ray and Ion Detonator. The sad reality about these weapons, however, is that they are not all effective or even fun to use and that there is not much incentive to swap between preferences. In addition to weapons, Crypto is capable of feats such as Psychokinesis and Holobob (the ability to take the form of unsuspecting humans) all of which are inherently fun and would be more so if not for the inspired gameplay scenarios. Now, these gameplay scenarios are enjoyable at first but since many of them, like stealthily infiltrating enemy encampments Hitman-style, have similar solutions, there is not much room for experimentation and the result is that the gameplay loop gets old pretty fast.
Breaking up this gameplay loop are segments in which Crypto boards his flying saucer and sets out for en-masse destruction. The problem with these spaceship sections, however, is that the AI makes it more frustrating than fun. This is because instead of having fun decimating human settlements using Death Ray and other abilities that the spaceship comes with, I spent most of my time dodging and/or repulsing the many, many rockets that the humans incessantly fired at me.
All in all, then, the gameplay pretty quickly becomes repetitive and bland even with the addition of optional objectives. This never takes away from the simple pleasure of turning a human into ashes or blowing up Santa Modesta, but it does make it harder to want to see the seven-hour long campaign all the way through.
As for anything past the campaign, there really is not much to write home about here. Upon completion, every location has a set of challenges such as Armageddon, which involves destroying as many humans as possible during a set amount of time and Abduction which involves using Psychokinesis to beam up humans or other NPCs. These are fun to do the first or second time around and are valuable when trying to upgrade Crypto and/or his saucer but are definitely not something that will keep players coming time and time again. Players may also replay stages from the campaign perhaps to complete the optional challenges missed, or players can explore every area in search of the one type of collectibles.
There is nothing wrong with these collectibles except for the fact that, as it is the case with the challenges, they serve little purpose beyond upgrading Crypto and/or the Saucer and unlocking concept art. Perhaps I would have felt differently if the upgrade system was particularly robust and interesting and if I had spent points on upgrades beyond unlocking the skateboarding mechanic for Crypto and upgrading Repulse-O-Tron, a forcefield that repulses incoming rockets, for the ship. The unlockables, too, are neat to check out but underwhelming when I feel like there could be more concept art and considering that the skins are pretty uninteresting overall.
Beyond story and gameplay, then, the technical aspect in Destroy All Humans ! (2020) is somewhat of a mixed bag. Whereas it is obvious that the game does not look anywhere as dated as its 2005 counterpart, the graphics are just about serviceable for a 2020 game. The most impressive asset was, at least to my eyes, the character model for Crypto. Other than that, it is disappointing to see the game drop frames occasionally, especially as I played it on a PS4 Pro. Furthermore, there were times when trees and even rivers would pop in, which is disheartening to see happening.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
I would have absolutely preferred for Destroy All Humans! to have been a reboot instead. However, in opting for an exceptionally faithful remake, the end result is a game that is limited to what developer Pandemic envisioned and could conceivably achieve back in 2005. The problem with this is that we have, obviously, long moved on from 2005 in terms of sense of humour and just game design in general.
Destroy All Humans! is worthwhile only to the small number of people who have enjoyed the original and no longer have access to it. As for those who have previously slept on the original game, there is nothing here to prevent you from doing the same this time around.