Review: Destroy All Humans! [2020]

27 Jul 2020

THQ Nordic has made a name for itself in recent times for reviving and remaking cult classic games and franchises. From reviving the Darksiders franchise to working on remakes of SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, this studio seems determined to bring oft long forgotten titles back into the modern gaming consicousness.

Today’s game is no exception. The Destroy All Humans franchise is one that’s laid mostly dormant since 2009, with its final entries failing to win much acclaim. While the series was never really huge, it still has a cult fanbase…make it a perfect target for THQ Nordic to bring it back into the limelight.

Developed by Black Forest Games and THQ Nordic, Destroy All Humans! is set for release on July 28th, 2020, for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. The PS4 version was played for this review.

Close Encounters for the Second Time

The Furons are a race of (incredibly cliché) aliens that are able to propagate themselves by cloning. Unfortunately, generations of doing so have worn down their DNA, putting their species at risk.

Luckily, the alien race had visited the planet Earth when humans were just developing and…well, for one reason or another…modern humans now contain strands of Furon DNA. One Furon, Cryptosporidium-136 (or just “Crypto”) was sent on a mission to harvest brain stems for this DNA when its ship crashed and it was captured. Now it’s up to the next clone, Crypto-137, to rescue 136 and harvest the Furon DNA in the human species by…destroying all humans.

Taking place in the late 50s, much of the game’s setting is a pastiche on American culture of the day, particularly the Cold War and the Red Scare. Nearly all the the destruction Crypto causes in its wake is blamed on “those damned Communists,” and it’s rather hilarious just how far this gets stretched. Hell, there’s moments where characters straight-up see Crypto, the obvious cliché space invader alien, and just immediately yell “IT’S A COMMIE!”

On the other hand, Destroy All Humans is just as much a love letter to classic sci-fi alien invasion stories. I’ve already used the word “cliché” here multiple times, and I absolutely do not mean that in a negative way. Crypto is a little, grey-skinned, big-headed alien jetting around in a flying saucer with death rays abducting cows and using anal probes on people, after all. The ability to actually be the alien from these stories is rather entertaining.

Remake-wise, this version of the game is nearly one-to-one story-wise with the PS2 original. The only difference is the addition of a storyline in the “Area 42” part of the game I didn’t even realize was new; it was weaved into the narrative effortlessly.

War Against the World

Destroy All Humans isn’t shy about the fact that it’s a remake of a PS2 game from 2005. Hell, there’s a disclaimer right at the beginning that says while the game’s graphics have been updated and a few tweaks have been made, the core of the game is exactly the same as the original.

How much this as seen as a boon or a hindrance will come down to how open one is to 15-year-old gameplay designs. Many people I’ve talked to about the original seem to remember it as an open-world game, which really isn’t true. Rather, Destroy All Humans is a linear set of missions taking place in smaller semi-open maps.

I never played much of the original game, and was surprised when I went in to see just how restrictive many of the game’s missions are. Sure, each area is somewhat open and Crypto gets numerous tools at its disposal by the game’s halfway point, but actually completing each mission often requires a singular approach.

Many missions require the use of stealth, with Crypto being able to disguise itself as any human on the map for a temporary amount of time. Completing these often had me disguising myself as the first human I saw and then slowly walking to a mission waypoint, occasionally switching my disguise if certain areas required it. There’s no option to just go crazy and start killing humans; many missions are instantly failed if anybody notices that Crypto is an alien, requiring a reload at a checkpoint.

When the game arbitrarily decides to let you lose and destroy everyone, that’s when things become much more fun. Flying around with Crypto’s jetpack, skating around the ground with an unlockable movement upgrade, killing everything in sight with arcing electric beams and anal probes, that is the real highlight of the game.

Unfortunately, enemy AI is also stuck in 2005. Humans seem to spot Crypto from a mile away, everything with a gun just immediately mobs its general location, but they will conveniently forget they ever saw an alien bent on destruction if Crypto runs and hides for a few seconds…unless the “alert level” you’ve triggered is too high, then they will never stop hunting.

Despite this, flipping through weapons and wiping out the pesky humans is just plain enjoyable in a visceral way. Destroy All Humans also includes a fairly straight-forward upgrade system, allowing the player to use “DNA Points” collected in each level to upgrade Crypto’s weapons, or it’s flying saucer. Upgrades are usually as simple as “increase a weapon’s power or ammo limit,” but they bring just enough of a change to gameplay that you can feel Crypto getting more powerful.

Unfortunately, while wreaking havoc as Crypto is quite fun, things cool off a bit once you take control of its flying saucer. When in this vehicle, the game’s camera is always awkwardly pointed at the ground, making judging altitude incredibly awkward. The saucer’s weapons are also much slower and don’t have as much “oomph” to them as Crypto’s weapons on foot.

Luckily, saucer segments don’t happen often. Unluckily, the end game practically requires that you’ve pumped upgrades into your saucer, so don’t forget to do that (like I did).

Invader’s Hymn

If there’s anywhere that this remake of Destroy All Humans shines, it’s in the graphical presentation. While we’re not looking at super-realistic AAA-style wonder-graphics, the aesthetics here bring the game really assist in bringing the game up-to-date.

The various environments are nicely detailed and unique enough that you can tell immediately which area you’re exploring. Character designs are cartoony, which I’ve seen some people take issue with, but I believe fit the campiness of the story well.

What I wasn’t expecting to run into was framerate issues. Numerous times throughout my playthrough (mostly during cutscenes), the framerate would suddenly drop like a rock for a few seconds. It never happened during gameplay, and this definitely doesn’t seem like a game pushing the PS4 to its limits, so I stand confused on why the game can’t keep itself steady during story moments.

Voice acting here is a mixed-bag…mostly because it’s brought over wholesale from the original 2005 release. Crypto’s performance in particular is weirdly stilted, and doesn’t seem to fit its character at all. Random NPCs are all obviously voice by the same handful of performers; I’d often hear five or six different humans in a row all say lines in exactly the same voice.

Absolutely carrying the cast, though, is Richard Horvitz, the performer for Crypto’s “boss,” Orthopox. This is the same actor who voiced Zim in Invader Zim, amongst numerous other cartoon and television performances. His over-the-top delivery and inflection is easily the highlight of the game.

Plan Time and Hard Drive Space

Overall, this remake of Destroy All Humans is essentially the 2005 original with a fresh coat of paint and a few tweaks, and it carries over everything, warts and all. While there are definitely some frustrations in the gameplay mechanics, taken as a whole, the game holds up surprisingly well.

What it will come down to is how open each player is to early 2000’s game design. Playing through this remake really highlights the steps forward this genre (and gaming in general) have taken over the past couple generations. It’s not to say Destroy All Humans was designed poorly, but rather it’s missing some quality-of-life improvements that are taken for granted nowadays.

If you’re open to a bit more restrictive of an experience than you may remember, Destroy All Humans is still a fun time. Personally, I’m down with seeing this franchise revived, and I hope that this release leads to remakes of later games in the series.

~ Final Score: 7/10 ~

Review copy provided by THQ Nordic for PS4. Screenshots taken by reviewer.