When watching MTV's Pimp My Ride, I always wonder how long these modded cars are going to last. Not only are they prime targets for car thieves, but they also appear to be lacking a little something under the hood. These cars seem to have very little work done to the vital parts that make them work, with the aesthetics getting all the attention. You get the impression that underneath it all, these modded cars are pretty average. Strangely, Destroy all Humans left me with a similar feeling.
There's no doubting that the game has high production values. Pandemic have already proven that they can make good looking games, and Destroy all Humans will help strengthen their reputation. There's some pop-up and texture pop-in (more noticeable on the PlayStation 2 version), but the environments are large, colourful and destructible. As far as alien invasion games go, this is about the best looking you can get on current consoles.
Humour in videogames rarely works, but Pandemic have hit the nail on the head with their latest game. Rather than the usual reasons for an alien invasion (destroying all mankind etc), Destroy all Humans is about the Furons - an alien race who are in desperate need of some new DNA. Unluckily for the Furons, they posses no genitals, meaning that the only way for them to reproduce is to create clones. After many years of cloning, the Furons' DNA stockpile has been drastically reduced, and it just so happens that more Furon DNA can be found inside the human gnome. Exactly why this is the case isn't really clear, but it does mean that humans are the Furons' target. It's a rather bizarre set up, and this quirky humour is the heart and soul of the game.
The conversations between Crypto and Pox (the two alien leads) are often hilarious and the humans are anything but dull and boring. When scanning their minds you'll often hear some rather unexpected thoughts. There are also a number of amusing things that you'll notice while you move around the 1950's suburban America environments. It really is a game that could be shown as an example of how to blend comedy into a videogame. It's just a shame that the actual core gameplay experience isn't as wildly ambitious as you'd expect it to be.
The majority of the game plays out like a pretty standard third-person shooter, with the emphasis on harvesting DNA from the humans. To do this you can either go straight in and use your mind powers to extract the brain, or use a number of weapons - all of these failing to live up to the 'Alien weaponry' that the game should really have delivered. Your standard weapon, the Zap-O-Matic, lets you shoot electricity into the humans, with prolonged electrocution resulting in death. This can be upgraded (as can the other weapons by trading in DNA) so it can latch onto multiple humans at the same time, but the weapon isn't all that exciting to use. The other weapons are introduced pretty early on, giving you the Anal Probe, the Disintegrator Ray and the Ion Detonator. Even the Anal Probe isn't as thrilling - or as rude - as it sounds.
Crypto can also use his special alien powers. The most often used is Psychokinesis. You start the game unable to lift anything but humans (and cows) but you'll eventually be able to hurl around tractors and other large vehicles. As mind powers go, it is good, but has been better implemented in games like Psi-Ops. Your other powers let you take on the appearance of a targeted human and hypnotise them to do various things. The transform power really doesn't work all that well, with Crypto needing to be pretty close to his target to allow him to take on the guise of a human, which when considering the power is mainly used to stay hidden, makes it somewhat of a pain to use. When you are transformed your mind power is drained, so scanning other humans is essential to keep your mind power high. As mentioned earlier, the extraction power is used to get at the DNA inside the human brain. Extracting this from every fallen human starts to grate pretty early on in the game. With DNA being the main commodity in the game - essential for buying upgrades and progressing to some missions - this is a bit of a major design flaw.
The only other way to get hold of DNA is to complete the sub-missions that are dotted around the various locations which the main missions take place in. It's great that these have been put in to give the player something extra to do outside of the main missions, but they just aren't that great to play. They generally involve racing around checkpoints, blowing up buildings or taking down a number of humans. There's the odd good one, but because you can repeat these missions, you can keep playing an easy one in order to get more and more DNA, effectively wiping out the need to extract DNA when it isn't a specific mission requirement.
When you're not on foot (or hovering around using your jetpack) you're flying around in your one-man flying saucer. This is remarkably simple to fly, but your firing ability is very limited. The right analogue stick simply rotates your saucer, while the left stick moves it forwards, back, left and right; there is no way to alter your pitch. This means that you can only shoot things that are a set distance in front of you and only things that are on the ground. You'd have thought that the government would have had some planes out to try and take down the alien craft, but the artillery is strictly land based.
Missions often mix on foot sections with saucer flying, but this is about all the variety you are going to find in the game. To make things worse, you often have to repeat the same mission numerous times. In Pandemic's wisdom, they have decided to leave out checkpoints within missions. In the many multiple part missions you'll find yourself getting to the fourth part, only to be killed, forcing you to replay that whole mission again. This, as you might expect, is exceedingly annoying. Destroy all Humans is only about ten hours in length, and the lack of checkpoints is obviously an intentional design choice to artificially extend the game's length.
Everything pointed towards Destroy all Humans being one of the games of the year, but appearances can be deceiving. All the gloss and polish can't save the game from being just another generic shooter. The gameplay doesn't reach anywhere near the same level of fun as the game's audio and story do, and had those elements not been so good, I doubt anyone would have noticed this amongst a shelf full of similar, and in some cases better, games.