The original Xbox’s generation was probably the one I enjoyed open-world games the most, and it was for me the best time to enjoy them since developers were having so much fun trying to cook up their own versions of the fantastic groundwork left by Rockstar’s juggernaut and highly influential Grand Theft Auto III.
One developer in particular that had a knack at coming up with some grand concepts at the time is the now defunct Pandemic Studios, who released among a few really awesome open-world games like Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction at that time Destroy All Humans!, a satirical take on 1950s alien invasion movies to my sheer pleasure at the time.
In it, you played as Crypto-137, a member of the Furon race who is sent to Earth in order to collect long lost samples of their dying civilization’s genetic material that’s hidden deep within the puny humans’ cerebral matter, and of course, destroy as many of them in the process, hence the name of the game!
At the time it was released, Destroy All Humans! proved to be a lot of fun thanks to its silly tone and tight gameplay, and for as diluted as the franchise eventually became thanks to its not as great entries following the original, I have always held it in high regard since then. It came as quite a surprise when the newly resurrected THQ Nordic publishing brand announced that it was remaking the original game and bringing it to current consoles and PC.
After covering it at last year’s E3 — remember E3? It was a big thing back then… — I came out of my appointment feeling really good about the prospect of invading Earth all over again. Having played through the entirety of the final build, I’m still glad it came to fruition as it still managed to provide plenty of fun moments and lots of nostalgia from my time playing the original, but it’s clear that it remains a game from fifteen years ago for as much rework that Black Forest Games has done remaking it.
However, knowing that this remake of Destroy All Humans! is so faithful to the original version should help you keep your expectations in check. For me, the visual rehaul that the game got as it was brought into Unreal Engine 4 makes it feel like the images in my mind that I had from playing it on my OG Xbox, even if that’s just nostalgia playing a trick on me.
In truth, visually this remake is much more saturated in color and exaggerated in its character designs, and for the most part it’s a better game for them — Black Forest Games obviously avoided going too far in modernizing the graphics as to make it unrecognizable, and that’s one of the strongest points in this new iteration of Destroy All Humans!, aside from its virtually unchanged gameplay.
Open-world games from that particular point in time were known for trying to push the limited technological boundaries of the console generation in regards to how much chaos that could happen on screen at any given time, and Destroy All Humans! really pushed the envelope. While limited in its use to specific points of every mission map, you could jump into Crypto’s flying saucer and wreak havoc with its Death Ray among a fun assortment of weapons, but the same could be said for their on foot arsenal which included the hilarious Zap-O-Matic and a very Mars Attacks!-esque Disintegrator Ray, as well as the extremely corny Anal Probe. That level of destruction and silly antics is present in the remake as well, but it definitely feels like something from that point in time as buildings are miraculously rebuilt and you’re conveniently forgotten of between missions and there’s no real sense of permanence, even though it’s still as enjoyable as ever to swoop down and cause as much wanton destruction as possible.
Perhaps the most dated aspect that the Destroy All Humans! remake retains from its original version is the mission structure and design. The game’s split into a handful of maps that increasingly up the mayhem and difficulty, each with a certain number of “story” missions you have to finish in order to complete the game, as you will. After completing an area, bonus side activities pop up, like the Race, where you’re tasked with chasing down a defective probe while collecting DNA samples, or Armageddon, where you have to destroy as much as you can under a very strict time limit.
There are other activities as well, but the overall theme is the same: trying to do as much as you can before the clock ticks to zero. That’s also very much present in a big chunk of the main missions, where Crypto is tasked with protecting a certain structure or moving target from waves and waves of enemies until time runs out and the game fades into a results screen.
The remake retains the same manner of simply popping back to a menu after finishing a mission point blank as the original game, which also happens during the rest of the missions as soon as you finish all the crucial objectives. It’s a tad disappointing not to have a little more of an interlude between missions outside of the retained “flying newspaper” that spins your alien involvement into some ridiculous headline and the quick rundown voice over that happens at the beginning of every level.
Then again, the little that there is of story development in the game retains the comical tone of the original, mainly because most of the voice recordings happen to be the very same from that version. Crypto’s very Jack Nicholson-y delivery still cracks me up now as much as it did back in 2005, not to mention his boss’ Orthopox, voiced by Psychonauts and mainly Invader Zim-famed Richard Horvitz who absolutely kills it with his over-the-top delivery.
Otherwise, the rest of the voice samples retain some amount of quality loss due to compression and tend to repeat a little too often (especially when reading minds or by simply running around causing chaos). The musical score is extremely evocative of 1950s invasion movies and makes heavy use of instruments like the theremin to fantastic effect, as well as bombastic faux philharmonics amid the explosions as you destroy and extract brains.
For completionists, this remake to Destroy All Humans! provides a limited amount of replayability in the form of optional objectives you can complete in order to 100% every single mission that you might end up missing on your first run through them. They sometimes unlock special skins for Crypto to don, along with a healthy amount of concept arts to peruse via the menu. But perhaps the biggest reason to go back and explore previous maps is to complete the aforementioned side activities in order to accumulate more DNA points so you can unlock all of Crypto and his saucer’s capabilities in order to be able to finish some of the harder challenges from later maps, as the opposition tends to put up quite a fight if you’re not powered up enough.
It’s also worth noting that there have been some tweaks done to controls in order to optimize special power and weapon selection which works serviceably well during combat. On the other hand, sometimes the new interface can get in the way of the action, thanks to a twitchy cursor that is imprecise when it comes to selecting smaller items to interact with, such as switches to open doors or when trying to hack something instead of blowing it up, which can be annoying in the heat of action.
Also, as was much touted in trailers and pre-release coverage including my own E3 preview, a previously cut mission was re-introduced to the remake: it takes place in the Area 42 map as it sees Crypto investigating a human prototype of a flying saucer based on the remnants of his predecessor’s crashed ship. Like almost all missions in Destroy All Humans!, this new inclusion is fairly short, but it’s welcome nonetheless, adding even more humor involving the cluelessness of the human military forces.
Given its age and the faithfulness with which Black Forest Games went with this remake in terms of gameplay and the excellent bump up in visual quality, Destroy All Humans! would’ve been somewhat of a tough sell at full price, but at the release day sales tag of 40 dollars, it’s definitely a solid pickup. It’s nowhere near a mind-blowing experience in any way nowadays, but it’s still a fun and silly game to blow through and have some laughs while at it.