Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Destroy All Humans! (2020) (PS4) - Ich Will

Destroy All Humans! is a game I was aware of at the time it first came out in 2005, including seeing it in store displays, so a vague interest in it was always somewhere in the back of my mind. The announcement of the 2020 remake from THQ Nordic, however, was when I felt more committed to actually checking it out through said remake, thanks in part to the announcement trailer’s expert use of “Ich Will” by Rammstein. Due to a number of factors though, I didn’t get around to playing it right away, though what pushed me to play it as soon as I could was listening to a physical CD of the original game’s soundtrack that I found in the wild. I was then pushed even further when, in that brief window of time, Destroy All Humans! 2: Reprobed, a remake of the 2006 sequel, was announced. After finally getting around to it, I found the Destroy All Humans! remake to be a flawed, yet ultimately satisfying experience.

On startup, the game opens with a disclaimer that, while an upgraded experience, everything is the same as it was in the original release. A rocket launch at Roswell accidentally shoots down an alien spacecraft, injuring its pilot Cryptosporidium-136 (Crypto-136). Aboard the mothership, the Furon commander Orthopox (Pox) informs Crypto-137 (Crypto) of this news, also explaining that, unbeknownst to most Furons, their cloning technology has been slowly deteriorating with each new clone. Seeking to avenge his clone predecessor, Crypto plans to invade and take over Earth while destroying as many humans as possible.

The story eventually gets more complex as the game goes on, with the military joined by a secret government agency known as Majestic, led by the mysterious Silhouette. This, however, provides enough depth to flesh out the campaign while still making itself easy to follow, thanks to a more minimal main cast. Newspapers that appear on-screen before and after missions or other conditions add to the plot in humorous ways, including the government jumping through hoops to justify passing the alien invasion off as a Communist threat rather than what it actually is. The ending also organically sets up the events of Destroy All Humans! 2, though in a way that is still conclusive to the original story and leaves it self-contained in case such a game never happened (which it evidently did).

Gameplay involves completing missions across different parts of the US. To accomplish this, you have a wide array of abilities at your disposal, each of which are only a button press away. Many of them involve using Crypto’s mental abilities, such as Cortex Scan to read peoples’ minds, Psychokinesis to lift and throw some objects and animals/humans or even hypnotize humans into doing your bidding when prompted. One useful feature for some traveling undetected is the Holobob, which generates a disguise based on a human you scan, though this must be done discreetly or else you risk compromising the Holobob, though you can make people Forget they ever saw you if you’re fast enough. The Holobob also runs on a time limit, which can be refreshed by scanning peoples’ thoughts, and some specific human disguises (ex. police officer, soldier) are necessary to access restricted areas.

Sometimes you scan minds and get jokes. Other times you get gems like this.

One particularly handy ability is stealing the brain stems of humans, which has all sorts of applications that I will cover at different times. You also have a shield that’s indicative of your health, however one thing to keep in mind is that the shield depletes if you touch any body of water. Fortunately, the shield can be regenerated by either simply avoiding combat long enough or by taking brain stems. You also have a jet pack, however the charge doesn’t last very long and once it depletes, you can only glide until you stop using the pack.

There are also times where you have access to Crypto’s Saucer, allowing for aerial attacks. Much like Crypto, the Saucer has its own shield, though refilling it requires siphoning energy from vehicles and even humans until they explode. Additionally, the Saucer has an Abduct-O-Beam that lets you use lift and use larger objects as ammo, plus you can also gain a Repulse-O-Tron to act as a defense against homing missiles. The Saucer can also take human brain stems, meaning you do not have to rely exclusively on playing as Crypto to do so.

The Saucer is satisfying in its own right.

Whether playing on the ground or in the sky, Crypto and the Saucer have access to an array of weapons that are unlocked over the course of the campaign, with Crypto having weapons such as a Disintegrator and the ubiquitous Anal Probe while the Saucer starts off with a Death Ray and gains a Sonic Boom and even a Quantum Deconstructor. You can swap through these at any time by pressing R1, though holding the button also brings up a Weapon Wheel for quick access, with gameplay slowing down in the background. Some weapons between both Crypto and the Saucer also carry a limited supply of ammo, though fortunately you can Transmog objects into ammo if you need to refuel.

Yes, there is an Anal Probe.

The main reason to collect brain stems is that doing so also grants you Furon DNA, the game’s currency, which enables you to upgrade your weapons as said upgrades become available over the course of the game. There are numerous other ways to obtain Furon DNA as well, such as completing Missions during the campaign and tracking down Furon Probes scattered throughout each area, both of which also unlock concept art for the remake in the Furonigami gallery. There are also some optional side missions in each level that can be attempted for even more Furon DNA, completing some of which also unlocks skins for Crypto (including one based on Classic Crypto). Completing a Mission in one section of the US also unlocks that area for free roaming, where you can complete tricky optional objectives for yet more Furon DNA. If you miss any of the side missions, you can fortunately go back and replay a Mission at any time if you need another shot. Checkpoints are also reasonably spaced during the Missions themselves, allowing you to try again if you fail a given task, including the infamous Mission 14, Duck and Cover.

In the open world, your Saucer is available to you at any time, though you can only land it in designated areas. Fortunately, you can also summon it through one of those areas, mitigating the need to run all the way back to your Saucer every time you want to use it. Whether in the open world or the campaign, being spotted by humans raises the Alert Level, similarly to the Wanted Meter in the Grand Theft Auto series, and attracts attention accordingly, starting from civilians and police and reaching the military and eventually even Majestic. While farming brain stems, you may not care how much attention you attract, however there are situations where keeping a low profile is wholly necessary.

During my research for this review, I discovered that, among the changes made to the remake from the original, the remake features a Mission that was cut from the original release titled The Wrong Stuff, reinserted into the main campaign as Mission 13.5. This may not mean much for those such as myself who never played the original game, but it's big news for those who did, as said players can finally experience the cut content.

While I enjoyed my experience, there were still some issues that popped up on occasion. Aside from some lengthy load times, the PS4 tends to go off like a jet engine after you finish a Mission, and especially on the Pox’s Lab (upgrade) and Archives screens, and while it does calm down during the Mission select screen, it doesn’t go away entirely. As for specific Missions, I experienced a crash during Mission 19 and the AI on an important character in Mission 10 seemed a little wonky, as they weren't following me in the way I thought they would.

For some reason the PS4 likes to pretend it's taking flight here.

My biggest issue by far, however, is the final boss fight against Silhouette for being unnecessarily difficult in comparison to the rest of the game. While completely doable, it requires a great deal of luck to some extent, and luck was not on my side. Although you can generally get through the game without doing much in the way of upgrades, fighting Silhouette requires your weapons to be fully upgraded to even stand a chance, so when encountering the brick wall that was this fight, I went about grinding the open world portions of the game for additional brain stems to upgrade everything. Though I did get pretty far into this process, despite encountering major slowdowns at points in Capitol City, what killed my momentum was the game crashing while grinding Union Town, erasing a lot of progress up to that point when I booted the game up again. This ultimately influenced my decision to rage quit fighting Silhouette and watch the ending through a YouTube upload, though not without seeing strategies other players had for beating the fight.

As with other modern video game remakes, the visuals are greatly improved over the original release, taking advantage of modern hardware for greater graphical detail. While I haven’t actually seen much of the original game’s visuals, some of the unlockable concept art includes a shot of what the original assets looked like, showing that care was put into redesigning them in a way that still fit the 1950’s aesthetic and could still be recognized by fans of the original release. That said, I did notice some issues, such as visible texture pop-in and object loading during cutscenes. Additionally, the flags in Area 42 noticeably flap at an odd framerate compared to the rest of the game, almost as though it were a slideshow, though this detail can be hard to spot unless you stare at them long enough.

The voice acting and sound design are of excellent quality as well, with a great soundtrack that fits the 50’s sci-fi setting and dialogue containing a good amount of funny lines, even from the more serious Crypto-137. Richard Horvitz of Invader Zim fame is great on this front, though it can be easy to tell when some of his lines were newly recorded and others were recycled from the original release, given the new audio displays more of his evolution as a voice actor. Some ancillary dialogue from scanning minds can be funny as well, among them Bill Farmer using a variant of his Goofy voice (or alternatively his voice for Hopediah Plantar from Amphibia) and some admittedly funny Village People jokes from scanning police officers, as well as some Elvis Presley jokes in the context of people not knowing who he is. The game also includes a number of references to the TV series Mister Ed in the context of it only then-recently airing, which, while funny, are slightly anachronistic since, judging from small details that are easier to spot in at least one piece of concept art, the game takes place in 1959 while Mister Ed did not premier on TV until January 1961. The most logical explanation for this is that this is a timeline where the series premiered two years early, that or the original game’s writers fudged things a little, though it’s best not to think about this too hard.

There's also some mature humor mixed in with the myriad pop culture jokes.

Despite its flaws, Destroy All Humans! (2020) is an overall enjoyable experience for both newcomers and fans of the original release, thanks to some interesting gameplay mechanics and a great implementation of its 1950’s sci-fi parody setting. With the amount of care that was put into the remake, Destroy All Humans! 2: Reprobed looks more promising, though only time will tell.

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