DESTROY ALL HUMANS!
A lot can change in a decade and a half, and a lot can stay absolutely the same. For evidence of this, look no further than DESTROY ALL HUMANS, the remake of the 2005 PS2/Xbox title coming out July 28 on the Xbox One, PC, Stadia, and PS4.
Superficially updated to match the bare minimum requirements of today, DESTROY ALL HUMANS certainly looks better than its original version, but that’s hardly a selling point these days. Once you get past what’s been polished up you can’t help but notice everything that’s still the same – and the result isn’t pretty.
The main staples of the game remain what they always were. You play as Crypto, an alien invader ripped directly from the pages of B-movies of the 1950s, who arrives on Earth to wreak havoc and steal as much information as he can while doing so. Armed with psychokinetic powers, a laser gun, jet pack, and the classic flying saucer, Crypto is more than ready to take on whatever the puny humans have to throw at him. Set loose on six sandbox-styled environments, Crypto must sneakily take over aspects of normal life before unleashing his Martian superpowers in full.
On paper all that sounds wonderfully demented and like a great send-off of 50s Ed Wood styled films. In practice, however, the truth is wildly different. Unlike the harmless shenanigans it tries so hard to emulate, DESTROY ALL HUMANS just comes off as a crass reminder of how far we’ve progressed in both game design and humor over the last 15 years.
So when I say “remain the same”, I mean exactly that. While the graphics have received a polishing and look, for the most part, decent enough, the level design is nearly identical to the original release from 2005. Not to say that some games don’t benefit from keeping their simple, sometimes dated designs intact (look no further than the Tony Hawk games for an example of this), but iconic DESTROY ALL HUMANS is not.
Instead most of this feels old in the worst kind of way. Already in the first major level (where you lob mutant cows at mad scientists) I had to stop what I was doing to take in just how empty everything felt. Back in 2005, with limited graphical capabilities at hand, such emptiness could be waved off as a sign of the times. Repeating it wholesale feels like an exercise in forced nostalgia, like somehow we’re supposed to be happy to see this.
Every level feels like a repeat of the previous one. Crypto will land on the outskirts of a barren town, read the minds of strangers (all which repeat the same turgid jokes), find a specific target to either kidnap or impersonate, and eventually wipe the whole putrid place off the map. Between levels you can either update your personal weaponry, kinetic powers, or spaceship to wield even more devastating powers. But even that feels superficial, as the dire gameplay mechanics and shooting feel so anemic there isn’t any fun to be found in the wanton destruction.
In essence a lot of this must have felt like fun and novel way back when, but we’ve seen two whole console generations go by since then, and games have arguably gotten more nuanced and sophisticated than ever before. So going back to dated mechanics like these doesn’t feel retro or nostalgic, they just feel like a warning sign to show how better things are today.
A good deal of DESTROY ALL HUMANS involves disguising Crypto to blend in with humankind. To do so, he must use his psychokinetic powers to assume the role of a nearby person, and then read the minds of others to maintain the charade. In the beginning the disguise wears thin very quickly, forcing the player to consistently read the thoughts of everyone who walks in their way. Some missions even force this kind of sneaking around, as being spotted ends the mission entirely and reverts all progress to the last checkpoint.
And since the UI and camera controls are all from 15 years ago, it becomes nearly impossible to tell who is looking at you and when, leading to constant restarts in missions requiring stealth for some ridiculous reason. So be prepared to be on an ever vigilant lookout for random thoughts, most of which there seem to be only a handful of around.
Speaking of which, the humor in this game is atrocious. It’s the kind of early to mid-aughts edginess that felt dated already then, and time has been even less kind to it today. Crude sexism, homophobia, and lame scatological jokes aside, not even the puns land correctly. Considering the wealth of post-war paranoia, American exceptionalism, and sci-fi tropes the series could have mined from, going for the lowest common denominator of “straight man fears gay thoughts” feels like intentionally malicious.
DESTROY ALL HUMANS even seems to acknowledge how dated it is by putting a warning label in the beginning of the game, warning players that it’s jokes are from another time and shouldn’t be taken that seriously. But this isn’t some contextual historic artifact that needs to be studied, it’s just an example of jock humor that was already hateful back then.
In a sense releasing DESTROY ALL HUMANS now could be seen as a statement of sorts. At a time when everyone is looking back at even the most recent past as the golden era (and who could blame them), DESTROY arrives just in time to prove that not everything is worth pining after.