Disclaimer: THQ Nordic sent Niche Gamer both a digital copy of Destroy All Humans! and the game’s Crypto 137 Edition for the purpose of review, and the Destroy All Humans! Official Card Game for coverage. The review of the game was conducted before either the special edition or card game arrived, and neither were guaranteed to be sent.
In 2001, Grand Theft Auto shook the gaming landscape and to this day we are still feeling its ripples. Open world sandbox gameplay has become its own genre since, and there has been countless iterations and variations on the sub-genre.
During the early 2000s, you would see all kinds of takes on sandboxes, but only Pandemic Studios managed to use the vast sandboxes as the setting for enormous battlefields. They had already developed one of the most beloved Star Wars games with Battlefront, and before its sequel would create an original sandbox action game with Destroy All Humans!
While franchises had come and gone, THQ Nordic acquired the IP and set the Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back developer to remake the venerable sixth console gen classic. Boasting Unreal Engine 4 graphics and numerous gameplay refinements, does the foundation of Destroy All Humans! still hold up?
Destroy All Humans!
Developer: Black Forest Games
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Platforms: Windows PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One (reviewed), Google Stadia
Release Date: July 28, 2020
The Furon race is dying. They have been cloning themselves as the only means to reproduce, due to them not having sexual organs. As a result this advanced race has become genetically decrepit from the lack of new blood. Fortunately, they seeded pale blue, lone planet with their pure form DNA ages ago.
One Furon craft crashed on this planet, and its pilot became the subject of experimentation and dissection by the indigenous lifeforms; humans. The pilot’s cloned successor, Cryptosporidium-137, sets out to inflict his vengeful hatred upon the earthlings with all the sadistic tools of the Furon.
Electrocution, disintegration, mind-control, drowning, cerebral combustion and subversion; the only limit to Crypto’s cruelty is your imagination. The upgrades to the original 2005 game go beyond just the visual overhaul- the playability has been enhanced in a big way.
Destroy All Humans! is set in a late 1950s caricature of America when the red scare was rampant. Each of the six separate sandboxes have a theme, and their own bespoke gimmick to make each location distinct. Story missions confine the locations to specific areas, have set pieces play out, and Crypto is free to complete his mission under specific requisites.
This is getting the best of both worlds of linear action games, and wide-open sandbox shenanigans. Not participating in the main story, Crypto is free to indulge in his deepest bloodlust and kill everyone and level entire towns. Side missions range from abductions, racing challenges, brutal rampages and each one has sub challenges within them to keep things from being stale.
Side missions are a great way to earn extra DNA (currency) which are used to buy upgrades, but upgrading is restricted to story progress. This is probably a means to maintain a balance in the difficulty so Crypto does not get too powerful, even though he is still incredibly powerful with modest upgrades to himself or his craft.
Fans of the series will note how Crypto will have access to abilities that would be introduced in sequels. The new abilities can also be further upgraded, increasing the amount of abilities from the original to more than double. The dashing and improved psychokinesis have been greatly refined and are smoother than ever.
The space ship is more varied with more weapon options. The heat ray can now be fired directly down, and the tractor beam can pick up more objects. All actions are smoother and more responsive; to the point where Crypto’s playability can veer into a character-action game, since he can catch some enemy projectiles with his mind and throw them back.
The only thing that can hold you back is the small maps, which is a result of Destroy All Humans! originally being a fairly ambitious PlayStation 2 and Xbox game from the mid 2000s. The tight sandboxes do end up becoming easy to commit to memory, and the lack of a map is never an issue.
Whether on foot or flying in his space ship, Crypto is always an unbelievable threat to mankind. On sixth gen consoles, the amount of NPCs and enemies were very limited, but this remake expands the meager count to swarms of armies and Majestic agents. The higher density of enemies increases the challenge, but thankfully Crypto has the firepower to match.
Blowing up buildings and structures is more impressive now, since the smaller maps allow the developer to hone in on finer details. Abodes and strip-malls can now erupt into a flurry of individual pieces of debris, and huge billowing puffs of smoke engulf the surrounding area.
Even more impressive is how much effort went into crafting each individual location. Shops are fully modeled with viewable interiors; tons of micro details to make the environments seem more authentic than was ever possible in 2005.
Unique signs with specially crafted art, entire diners with flatware, and even backyards with individual hotdogs cooking on a grill are all fully realized… All for Crypto to destroy. Seeing it all go up in flames and crumble from the Furon wrath is always satisfying.
The Rockwell drive-in theater plays the 1950s sci-fi schlock Teenagers From Outer Space, and it is available to watch in its entirety. A few lone cars with fogged up windows will amorously rock back and forth; a staple trope of the late ’50s atmosphere.
The art direction has taken a more cartoony look compared to the 2005 game, now resembling something that could be mistaken for a Fortnite knock-off. Admittedly, this subtle change in art is for the better, since Destroy All Humans! can be very violent. If the things Crypto does were rendered realistically, it would be horrific instead of comical, and possibly alienating.
The animation has been completely redone, with some notable use of mo-cap. Some distinguishing details are the pulsating anuses on the back of Crypto’s head which are always animated. His face is more expressive than ever, and his burning hatred and cold anger is palpable in many scenes.
The supporting human cast do not get the same level of care as the homicidal extra-terrestrial, but the voice cast makes up for it. Every 1950s Americana stereotype in the book is represented, and the hilarious dialogue is diverse enough to keep from some lines from being repeated too often.
Crypto himself is voiced with a scarily accurate Jack Nicholson impression. The voice actor even manages to sneak in a “HERE’S JOHNNY!“, as one of the battle cries. Impressively, the performances goes beyond just being an impression, since there are many scenes where Crypto expresses a wide range of emotions while talking like Nicholson.
The real scene stealer is Orthopox, Crypto’s commander who is performed by veteran evil alien voice; Richard Horvitz. The man was seemingly born to play evil aliens who love to shout about killing humans at max volume. Hearing him utter “lactating bovoid” is just enough to make your heart flutter.
The audio from the original is the same one used in this remake. It may sound better, and there may have been some effects done to add a bit of texture to the quality, but it is unchanged. There has been nothing new recorded or added.
The use of music was restrained in the original, and it is still sparsely used in the remake. There is an encounter theme that plays as Crypto’s threat rating goes up as he causes havoc, but for the most part expect a typical “woooing” theremin. Destroy All Humans! does begin with a Ed Wood Jr. homage, so the extensive use of theremins is fitting.
Many missions will make extensive use of the disguise mechanic to infiltrate bases. It is very basic, but it gets the job done like a playschool version of Agent 47’s disguises. Crypto is highly limited in his human costume, and can only jump or cause distractions.
This is the only way to walk around freely without the angry fist of the McCarthy era government to hammer you into the dirt. Without upgrading the disguise, expect to have to constantly read pedestrian minds to reset the illusion.
It is a clever way to allow players to get a closer look at each NPC this way, but it is disappointing that every disguise uses the default male walking animation. It makes walking around as a woman look noticeably awkward.
There are many objects throughout that have physics applied to them, and Crypto is free to use his telekinesis on almost everything. Anything that is unreasonable will require his ship’s tractor beam, which can grip almost every human vehicle.
Swinging a tank around and dragging it across an old timey American suburb is about as satisfying as you’d think it is. Vaporizing the locals and melting their ugly lawn flamingos feels like an awesome wave, washing over you.
All this chaos and fun comes at the cost of alerting the authorities who come in several tiers; armed Americans, the police, U.S. Army, and Majestic. Things get interesting with high level Majestic Agents, since they use technology reverse engineered from Crypto’s predecessor.
Majestic Agents will see through any disguise, can disrupt Crypto’s technology, and can stun him. They tend to come in large groups and will melt the little guy. The best course of action then is to just fly back to the mother ship and reset the area.
This may make the hunt for downed probes a bit tedious, since while in human form Crypto can’t use his jet pack and many of these probes tend to be in high places. Compromising a disguise will usually mean getting into a hectic shoot out, and not being able to effectively find all the probes.
The environments are too small to effectively lose pursuers, and the increase of NPCs makes it almost impossible to go incognito. Cyrpto is able to wipe people’s memory, but it does take a while to execute; making it unreliable in hairy situations.
The stealth is just a minor piece to the grand Destroy All Humans! tapestry; a requisite to the 1950s alien invasion tropes. The real substance to the core game is the destruction and chaos.
Blowing up people’s heads like in Scanners is not only an amusing and fitting method of brain harvesting, it is how Destroy All Humans! contextualizes health restoration. Getting the anal-probe weapon and its upgrades gives less careful players an option to stay alive longer.
The range of weapons and abilities allows for different play styles and options. Players can prioritize what matters most to them, since the DNA cost to get all the abilities rises fast.
The only issue with this is the post game open-world has very little going on in it, and blowing up the same six locations gets old. There are cosmetic skins to unlock and concept art, but other than that there is no reason to keep going after the final mission.
Destroy All Humans! is as short as the bitter Furon protagonist, but the little package is packed with personality. You are getting quality over quantity.
Fans of the series will be very happy with how the Bubsy developer took care of Pandemic Studios’ baby. Black Forest Games did a good remake by taking enhancements from later entries, and refining the best aspects of the original. The modern Unreal Engine 4 graphics are only the cherry on top.
Newcomers may be disappointed when the game comes to its end, since this is a highly enjoyable action game. Hopefully there will be enhanced remakes of the sequels and a continuation. THQ Nordic has thankfully produced an excellent remake of one of the better sixth generation sandbox action games.
Destroy All Humans! was reviewed on Xbox One X using a review copy provided by THQ Nordic. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.