There are certain difficulties, or at least unique concerns, when it comes to playing videogames that are a decade (or even decades) old. How well do certain graphics styles and renderings hold up over time? Are there types of gameplay we’ve grown less tolerable of over time? Despite the potential for disappointment, it’s worth noting that videogames can also remain sources of enjoyment years after their initial release. In “How’s It Hold Up?” we look back on videogames from decades past, and reflect on what they have to offer players today.
Today I’m looking back at Pandemic Studios’ 2005 release, Destroy All Humans!Destroy All Humans! is easily its strongest suit. The game is chock full of societal commentary and is constantly hilarious in its delivery. One source of amusement comes from reading humans’ minds and hearing their thoughts on politicians, social norms, deviance, etc. Much of the dialogue pushes the borders of parody, as some lines feel exaggerated while others get their narrative oomph from their almost unsettling realism. My personal favorite line in the game may come from soldiers who, getting into formation, chant, “I don’t know what I’ve been told; Joe McCarthy’s good as gold!” There’s also a great running gag where humans refer to Crypto as a “little green spaceman,” and Crypto reacts with rage due to the fact that he’s actually grey.
The game’s writing is at its sharpest when tackling political power and propaganda. There are multiple points throughout when Crypto disguises himself as a politician and has to appease crowds of humans with speeches. Players get choices of what to say, and the most successful options often involve passionate denunciations of communism or “lesser Americans.” Each mission in the game ends with a screen depicting a newspaper headling pertinent to said mission’s event. The government continually tries to cover up the truth about the alien attacks by utilizing communities’ paranoia and shifting the blame to easy scapegoats. Ultimately, the game has more to say about humanity than it does about the Furons, and given how successful the writing is, that’s not really a bad thing.
Gameplay-wise, Destroy All Humans! is simple and sweet. Crypto has access to both mental superpowers and a small arsenal of weapons, each with its own own distinct effect. The game’s most powerful weapons are devastating in their impact, but the lower-level abilities provide plenty of fun as well. Telekinesis, for instance, allows Crypto to fling humans through the air, or take hold of various objects (cars, radioactive waste cannisters, radioactive exploding zombie cows, etc.) and use them to wreak havoc.
The objectives in the game’s missions are varied, which helps to keep the playing experience fresh and avoid monotony. As I mentioned previously, there are missions in which Crypto has to impersonate various government officials in order to steer events in the direction he desires. There are also missions where the goal is utter destruction of cities and military sites, living up to the expectations generated by the game’s violent title. Other mission types include propaganda broadcasts (such as playing a Furon mind control flick at a drive-in movie theater) and information gathering via infiltrating top secret locales such as Area 42. Overall, there’s just enough variety to spice things up while still reinforcing the Cold War themes and giving players ample opportunity to destroy humans.
The graphics in Destroy All Humans! are solid even by today’s standards. There are a few noticeably stiff character models, but for the most part everything is rendered effectively in a simple but pleasing cartoon style. Crypto himself has a great design, as do Pox and the various Furon weapons. The town maps are also very well-made. Santa Modesta charms with its suburban details, Turnipseed Farm is an idyllic rural landscape with various livestock, and the various city maps all convey distinct moods. The game’s visuals aren’t the most memorable you’ll ever encounter by any means, but combined with the stellar writing they enhance the themes of paranoia and societal unrest beneath seemingly perfect exteriors.
Overall, Destroy All Humans! is a charming game with solid attention to detail on just about all fronts. The writing is great, the graphics and sound are solid, and the gameplay allows players to both destroy humans and explore themes of Cold War-era xenophobia and anxiety. Ironically, it may be this firm rooting in the past that most enhance the game’s sense of relevance today. Given the intrinsic link between both American time periods, it’s difficult to play the game without reflecting on how eerily similar they are. With that said, Destroy All Humans! doesn’t forsake its promised mayhem for political commentary–it blends the two, and is stronger for it.