For a PlayStation site, I will freely admit that we don’t talk about the PS2 nearly as much as we should. The console was practically brimming with excellent titles and plenty more potential where that came from. I think just about everyone could easily pick a list of top ten titles out of their heads. Even better still, in amongst the usual mainstays of Final Fantasy X or Metal Gear Solid 3, you would likely find some titles that you would not have thought of, some of which would not have even had the critical acclaim but still hold strong in the fond memories of many a player.
These lower scoring classics are what we fondly refer to (and as coined by Jim Sterling) as middle-shelf titles. These are the kind of games that would either enter the charts at a lower figure or completely miss them entirely but would still find a following somehow. I’m talking titles like Psychonauts, Psi Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy and Beyond Good and Evil, all games that didn’t quite hit their mark commercially, but still have a cult following to this day that wishes for more.
Destroy All Humans is another one of those middle-shelf titles, the true essence of what would be considered a double-A experience. Taking cues from cold-war era sci-fi invasion movies and games like GTA, it featured a lot of what games were needing to make an impression on players, with the right amount of quirk to make it stand out for those looking for something different. Unfortunately, at the time people were more interested in hammering their copies of GTA: San Andreas to notice that it had come out. Which was a real shame, as it was genuinely unique and had a lot of the flavour that PS2 gamers were used to sampling at the time.
It was reasonable to expect that in the age of remakes and remasters, that we would see a version of Destroy All Humans at some point. Especially considering the game’s cult following and a desire for mean spirited alien antics not being sated by the previous instalment, Big Willy Unleashed. So, fifteen years from the original release, we finally have it. Destroy All Humans on PS4 is a ground-up remake of the original PS2 game, that is designed to add graphical fidelity and to enrich the previous experience as much as possible to reboot the franchise.
Set across America, Destroy All Humans was a brilliant parody of that invasion paranoia that was captured in sci-fi films such as The Thing, The Blob and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. As such, the game is set in the 50’s and plays off the tropes that were often seen in the movies, such as the fear of mind control, little green men and the prospect of everyday people being used as spies by the aliens (communists) in their nefarious schemes. All these themes play beautifully into the game and become the core arsenal of Cryptosporidium-137, the extra-terrestrial antagonist that you play as.
As Crypto, it is your job to carry out missions given by commander Orthopox. Crypto-137 is the latest in his line of cloned Furon warriors and the previous incarnation has crash landed on Earth and has been captured by humans. The missions that Orthopox gives you sees you travelling across rural and urban areas of the USA, gathering clues and disrupting humanity wherever you can to ultimately find out what happened to Crypto-136 and ensure that Earth is prepared for the incoming Furon invasion.
This is where the main quirk of the game comes into play. While the title suggests pure and utter carnage, you instead get to do that and engage in some thematically interesting missions that involve disguising yourself as humans to get into restricted areas, scan minds to find out secrets that lead to bigger discoveries and some other tasks that see you set up various Furon tactics for world domination. These can range from rigging a drive in movie theatre to showcase Furon propaganda, brainwashing TV hosts into delivering anti-government sentiment while you defend the broadcasting towers or to infiltrate army camps to sabotage experimental weaponry that would be a nuisance to aliens trying to gain an easy foothold on our planet.
By far, the most enjoyable aspect of Destroy All Humans is within the storyline and how this plays out with the ill-tempered and mean spirited Crypto playing off with character alongside Ray Horvitz (the voice of Invader Zim) as Orthopox. This has been preserved in possibly the best way that it could have been. Instead of re-recording voice clips and vocal cues, THQ Nordic have instead opted to remastering the previous work, ensuring that the nostalgic feeling is kept and that the original humour is not lost by risking poor delivery with new actors. This is not to say that I wouldn’t have liked to hear newer clips but considering previous attempts at similar titles I am glad they went with this decision.
The improvements made to gameplay are clear also. While the PS2 original wasn’t bad to play exactly, THQ have done a good job of bringing the controls and quality of life up to a suitable modern standard, mostly. Stealth for example feels more important in this version, with the Holobob mimicry tool that lets you disguise yourself as humans relying more on mind reading to get you through an area. Crypto’s telekinetic powers also benefit from a better physics engine than before, allowing for some humorous scenes when dispatching hapless humans or cows.
However, there is a big but. In the remake process, there have also been some changes made which are questionable to say the least. In a bid to make worlds more organic, instead of picking up loose ammo off the ground like you did in the original, you instead have to transmogrify it yourself by telekinetically transforming world assets into ammunition, resulting in lengthy animations, dropping of stealth and other downsides. The biggest of which being that it is such a laborious process that you just won’t want to do it.
The game has also been made easier for the most part. Barring the odd stealth mission which results in an instant mission fail, Destroy All Humans is an utter breeze to get through. The only outlier being bosses, which if you remember from the original were a bit annoying to begin with due to quick kill mechanics and little forewarning of their abilities beforehand. These have been made even worse due to the transmogrification mechanic, making the player must sift through background rubble that is hard to target in a bid to get ammo for a weapon that is useful against the thing you’re fighting.
As a remake, the framerate is something that should have been a base consideration and there were many occasions in my playthrough where the action dipped to slideshow territory, notably in boss fights when a couple of these would fire a salvo of bullets or rockets at Crypto while he is trying to salvage ammo or dodge his way around them.
Taking a mind away from the action, there are issues with the main gameplay areas concerning stealth and general exploration. These are mainly holdovers from the PS2 era version of the game, but the remake does nothing to address these, so it is worth mentioning. To keep a Holobob disguise going you need to read the thoughts of nearby humans to keep up the disguise. At first, the inane self-contained chatter is amusing, with pedestrians revealing urges for extramarital relations with celebrities or policemen bragging to themselves about beating up old ladies in the name of the law. This gets repetitive fast and is the bad side effect of reutilising old sound clips. Worse still, is that sometimes this head chatter can override mission dialogue, leaving the player in the cold on clues relating to where they need to go next or potentially new dialogue that would have broken up this repetition.
The most egregious things though come in the performance and some of the decisions made about pacing. Yes, THQ have graced the game with all new cutscenes which make the violent antics of Crypto and Orthopox really stand out. However, each cutscene is now accompanied by a lengthy loading screen which really cuts into the pace of the game, leaving some jokes to fall flat as you wait for a punchline. These would have been somewhat okay if this was a simple HD Remaster of the original PS2 game, but not even the original game had these and this is supposedly a ground up remake. Completing missions also takes you away from the action entirely without a moments thought so you can start the next mission, which is an annoying addition considering half of the charm of the original was the free roam you got at the end of a successful mission and finding nodes for racing or rampages. Of course, you can go back to a free roam mode for any of the previously finished maps, but this is also accompanied by a lengthy loading screen which makes it a bother to do so.
It’s one thing to create a remake of a title and keep some of the original issues in for the sake of nostalgia or speedrunners, but to introduce further issues is something you don’t see very often, especially when these issues could have been ironed out with some extra time in the oven. THQ have done an excellent job of making Destroy All Humans look great, but they have missed the mark on other aspects which were dying for a do over. The soundtrack is as flat as ever, the voice lines could have been expanded upon to reduce repetition and the performance issues/ loading times which didn’t exist in the first place are simply unforgiveable.
It’s a real shame as Destroy All Humans is a game that is unique and worth preserving but this version just doesn’t do the job that the series deserves. For comparison, I loaded up the PS2 digital version on my PS4, a game which has been available for years and is upscaled to 1080p and honestly, barring the graphical sheen and framerate (when it works) I feel for the most part that I wasn’t missing any of the modern accoutrements that THQ added in. In fact I found myself enjoying the side missions more as I was not booted straight to a menu screen upon finishing a mission, creating a nauseatingly annoying series of loading screens.
I wanted to like this more, I loved the original title and was as excited as most reading this would have been about the prospect of a ground-up rework of what I would consider a classic PS2 title. Quite frankly though, considering that the original release exists on the PS4 online store for a fraction of the price of this remake, I find it very hard to recommend this new edition if you are going in for nostalgia alone, unless you actually bleed Furon DNA, a diehard fan of Crypto and a new coat of paint becomes enough of an excuse to do so.
+ The characters and world have never looked better
+ The new cutscenes are genuinely fun
- Doesn’t address repetition issues from the original relase
- Frequent performance issues, notably crashing and framerate drops
- Awful ammo transmogrification system