A new sequel has potential, and that comes through in the game’s better moments, but to revive this game for today’s audience leaves it feeling like invasion wasn’t worth the hyperdrive fuel.
On the unending march to re-launch every game under its company umbrella, THQ Nordic has next dispatched the alien lifeforms of Destroy All Humans to modern platforms. The 2005 chaos generator flew under my radar at the time, so I came into it fresh 15 years later. As is so often the case with games going for laughs from years back, Destroy All Humans’ writing has aged more poorly than the ET found at the Roswell crash site, but it still has some moments of dumb fun.
The first symbol of Destroy All Humans age is in its protagonist’s name: Crypto. Today, that word has a totally different meaning, but in 2005 it was just an illusion to cryptozoology, I suppose. Something that better shields the game’s age is its newly modernized visuals. While characters still deliberately look rubbery and exaggerated – a symbol of animation from that time – lighting and effects actually look pretty good.
That’s helpful given how often you’ll be blowing up buildings, ferris wheels, and cows all across the US. To get an idea of what Destroy All Humans is, think Saints Row 4, but instead of the president fighting off the alien invaders, you take on the role of the invaders. The premise gives way to an enjoyable, though shallow, loop of arriving in a new hub area, gaining new tools like mind-reading or – ahem – an anal probe, and then leveling the world around you until you’ve hit the mission’s completion.
At least, that’s how the best missions play out. More often than it should, Destroy All Humans incorporates stealth mechanics where players disguise themselves as civilians, police, or even Men in Black-like agents. This gives DAH a Hitman wrinkle, but with none of the cleverness. Once you have your disguise, you can freely spam a particular move to keep it from wearing off. From there, it’s a mindless rush through objectives which are always extremely simple, such as collect X, destroy Y, or kidnap Z.
The better parts of any given area come when the level puts no restrictions on you. Using more than a dozen tools on foot or from your saucer, players set ablaze the game’s funhouse mirror of Cold War-era United States. Missions can be very short if you’re not chasing bonus objectives, though you should as it enhances your bevy of upgrades with more unlockables.
There are also challenges, which ask you to hit milestones for even more goodies. Playing DAH thoroughly is rewarded, though it may lead to you growing weary of the game before the credits roll. It’s fun from start to finish to telekinetically blast someone toward the horizon line like a suped-up Jesse Faden, but that alone doesn’t save the game from its repetitive nature. Arrive, destroy, leave.
One of the starkest signs of the game’s age in the face of improved visuals is its character behaviors. NPCs move about the game’s many large hubs lifelessly. When they spot you, an alien species, they shriek once – like “Space invaders!” – and sometimes don’t even run away. Destroy All Humans wants you to feel powerful among a crowd of puny humans, and you are, but that power is derived solely from your toolbelt and never from the game’s quite lacking atmosphere.
While the game’s regularly recurring sexist jokes are unwanted, beneath the game’s stupid-humor there are hints of an adequately biting criticism of America’s penchant for infighting, McCarthyism, and other bad habits, socially speaking. Through the lens of our modern mask debacle, the game’s depiction of dimwitted Americans rejecting the advice of experts and allowing their political process to be upended by bad actors, Destroy All Humans feels oddly prophetic. In this unexpected way, it’s made better today than in 2005.
Nothing else feels better on Xbox One than it did on original Xbox, however, and while it looks much prettier today, it’s still not going to win any awards for its art design. Everything from level layouts to characterization to its borderline grotesque NPCs feel so very 2005. Unlike another recent THQ Nordic remake, Destroy All Humans doesn’t exude nostalgia, it just leaks the fumes of an industry still finding itself at the end of a generation 15 years ago. It’s properly sold as a power fantasy in the space boots of an advanced species, but how advanced can they be if they’re making the same butt jokes I was in middle school?
Final Score: 5.5
Destroy All Humans is prettier today than it was a decade and a half ago, but only superficially. Many of the game’s silly alien tools at your disposal, like telekinesis and a jetpack – are fun throughout, but repetitive mission design, lifeless characters, and bad humor drag down the experience, with or without nostalgia. A new sequel has potential, and that comes through in the game’s better moments, but to revive this game for today’s audience leaves it feeling like invasion wasn’t worth the hyperdrive fuel.