‘Destroy All Humans!’ Reboot Is Campy Fun Until You Feel Like A Jerk

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Destroy All Humans! made me feel like an asshole. 

It wasn’t the arson, kidnapping, mass murder, or dismemberment of livestock that did it; I enjoyed those shenanigans tremendously. But some time around the 50th derogatory utterance of “pussy” by a random NPC, I felt embarrassed enough to stop playing at full volume. Eventually, that turned into playing with headphones, which in turn became not playing at all. Yeah, it’s a real bummer.

Destroy All Humans! made me feel like an asshole. 

Broadly speaking, Black Forest Games’ reboot of the alien invasion classic is spectacular. Based on the 2005 release of the same name, this deplorable adventure in widespread destruction offers updated graphics and sound, improved gameplay and mechanics, a bonus mission, and enough nostalgia to fuel dozens of mid-aughts expeditions. 

Alien Cryptosporidium 137 (aka “Crypto”) returns to planet Earth with the help of mission officer Orthopox 13 (aka “Pox”) to harvest human DNA and investigate the disappearance of fellow Furon warrior Cryptosporidium 136. It’s a quick-witted, sci-fi journey packed with opportunities to enact creative chaos that offers satisfying, diversified gameplay closely aligned with the franchise. 

Pillaging 1959 America, players get to invade towns, labs, and military bases via body-snatching, hypnosis, and Crypto’s other stealth tactics. You pull out brains, wipe memories of survivors, rinse and repeat in a Mars Attacks-meets-Hitman combo that’s immensely enjoyable if not always tidily executed. The controls, though refined, still require most buttons to serve multiple purposes and that can lead to frustrating confusion, especially when trying to multitask. (More than once, I shed a disguise by accident and brought my mission to a premature end.) Plus, playing on the PlayStation 4, I ran into a few glitches — namely, having to be positioned just right to open doorways and activate other mechanisms — which were annoying enough for me to mention here.

I don’t eat cows, but telekinetically yeeting them into oblivion is pretty fun.

Image: thq nordic / black forest games

Luckily, when all the sneaking around is done, you’re free to board your ship, blast the hell out of the surrounding area, and yeet victims into oblivion via telekinesis. It’s a solid one-two punch of skill-based challenge and cathartic detox. None of it is particularly difficult, but even when I did have to replay levels, I found myself appreciating the opportunity to more thoroughly explore the world I was attacking. 

Trust me, you haven’t lived until you’ve systematically probed the anuses of an entire beachfront. 

Touring “Santa Modesta,” “Area 42,” “Capitol City,”  and other real-but-not-real locations, it’s easy to fall for the pathetic, picturesque planet you’re conquering. No matter the intensity of a battle or the urgency of an assignment, I repeatedly found myself making time to investigate the rich details everywhere I went. I wandered through quaint neighborhoods and busy city centers, flew above sprawling military outposts, and appreciated the game’s rendering of D.C.’s Reflecting Pool so much that I fell in and almost died. (Furons, like Gremlins, shouldn’t get wet.) It’s as pretty as a postcard — y’know, the kind you’d like to set on fire. 

Back on the mothership, you get a charming introduction to Crypto and Pox’s dysfunctional relationship. Of course, they’ve got the same goal in mind: destroy all humans. However, Crypto wants to focus on brute force, while Pox would rather strategize a foolproof path towards domination. It’s sort of a good alien, bad alien thing with just a taste of playful affection. My favorite line of the whole game occurs in the upgrades menu when Pox cheerfully calls Crypto his “little ball of unbridled aggression.” Did my heart love ‘til now?

With the perfect stage for wreaking havoc and two protagonists you’ll genuinely like, the missions in front of you offer plenty of chances for in-game goofs. You’ll want to poke and prod, mess around, and test the limits if only to see the world react to your nonsense. Trust me, you haven’t lived until you’ve systematically probed the anuses of an entire beachfront. It’s a lot of work, but worth it. 

Only you can help cause forest fires.

Only you can help cause forest fires.

Image: thq nordic / black forest games 

Now, back to the whole “pussy” thing. In an effort to preserve the magic of 2005, the reboot’s creators opted to digitally enhance but not re-record the voice acting of the original game. But with the dulcet tones of lead voice actors J. Grant Albrecht (who inexplicably sounds just like Jack Nicholson) and Richard Steven Horowitz (who sounds like Invader Zim because he voiced that alien, too) comes an outdated script rife with problematic punchlines. From the liberal, pejorative use of “pussy” and “midget” to a number of subtly transphobic, homophobic, and racist one-liners, the NPCs of Destroy All Humans! employ some truly heinous sentiments for a laugh. 

Most often appearing as part of “cortex scans,” Crypto’s mind-reading ability required to complete numerous stealth-based tasks, these poorly-aged soundbites appear relentlessly throughout the game. In a single playthrough, I suffered through the same handful of lines dozens of times. These “,” as they’re referred to by developers, became more grating with each cycle through. That my neighbors may have heard some of those toxic wisecracks through my apartment walls (before I started hiding my shame with headphones) makes me genuinely uncomfortable.

Now, calling this “satire” or saying it’s a product of the times — the times being 1959 or 2005, take your pick — doesn’t really cut it for me. I can appreciate that Destroy All Humans! is and always has been a send-up of Americana and its false white-bread presentation. The repeated conjuring of horned-up suburbanites, McCarthy-worshipping military pawns, and borderline vegetative politicians makes that point well. Yes, having a random woman utter, “My mind says Rock Hudson but my body says Doris Day!” is an edgy one-off, but it’s not offensive. I laughed every time it happened, and when the game’s half a dozen other variations on that bit came up I enjoyed them just as much. That kind of joke is totally OK.

Maybe we can get a “cut out all the bigoted shit” patch at some point?

But the other stuff left a bad, bad taste in my mouth. It unnecessarily punched down and could have so easily been dropped from the game. None of it was required to uphold the legacy of the original, and “staying true to the source material” doesn’t justify actively antagonizing certain groups. What’s more, the inclusion of this kind of dialogue made an otherwise very 2020 theme of “Damn, humans suck” into a hotbed for fresh, too-close-to-home wounds. Not everyone who plays this game will see these lines as jokes — remember how comfortable our actual president is saying “pussy” — and that makes this as much a celebration of harmful behavior as a satirization of it. 

Black Forest Games had to consciously choose which lines from the original game to include. There’s no doubt in my mind that there was a meeting (or meetings) where the possibility of this type of criticism was discussed. For whatever reason, they decided to do it anyway, and as a result, players pay the cost. I don’t know that this will ruin the Destroy All Humans! reboot for everyone, but it certainly did for me. Generally speaking, I make it a rule to only endorse content that can be reasonably enjoyed by everyone and this release blatantly misses that mark. Maybe we can get a “cut out all the bigoted shit” patch at some point? I mean, they put the effort into improving every other part of this game so it’s not totally impossible. Until then, I’ll be destroying humans elsewhere

Destroy All Humans! (2020) is now available on Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, Google Stadia, and PlayStation 4.


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