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Since the dawn of shooters, developers have struggled to find a suitably despicable enemy – one so awful as to justify their complete extermination.
Destroy All Humans! suggests we’ve simply been pointing the camera in the wrong direction. Mankind, as seen through alien eyes, is a grotesque mirror of corruption and idiocy.
Which is just as well, since it’s tremendous fun to lift a human into the air with your mind and fling them across a white picket fence into the neighbour’s pool. It’s fine, they deserve it.
Set in the 1950s but rebuilt for 2020, the new remake of Destroy All Humans! is stuffed with inventive human-bothering tools at the cutting edge of Furon technology. Here are a few of our favourites.
With the press of a button – so long as he’s unobserved – protagonist Cryptosporidium 137 can don the skin of any NPC wandering the levels of Destroy All Humans!. Body-snatching not only allows him to walk through human communities without drawing fire but opens up a Hitman-like element to play.
Every NPC is a potential costume; a chance to stride past a police checkpoint unimpeded, or even blend in with the military. On one memorable mission, he wears the face of the Quimby-esque mayor of Rockwell to reassure the populace that the alien menace they’ve heard so much about is grossly overstated – blaming communists, non-patriots, and the dangerous influence of jazz music instead.
Even the Furon, an ancient race of cloned conquerors with a highly advanced war machine, have left room for technological improvement. In the 2005 release of Destroy All Humans!, Crypto’s jetpack was a glorified double-jump. With the help of remake developer Black Forest Games, however, it’s become a much more nuanced piece of kit – capable of a quick combat dash, or an arcing glide between the rooftops of Santa Modesta.
In combination with the social stealth mechanics, it’s a tool with enormous potential. If a Majestic agent blows your holo-cover, a blast from the jetpack can take you to an adjacent alleyway. While the cops and troops hunt, you can pick a new face to hide behind.
Back in 2005, Half-Life 2 was fresh, and physics an art developers were still working to master. Destroy All Humans! was among the first wave of action games to offer the particular joy of throwing a ragdoll 100 feet into the air and watching it spin.
Now, of course, game physics has advanced, and the new remake benefits from the stability and sophistication of modern movement maths. The fundamental satisfaction, though, remains the same, thanks to the simplicity of the mechanic. Practically any object of Crypto’s size or smaller can be ripped from the pavement and either popped down somewhere else or flung as a projectile. Some of those objects are sentient; others are explosive. In the case of the nuclear zombie cows, they’re sentient and explosive.
Like the jetpack, Crypto’s ship has seen a significant upgrade in the last decade and a half. Once built only for horizontal flight, the classic flying saucer now beams up and down too. That’s useful when it comes to picking out and plucking vehicles from the road, then using them as makeshift missiles to blow up tanks or demolish fairgrounds on the orders of your commanding clone.
It’s a unique craft to master, since most of your targets are beneath you – not just culturally, but physically. It makes sense to treat attacks like bombing runs, scorching the ground in a straight line and catching as many soldiers in the blaze as possible.
Should you ever find your conviction to destroy all humans wavering, five or ten seconds inside one of their heads will put you straight. “I just roughed up a little old lady for jaywalking,” chuckles a cop to himself. “Lovely lawn, Judy,” thinks a jealous neighbour. “You man-stealing, stuck-up witch!” The gardens might be pristine, but the game’s picture of the human psyche ain’t pretty.
Thankfully, it is entertaining. There’s a transgressive, Watch Dogs-like thrill to invading the thoughts of a stranger on the street, and the writing of original developer Pandemic still shines. It’s the perfect platform to skewer the paranoia, misogyny and materialism of the era, as well as indulge in a little dramatic irony. “I like that Nixon,” muses one policeman. “I got a feeling he’s gonna make us cops popular again.”
If you’ve reached the final entry of this article, that means you’ve got top level clearance. It’s time you learned that some of what the conspiracy theorists say is true: the aliens do probe abductees. The practice is purely a practical one, however, designed to pull the brain out through the body via an easily accessible orifice. Victims can take comfort in the fact that the procedure is over in seconds, and is no cause for worry since the organ responsible for worry will be removed in the process.
Out in the field, the probe takes the form of a convenient ranged tool, and involves two key considerations. First, that it’s best fired at the target from behind. And second, that if a successful extraction is performed in front of a witness, they tend to express alarm and alert the authorities. Who said you couldn’t learn a little about human behaviour while annihilating them?