Admittedly, there are limits to the destruction. Many buildings seem impervious to damage, and it would be nice to be able to throw objects through buildings, but let’s not ask for the moon when we’re already seeing stars.
Now, the trick with the sandbox game isn’t just giving you the toys, but giving you something interesting to do with them. In terms of primary objectives, Destroy all Humans is triumphant here, delivering missions that excel in their variety and playability. Some are all about sneaking around in human guise, avoiding alerts, scanning thoughts and using hypnosis to achieve your goals. Others major on all-out destruction: you might be taking out wave after wave of cops or troops with high-powered weaponry on the ground, or raining destruction on the town from the skies.
Most take a path between these two extremes, and there’s usually a certain amount of flexibility as to your approach. What’s more, there’s even a sense of humour on display. One minute you’re abducting a buxom bimbo beauty queen, the next you’re impersonating the mayor and quieting angry tempers in the town, the next you’re warping teenage brains at the drive-in. If we gave points just for charm, Destroy all Humans would rate a ten. It’s also nice to see how the game ramps up the complexity and difficulty, shifting from hicks in farmsteads at the back-of-beyond, through cosy seaside towns hiding sinister government agents, to the big city. It’s a mark of the thoughtful design that, just as you think that you’ve mastered it, the game throws you a new challenge, ability or adversary to chew on.
It’s a shame that the secondary goals have obviously remained, well, a secondary priority. There are bonuses to find, but a lot of it comes down to ‘destroy 12 buildings’, ‘get from A to B within three minutes’ and ‘harvest eight brain-stems’. GTA always gets this right, creating a world rich in opportunity to cause mayhem, build a career, or just explore. With both Mercenaries and Destroy all Humans, Pandemic has never quite managed to achieve the same thing.
Still, I’m willing to forgive it, just as I’m willing to ignore the fact that the graphics, while full of character, aren’t quite up there with the cutting edge. Destroy all Humans delivers on the destruction side, with some great explosions and disintegrations to be enjoyed, but the character models aren’t particularly detailed or varied, and there is some pop-up when there’s a lot going on on-screen.
At least the audio makes up for it, with appropriately spine-chilling music that could have come straight from a fifties movie, and some of the best voice-work I’ve heard in a long time. Modelling a vicious alien on Jack Nicholson was one thing, but Crypto delivers the most slavish impersonation since Christian Slater’s early career. Crypto’s alien boss is a master of withering put-downs, and the thoughts of the conformist, sexually-repressed, consumption-crazy Earthlings are always full of personality. Add this to a script that actually had me laughing out loud at times, plus great poster parodies and groaningly transparent cover-up headlines for Crypto’s achievements, and I’d be willing to forgive Destroy all Humans an awful lot.
Luckily, there isn’t really that much to forgive. Destroy all Humans doesn’t quite reach masterpiece status – the repetitive thoughts and humans, the lightweight secondary missions and the only part-destructible scenery all scream of unexploited potential – but it is a superb piece of digital entertainment. Funny, twisted, engaging and constantly amusing, it’s a game that deserves to capture human minds (in the nicest possible way).
Pandemic’s second take on the sandbox genre is a winner. Infused with twisted humour and affectionate parody, it gives you a world full of personality and some wonderful toys to wreck it with. Who could ask for more?