- Review Price: £29.99
”’Platform: Nintendo Wii”’
How inherently amusing do you find the words ‘Big Willy’? Does the title make you titter? Will you mind having it rubbed in your face for hour after hour after miserable hour? If so, roll up! You’re just the sort of numbskull THQ was hoping to win over with this game.
If not, then you’ll find the latest in the Destroy all Humans saga a doubly depressing experience. On the one hand, it’s a risible new entry in what I used to consider a promising series. On the other hand, it’s yet more confirmation that the Wii is becoming the new depositary of choice for slipshod franchise games. Neither of these things leaves me feeling good.
Destroy all Humans arrived in the summer of 2005 as part of a wave of open-world games that came out in the wake of GTA Vice City and GTA San Andreas. The original developers, Pandemic, were also responsible for the ‘GTA goes to war’ game Mercenaries (and are behind that game’s upcoming sequel) and both games focused on the joys of mindless destruction in a physics-enabled, sandbox setting. Ingeniously, Destroy all Humans took the classic fifties alien invasion story and spun it from the extra-terrestrial side, throwing Crypto – a wisecracking alien with a mean line in Jack Nicholson imitations – into the rigid social structures and cold war paranoia of fifties America, and playing the whole thing for laughs. Sure, there was some broad slapstick stuff and gross-out humour in there – how can there not be in a game where the anal probe is a vital tool? Yet Destroy all Humans also had some subtle satire in the mix. Crypto could read the thoughts of his pitiful human prey, revealing their sexually repressed, conformist, consumerist obsessions. The game skewered perfectly the sci-fi fiction, worries and social mores of the era. What’s more, it could make you laugh out loud.
Big Willy Unleashed will make you snigger occasionally – no man is totally impervious to genital-related jokes – but while the script packs in the innuendo and even tries a touch of self aware irony, it rarely rises to the occasion. Developed by THQ’s internal developer, Locomotion, it’s a broader, less nuanced game with a broader, less nuanced sense of humour. The action moves on from the fifties of the original and the sixties of Destroy all Humans 2 to the seventies, and the targets this time include fast-food chains, roller-skating, disco, Fantasy Island and Patty Hearst. However, the thought reading seems to have gone AWOL, and most of the wit seems to have gone with it. The basic setup – that your alien commander, Pox, has invested in a burger chain which is selling food made from humans – is entertaining, but otherwise the few jokes that aren’t cheap willy gags are along the lines of ‘isn’t disco funny?’ or ‘Look! That little chap looks like the midget from Fantasy Island.’ I know it’s the stuff BBC3 nostalgia countdown shows are made of, but didn’t the first game do this stuff so much better?
In fact, the first game did just about everything better. Let’s start with the graphics. Destroy all Humans wasn’t an amazing looking title even by 2005 standards, but I’m sure it didn’t look as bad as this. The 70s appears to be an era of poorly textured, blocky architecture and clumsy character models, with some of the rough edges just about smoothed over by half-decent lighting effects, but not nearly enough to stop you from suspecting that you’re playing a three-year-old PS2 game. We went a bit soft on the original by not moaning too much about the lack of properly destructible environments, but now I’m less inclined to be so generous. If we’re dishing out death from a flying saucer we want to see buildings explode in flaming chunks of concrete and shards of shattering glass, not collapse in a feeble animation. We want to be able to throw the feeble humans through windows and telephone boxes, not watch as they bump against glass without leaving a mark. In terms of technology, this isn’t even yesterday’s game – it’s the game that’s been hanging around at the back of the fridge for a week and has now developed an alarming smell.
Nor is the gameplay looking any fresher. The structure is broadly the same as before: Crypto lands his flying saucer in a new area, travels to beacons on the map and opens main story missions (succeeding in one opens up another) or side-quests (completing them to help Crypto power up his weapons and his saucer) then goes on to the next area. While roaming about, Crypto is also free to cause what mayhem he can, either on foot or in his saucer using a variety of death rays and disintegration beams. However, the more destruction Crypto dishes out, the more cops and army tanks he’ll have on his trail and the less chance he has of surviving unless he waits out of sight while the heat cools down.
The problem is that the missions aren’t so well conceived or executed this time around. A lot of the stuff with hypnotising or abducting humans seems to have gone out of the window. There’s still a fair bit of body-snatching, where Crypto possesses a human host for a while, but the missions involved are either so woefully simplistic that they’re impossible to fail or so badly designed that they’re almost as difficult to complete. Otherwise, the emphasis seems to be squarely on destruction, with Crypto, whether on foot or in his saucer, taking out several targets in order to get on to the next stage. It’s fun for a while, but fascinating across the length of the game? Not on your nelly. The side-quests are equally unappealing, either aping Crackdown in asking you to complete tiresome ‘race to the next beacon before the time runs out’ challenges, or just giving you more of the same stuff you’re already getting in the main story missions. Dull, dull, dull.
On the plus side, Crypto has been given some new weapons to destroy with. His saucer still comes packed with a death ray and a tractor beam, with which you can pick up people and vehicles and then toss them around gleefully as if there were on the end of the chain. He also has his handy Zapomatic lightning gun and his classic disintegrator to wield while out and about. The good old anal probe still does exactly what you expect, entering the human host in a way that looks quite painful, then sending a juicy brain-stem flying out from their shattered skull, while Psycho-kinetic powers give you the ability to throw smaller objects and witless humans around, though with rather less destructive effects than you might hope. New tools include a zombie gun (your target goes green and attacks his old comrades, which is handy for diversionary tactics) and a shrink ray (no prizes for this one), plus a ball lightning weapon which can frazzle several enemies at once.
The biggest and best new addition, however, is the mighty Big Willy himself. The giant-sized mascot of Pox’s fast-food empire doubles as a robotic machine of mass destruction, armed with a fiendish head-popping manoeuvre (BW uses brain-stems for fuel) and a range of dangerous emissions. The missions where Big Willy is finally let loose on the locale are easily the most entertaining, mostly because – even in an environment as dishwater dull as this – the mindless wrecking of public property is always fun. Do these few sections where the game comes to life make up for the uninspiring rest? Unfortunately not.
Finally, it must be said that the controls leave a lot to be desired. Big Willy Unleashed uses a combination of the Nunchuk controller to move Crypto/Big Willy/the saucer around and the remote to change the view and aim and fire weapons. Some of the time it just about works, but at other times you’ll find yourself struggling to get the right camera angle or pull the targeting reticule back on screen when you’re already working overtime to complete objectives. And while using a twist of the remote to rotate the view left and right while piloting the saucer or Big Willy must have seemed like a good idea, the movement is painfully slow in practice. In a game already beset with badly implemented missions, the controls will leave you all the more frustrated with Big Willy’s failure to perform.
All in all, Big Willy Unleashed is not Crypto’s finest hour. In fact, the poor chap seems impotent; his free-roaming levels seem smaller, his activities half-assed and dumbed down. All the willy gags in the world, no matter how knowing or how ironic, don’t make him anything more than a shadow of a former self. I’m willing to give him another chance, and I sincerely hope THQ turn things around with the upcoming PS3/360 sequel, Path of the Furons. If not, it will be time to destroy Destroy all Humans before it destroys our fondness for Crypto for good.
A shoddy Wii-quel that does little to improve this once-promising series and everything to destroy its reputation. Avoid.