3 out of 5 Cookies
Today I’m flashing back all the way to 2008 to write about Destroy All Humans: The Path of the Furon, the third and final game in the Destroy All Humans series, and the only one available on the PS3/Xbox360 console generation.
Let’s face it, when it was released there wasn’t much love for this title. The new-fangled PS3 and Xbox 360 were still pretty new and everyone was obsessed with how much these machines could be pushed graphically. No one wanted a game that looked like it’d been made for the last console generation – and make no mistake about it – it does look like a PS2 game. During an early cutscene less than an hour into the game two mafia limousines pull up and honestly, they appeared to be blocky, cardboard boxes with wheels. Even though I was expecting a less-than-contemporary gaming experience, even I had to marvel at how ancient the graphics were in some places.
Despite its visual weaknesses, anybody who’s going to go back and play this game isn’t going to play it for its beauty, but rather, its humor. And it has high doses of it. From anal probe weapons, to its 1970’s era setting, to the random thoughts of the humans passing by, to Crypto’s one-liners, there really isn’t a lot of downtime with the game, and I laughed out loud several times during my playthrough.
A bit of history – the original Destroy All Humans was released for the Gamecube/Xbox/PS2 and was a satire of the 1950’s UFO movies such as The Day the Earth Stood Still. As Crypto, an almond-dyed alien channeling Jack Nicholson’s voice, you wandered through 1950’s suburbia on various missions collecting DNA from humans and cows alike. It was a thoroughly original game, something that hadn’t been done before. The sequel, was released a short time later and was pretty much more of the same, although instead of poking fun at the 50’s, we now were in a a groovy Austin Powers inspired version of the 1960’s. I did play the first game, although I never did finish it. When the second game came out I had sort of lost interest all together in video games so other than the basic concept, I have no firsthand experience with it. By the time this third game came out the concept was no longer original, the humor no longer surprising, and according to the critics at the time, it was pretty much a boring rehash of everything that had come before except for the 70’s nostalgia and mockery. That’s all well and good, and may be true, but since the 1st and 2nd game are no longer playable on the current systems this is pretty much the easiest shot most people will have to experience the Destroy All Humans concept – and rehash though it may be, if you’ve never had any experience with it before its not a rehash, is it?
In that spirit, though most professional critics wrote the game off, I have to recommend it. Its funny. And exceedingly playable. For all the controls and actions that are available to the player in the game, various weapons, psycho-kinesis, mind-reading, flying saucer driving, human being abducting – I was never wondering what buttons did what. For such an old game, the controls are thoroughly modern. (This is as opposed to aging games such as Resident Evil 4 – a classic and eminently playable on the Wii – but when they finally released the HD version on the Xbox 360, imagine my disappointment that they had retained the control scheme from the PS2 version, before L-stick = Look Around and R-Stick = move. I also was hoping that the Devil May Cry and Silent Hill HD collections would update the controls – but alas, they remain unplayable for me.)
The 1970’s setting is made full use of in the first two locales – A Las Vegas clone and Hollywood – with various nods to Sonny and Cher, Greg Allman, ‘Fro’s, and Bell Bottoms. The Hollywood level churns out a variety of comic situations and one-liners even mocking Invasion of the Body Snatchers which it points out is a pretty lame movie – and praising Close Encounters of the Third Kind, even as it mocks Spielberg.
The third level of the game takes place in China, while the fourth travels to Paris. By these levels the writers knew that they had exhausted the 70’s jokes. The decade itself becomes much less of a subject of scorn and mockery, in China and Paris, and rather the new targets are the respective cultures and people in these levels. “Soap or parfum? Soap or parfum? …why parfum of course!” thinks one Parisian lady when you read her mind. The Chinese level really parses the meaning of “politically incorrect” as some of the racial and cultural jokes could be construed as crossing the line into insensitive, or even – dare I say – racist.
But really, that makes the game that much more of an oddity. And for the record, some of the jokes in these levels actually target Americans and their culture-centric ways.
The weakest level is the last which sends Crypto back to his home planet of Furon. By the time you get there you are 10+ hours into the game. Since almost all of the humor in the game comes from its mockery of sub-cultures and pop culture – taking the action to a completely different planet causes a huge dip in the funniness of the game, and its fun-ness. But that’s a small complaint and almost made up for by alien carnival games featuring abducted humans – such as Human-Plinko, Kick the Human, and Human Darts.
Video games are among the fastest aging art forms around. Technology moves so rapidly that within just a few years what’s new becomes almost unplayable. As mentioned in this very review, control schemes themselves have changed so much in a mere 6 or 7 years that most people, no matter how well-received a game may have been, find such a steep learning curve (or re-learning curve, as the case may be) that its not even worth their time to attempt to play some of these older games. Other pop culture and art forms don’t have this problem. The first Iron Man movie came out the same year as this game, yet no one would say that its unwatchable due to its age, or that its special effects look hokey. But the evolution of the video game has been so quick that 3 to 5 years worth of technological advancement is the same as 20 or 30 years in the film medium. So yeah, Destroy All Humans is a dinosaur by these standards, and with the next console generation speedily coming along within the next year or so, it is aging even as you read. Odd.
Play it to see what used to be – stay for the humor.