During the height of the Cold War, Soviet spies weren’t the only foreign invaders America was worried about. After widely publicized incidents like the Kenneth Arnold UFO sighting and even the alleged Roswell crash, the already-paranoid country would be swept up in an extraterrestrial mania that would go on to shape a large part of North-American culture, with a huge impact on ’50s science-fiction in particular.
While there are countless movies and books about humans living in fear of little green men, it was only in the next millennia that a certain Matt Harding (yes, the same one from the viral Dancing Matt videos) thought about how cool it might be to experience the other side of a classic alien invasion story. Intrigued by the idea of a tongue-in-cheek open-world game where players would be narratively justified in killing everyone, the clever developers over at Pandemic Studios would soon birth one of the most ridiculously fun gaming franchises of all time.
The original Destroy All Humans! was released on home consoles back in 2005, becoming a hit with players and critics that were looking for a bit of humor alongside their open-world destruction. Often referred to as “Grand Theft Alien”, the game put players in the shoes of Cryptosporidium-137, a cloned member of the Furon race sent to Earth circa 1959 in order to recover a previous iteration of himself that had been captured by the US government. Along the way, “Crypto” engages in an atomic-age romp through middle America, fighting off police, army and even the secretive Majestic agency (inspired by the Illuminati-like Majestic 12, a group that conspiracy theorists claim to be some form of shadow government).
While demolishing buildings with death-rays and probing human nether regions is fun enough, the game wears its influences on its sleeve, making it doubly entertaining for horror/sci-fi fanatics. There are endless references to classic monster movies and cold-war media, with the Furons themselves being based on traditional grey alien descriptions. Crypto’s obnoxious co-hort Orthopox-13 is even voiced by none other than Richard Steven Horvitz, of Invader Zim fame, and don’t get me started on that familiar Mothership design.
The cheekily-named levels are also inspired by classic flicks like Teenagers From Outer Space and Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, with one mission even taking place at a Drive-In Theater as it plays Plan 9 From Outer Space (which is actually how I was introduced to Ed Wood’s masterpiece). In fact, you can even unlock the entirety of Teenagers From Outer Space for your viewing pleasure once you beat the game, which I always thought was a nice bonus.
With a bonafide success on their hands, Pandemic Studios would produce a sequel the following year that improved on the original in nearly every way imaginable. While Destroy All Humans! 2 plays a lot like its predecessor, the addition of new powers, weapons, and a globe-trotting adventure that borrows heavily from James Bond and Kaiju films makes it one of the most entertaining experiences of the sixth console generation. Taking place in the Swinging Sixties, the satire here is on a whole other level. All it takes is a simple mind-scan to find copious amounts of jabs at ’60s culture while you’re out body-snatching your way through the US, England, Japan, and, eventually, even the Moon.
Levels were a lot bigger and more detailed as well, though it’s a shame that we lost the full-length unlockable B-Movies. The title also incorporated the Furon’s cloning technology into gameplay, as we were also offered a Split-Screen Cooperative mode that made this one of my most cherished gaming experiences on the PlayStation 2. I have many fond memories of getting together with friends to abduct unwitting humans while tractor-beaming tanks into the middle of the sea.
While this sequel was considered the high point of the series by most fans (myself included), it was way too big of a hit to not make another one. So, after a couple of years, with Pandemic Studios being bought out by EA, Locomotive Games would bring Destroy All Humans! Big Willy Unleashed over to the Wii in early 2008. Despite mixed reviews, it was actually a pretty entertaining game, with the story taking place in 1975 and focusing on Soylent Green styled fast-food conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, it didn’t add much to the formula other than clunky motion controls and the titular giant Willy robot. While many critics complained about the stale humor and setting, the fact is that the novelty of a foul-mouthed alien invader shoving probes up people’s butts was wearing thin, and it didn’t help that the original voice-actors weren’t available to reprise their iconic roles.
Big Willy Unleashed was more of a spin-off rather than a true sequel, but in late 2008/early 2009 (depending on the console), Sandblast Games would attempt to bring the franchise into high-definition for a whole new generation with Destroy All Humans! Path of the Furon. Boasting a late ’70s setting inspired by gritty grindhouse pictures and several gameplay tweaks (mostly involving a new melee combat system), the title had all the ingredients for a great game.
While Path of the Furon was mostly faithful to the franchise’s original formula, it wasn’t the next-gen experience that most gamers were hoping for. Sure, Sandblast managed to get the original voice-actors back, and some of the media satire was still on point, but the whole experience was marred by bugs, glitches and generally off-putting visuals. The game’s development was also reportedly a mess, with the North-American release of the PS3 version being canceled. Failing to make a profit, it seemed that this title spelled the end of the Destroy All Humans! series.
For over 10 years, that was basically the truth. While there were always bubbling rumors of a new entry in the series, it was only in 2019 that THQ Nordic confirmed a fully-fledged remake of the first game by Black Forest Games, much to the excitement of long-time fans. Released about a month ago, the new and improved Destroy All Humans! keeps things as close to the original as possible, even using cleaned up restorations of the original audio. The focus here is more on visuals and minor quality-of-life improvements, though the team even went as far as restoring a lost mission that was cut from the original release.
With the game’s humor and memorable characters intact, I personally had a lot of fun with the title, though I understand why some critics think that the antiquated level design and adolescent jokes aren’t quite as entertaining in 2020 as they were 15 years ago. Luckily, the remake also brings back the unlockable B-Movies, which might inspire new players to check out that weird era of sci-fi movies. The new jetpack controls are also so well-designed that it might be hard to go back to the original game after getting used to them.
After such a faithful remake, fans have been left to wonder if Black Forest Games will also tackle Destroy All Humans! 2. While I think that what killed the original series was too many games in quick succession, which didn’t allow the franchise enough room to breathe, I’d love to see Black Forest’s take on globe-trotting co-op action. There haven’t been any official announcements so far, but the remake’s mostly-positive reception seems to suggest that a sequel would be a no-brainer. After that, we might even see a brand-new title allowing Crypto to terrorize some other decade.
In any case, these games introduced me to a whole new world of schlocky ’50s movies, so I’m glad that the franchise is making a comeback. Even if this year’s remake happens to be the last game in the series, I’m grateful that we’ve had so much fun over the years collecting brain stems and abducting innocent bystanders. For now, we can only hope that if Crypto does decide to terrorize a new decade, it won’t happen to be this one. We already have enough to deal with in 2020 without rampant anal probing.