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Pathetic God fearing humans. Instead of quibbling over which God is best, or indeed which Gods are best, they should be more concerned about invading life forms. Ones that live among us and take our form and are systematically taking over the world bit by bit, and want to destroy us all! You might think of this as a game, but we prefer to think of it more in terms of a training manual for the alien masses that realise that the Planet Earth is a far better place to be. But then we suspect that most aliens with any sense have been hanging out on the Californian West Coast than, say, Bolton on a Wednesday night in January. It might explain a few things.
It hardly comes as a surprise to learn, then, that renowned Santa Monica-based studio Pandemic is behind this THQ-published call to arms for the rapidly growing ET community. Currently enjoying massive acclaim for its other killing simulator, Full Spectrum Warrior, Pandemic has decided to become a little more transparent in its design thinking and just come out and admit it wants the whole damned human race dead ("One giant step on mankind" runs the tag line). We knew there was something a bit odd about that Josh Resnick - but at least he's being honest about it.
Appropriately, THQ took the step of briefing us about the 'project' in a mini theatre, hosted by an Agent Smith look-alike determined to warn us of the dangers to come in spring next year. Frankly we don't know which side THQ is on anymore - is this all a case of double bluff? Maybe they're in on it too, and the warnings are all part of the cunning plan? We're none the wiser, but it's shaping up to be one of the most original and amusing videogame releases since the days of LucasArts in its early '90s prime, with that same sense of feel good absurdity, backed with sharp wit and a keen sense of what actually makes an appealing videogame idea.
The presentation left us none the wiser as to precisely how the game will feel to play, but no-one left in any doubt that it looked a whole lot of fun. The basic idea is a winner from the off: you play as a little bug-eyed green man with an attitude problem called Crypto 137 on the hunt for DNA which will save his dying race of Furons, and apparently this DNA is contained within just a handful of human brainstems (for reasons we're not entirely sure about - did they cross breed once? A Roswellian conspiracy is brewing...).
Evidently, you'd think Crypto 137 would want to locate the said humans and get the hell out with the minimum of fuss, but his attitude is one of righteous indignation from the beginning. At the start of the game it appears that Crypto 137 gives Earth's life forms way too much credit as his initial exchanges with a nearby cow prove. Upon assuring the walking hamburger that he can read minds and that resistance is futile, his interrogations reveal no more than the fact that the cow is considering her next 'moo'. One insolent cow pat later, Crypto uses his telekinetic powers to pick up the useless life form and hurl it across the field to teach it a lesson. With the now ubiquitous Havok physics as part of the package, this not only looks convincing but gives you a chance to cause a fair bit of mayhem while you're at it.
Things don't really get much better when the nearby farmer approaches to check out the commotion, only to apparently have little more intelligence than our grass munching milk machine friend. Puny minded humans can easily be hypnotised to do pretty much whatever you want - often allowing you to make them do stupid things (like pretend to be a chicken) that allow you to slip past while everyone else gathers round to view the spectacle. Better still, Crypto can take on any creature's physical form, which naturally allows you to avoid detection in most circumstances.
In another part of the demo he stumbles across what he believes is a human plot to destroy the alien race. In fact, it's nothing more sinister than a drive-in showing of Plan 9 From Outer Space, the legendary B-movie to end all B-movies, but he believes he's watching some kind of documentary that undermines his plot. In a panicked state of indignant fury, he trashes the drive-in and thus begins his one-alien war on mankind. Being a bit of a dab hand at telekinesis (the new 'lens flare' in gaming, it seems) he can pick up more or less anything he sees, including cars, which naturally get hurled in a righteous strop through the cinema screen. Acts of random violence seems to be all part and parcel of the comedic proceedings, but then if your race was dying out, wouldn't you?
If needs be, you can simply go on the rampage and take out the humans by blasting them into next week with various alien means, such as the standard Laser Blaster, a bizarre brain warping virus, and an explosive Ion Detonator charge. Failing that, the UFO provides even better firepower, allowing you to hop into the flying saucer and fire the Death Ray, an Adductor Ray, the Quantum Deconstructor or even a Sonic Boom that shatters the glass in any nearby building.
Some of your foes, however, are wise to your goals and take the form of Men In Black/Agent Smith shade-wearing types, and they're not remotely fooled by your disguises. Known as the Majestics, they bust your chops throughout the game and act as the main barrier to the otherwise supreme powers at your disposal. It seems that they may even be behind the propaganda stories that spin onto the screen, that explain away your rampages with typically cheesy Government-agency-cover-up style.
One of the most amusing parts of the 'briefing' was Crypto's inability to get his tongue around how to actually vocalise the thoughts of the humans that he disguises himself as. With most humans you come across having amusingly vacuous redneck thoughts, you can repeat those thoughts to the other humans you see - and at various points you'll be able to use that to your advantage, but the problem is that all the words come out entirely inappropriately, almost phonetically to hilarious effect. At one point the conversation between becomes a tug of war battle of wills, and the whole idea looks as amusing as it is original.
Destroy All Humans reportedly has around 20 missions, set across five main locations, as well as a handful of 'sandbox' missions to keep you going. We've got a fair wait to see how this pans out, with a release date planned for February 2005, but it's a massive boost to see a company as licence-obsessed as THQ suddenly investing its efforts in producing properties that are original in all senses of the word. With its blend of wry humour and out and out destruction it's exactly the sort of game that has the kind of broad appeal that will satisfy the purists as much as the masses. Maybe the destruction of the human race is a little premature...
Destroy All Humans! is due for release in February 2005 via THQ on the PS2 and Xbox.