THQ put a new spin on an old genre when they released Destroy All Humans in 2005. Developer Pandemic Studios played the alien invasion theme from the opposite angle, letting gamers control a wise-cracking gray whose day job was to slaughter the entire human species. The gameplay was a retread of the already stale GTA sandbox mechanic, but the smart humor and strangely endearing premise made the game enjoyable and noteworthy. The sequel replicated the same experience that made the first game novel, but fans complained that the story was a bit too convoluted and not as funny. THQ is trotting the series out for a third time, handing development off to Locomotive Games, as Pandemic has been acquired by EA. Destroy All Humans: Big Willy Unleashed is the result of their efforts, and while it repeats what the previous games did, it doesn’t push the series very much or really stand out as a full sequel.
The story starts off in the 1970s, full of the period stereotyping that the Destroy All Humans series is known for. Crypto 138, the surly, spike-toothed E.T. from the last two games has time traveled all the way to the disco age from the 50s, at the behest of his boss, Pox. This time shift immediately sets the game apart from the last two, which had a satirical 50s cold war paranoia theme. The groovy 70s are certainly different, and while I can’t blame Locomotive for wanting to shake things up, the new setting feels incongruous and detaches the series from its camp sci-fi roots.
At the start of the game, Pox informs Crypto that he has started a fast food business called Big Willy’s, making burgers and hotdogs out of the dead humans Crypto left behind in the first two games. Pox needs Crypto to silence Patty Wurst, a supermodel turned activist who is trying to expose Pox’s cannibalistic business. Crypto is once again armed with an array of alien weapons and sent forth to butcher humanity.
If you’ve played Destroy All Humans before, Big Willy Unleashed will be very familiar. The gameplay is almost unchanged from past installments; you’re given an open sandbox world to explore, populated by embarrassingly oblivious bystanders that you must kill in a variety of creative ways. The gameplay structure works like GTA or most any other open world game, with a linear sequence of missions handed out by Pox. He gives various reasons behind the mission, from restocking his meat supplies to covering up evidence, but the dirty work usually involves killing a lot of people.
Crypto has the signature weapons from the first two games, including the Zap O Matic and the infamous Anal Probe, in addition to his mental abilities, like psychokinesis and body snatch. He gets a few new guns too, notably the zombie gun, which does exactly what its name suggests. A few of his old abilities have Wii remote minigames attached to them—for example, to hypnotize a hapless human, you must aim at and zap small floating brain icons that hover around their head.
Crypto also gets his trusty flying saucer back, which has been given a few upgrades since the 50s. Weapon ammo recharges now, and many of the old abilities have been retained. Crypto can still burn buildings to their foundations with his death ray, or abduct people and move heavy objects with the aptly named Abduct O Beam. The saucer has been tweaked to use Wii motion controls, so now you can change altitude by raising and lowering the Wii remote.
The biggest addition Big Willy Unleashed brings to the series is a mech vehicle. Crypto has access to a giant mechanized version of the restaurant’s mascot, which looks like a demented Frisch’s Big Boy. The mech controls a lot like the saucer, but has a different set of attacks that fit the game’s low-brow humor. The Big Willy mech can vomit acid, fart toxic gas, shoot lasers from its eyes and squeeze the brains out of captured humans. This new rampage-style gameplay livens up the series’ flagging formula for a little while, but wears thin quickly.
Big Willy Unleashed just doesn’t feel like a full sequel. The gameplay from the first two entries is copied and pasted almost verbatim, with the mech being the only new feature. I understand that the games are built on a repetitive idea, and to be honest a sequel didn’t need much innovation to be fun, but Big Willy Unleashed is lacking the one element that made the series enjoyable: humor.The new game tries to hit on the snarky wit of the first two, but somewhere along the line the writing went sour. Crypto and Pox still toss one-liners back and forth, but 90% of the humor is lame jokes about male anatomy. I expected some of this going in, considering the game’s title, but the gag is so overused that it gets painful. You can’t go thirty seconds without Pox making a comment about his “Big Willy.” The humor stays juvenile and simple-minded the whole way through, and is so frequent that I was cringing every couple of minutes.
What’s more, the voice actors from the previous games have been replaced with sound-alikes. You can tell they’re doing their best to imitate the performances of Grant Albrecht and Richard Steven Horvitz, but they come off as forced. Without Albrecht’s Jack Nicholson impression and Horvitz’s Invader Zim voice, the characters really lose something.
Without the humor that the two principle characters brought to the series, Big Willy Unleashed falls flat. The new weapons and features don’t do much to revitalize the repetitive gameplay, even with the somewhat novel Wii remote integration. The game loses more points with its production values. The graphics are inexplicably smeary, even when compared to the first two on last generation hardware. Crypto and his vehicles look pretty good, but everything else, from buildings to people, is excessively blocky and smeary. The world has a haziness to it, as if everything is displayed at a resolution more befitting an N64 game. In terms of audio, Big Willy ditches the camp Theremin music that added to the humor of the earlier games, and replaces it with disco. I know it’s set in the 70s and all, but the old music was a big part of the low-budget alien movie vibe and I was sad to find it missing.
With the music, humor and voice acting gone, Big Willy Unleashed misses the series’ most valuable elements, and what remains is gameplay that lost its novelty long ago. The new vehicle and weapons can’t save the game from low production values or worn out mechanics, and even the shallow multiplayer won’t have many people coming back for more. I suspect this game was rushed through development as a quick cash-in on the Wii’s undeserved popularity, and I feel sorry that the people who worked on it didn’t get more time to make it as enjoyable as the first two.
That said, I liked the new ideas it brought to the series, and I hope they are used in future installments. Some of the weapons have potential to be really funny, if only the humor is well written next time. As it stands, Big Willy Unleashed is more of a spin-off than a true sequel, so maybe we’ll see better gameplay and snappier writing in Path of the Furon, scheduled to hit the Xbox 360 and PS3 later this year.