Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Path to Enlightenment: Destroy All Humans Retrospective Part 4

After the release of Destroy All Humans 2 in 2006, a third entry where Crypto and Pox terrorized the 1970's seemed inevitable.  Plus, the release of next-generation systems the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 meant Pandemic Studios could take the carnage to the next level, but not everything went as planned.  In 2007, EA Games acquired Pandemic Studios, leaving the series without its main developer, but this wasn't going to stop publisher THQ.  Searching for a new studio to continue Crypto's reign of terror, they chose Cranky Pants Games.  Cranky Pants Games had only developed a handful of titles before working on Destroy All Humans, including 2005's Evil Dead Regeneration.

Leading up to Path of the Furon's release, things looked promising.  The demos and trailers shown off at E3 and during development highlighted the next-generation destruction Cranky Pants Games, now renamed Sandblast, would be bringing to the table.  New weapons included a giant plant monster and a tornado the flying saucer could summon.  Environments were bigger in scale and aerial enemies like helicopters would try to take Crypto down, in addition to ground-based forces.  Combine this with features like split-screen and online multiplayer, and Path of the Furon seemed like it would be bringing everyone's favorite homicidal alien to the new systems with a bang.

There was one slight problem, in 2008, the year it was coming out, the world was in the middle of an economic recession, resulting in a lot of foreclosures and layoffs across the board.  Said recession affected THQ; in August of 2008, the publisher announced it would be laying off employees from studios they owned, including Sandblast.  Because of this, much of the staff working on the game was fired, leaving a handful of employees to develop the game.  Also, the game's intended summer/fall release was pushed back to December, and the PlayStation 3 version of Path of the Furon was cancelled, in North America at least. Adding insult to injury, Sandblast was shut down in November, a month before the game's release.  When Destroy All Humans: Path of the Furon came out on December 1, 2008, it was met with scathing reviews and poor sales.

After the events of Big Willy Unleashed, Crypto and Pox took the money they got from selling off Big Willy's to build a casino in Las Paradiso called the Space Dust.  Said casino allows them to rake in the cash and the brain stems, much to the joy of the Furon empire.  However, Crypto is burnt out from spending two decades terrorizing the world and harvesting craniums, so he spends his time running the casino and watching TV.  Pox informs Crypto he caught a spy searching for blueprints on the Space Dust.  The spy, Murray, reveals he's working undercover for the Moilnari brothers, who run Nero's Palazzo.

Crypto sneaks into the Pilazzo and trashes the place, must to the anger of Vinnie and Mikey Molinari.  The little alien thwarts their plans to destroy the Space Dust, but before he can destroy them once and for all, him and Pox are attacked by Nexos, ancient Furon cyborgs.  Crypto impedes the ambush but is confused by their presence.  Before they can figure anything else out, the military shows up.  Pox orders Crypto to destroy Nero's Palazzo, the Space Dust, and a good portion of Las Paradiso.  With his casino in ruins, Crypto has no other choice but to figure out what's going on and why.
On paper, there's a lot to like about Path of the Furon's story.  The idea of Crypto being burnt out from constantly killing humans and instead choosing to open a casino and lay low is quite interesting.  He's watched so much television him and Pox frequently talk about shows on the air in addition to current events going on at the time.  There's a lot more banter between Crypto and Pox than in the previous games, and it's fun to listen to.  Grant Albrecht and Richard Horvitz return after their absence from Big Willy Unleashed, and they sound great.  Additionally, the "Who done it?" storyline keeps you interested as more twists pop up around every corner.

However, none of the characters, save for one, are memorable.  In every location Crypto and Pox travel to, they meet some characters, good and bad, who eventually disappear once he or she has run their course.  For example, in Sunny-Wood there's a reporter named Veronica Stone who helps Crypto try to expose a man named C. Curt Calvin, head of the Lunarian Church of Alientology.  Stone is set up to be Crypto's new love interest since Natalya is absent, but aside from a couple of side missions, she's never brought up again.

One character who does stand out is The Master.  If Destroy All Humans 2 lampooned spy movies, then Path of the Furon spoofs martial arts movies like Enter the Dragon.  The Master is a send-up of the old but wise martial arts expert seen in films like The Karate Kid and Kill Bill.  He's a Furon who teaches Crypto how to master psychokinesis, and he's the best character outside of Crypto and Pox.

With that said, the quality of the writing and comedy in Path of the Furon is all over the place.  There are a lot of references and homages to popular works and cultural trends from the 1970's, including a mission involving a popular singing duo named Sammy and Faire, an obvious play on Sonny and Cher.  On the other hand, some of the gags and fourth-wall breaking humor can be pretty funny.  Then, there are the bits of comedy which don't work at all, such as a weird running gag where characters mispronounce Rolo's name as "Roro" for no apparent reason.

Though not straying far from the open-world set-up utilized in Destroy All Humans 2 and Big Willy Unleashed, Path of the Furon makes a lot of great changes to the controls and combat.  The control layout has been tweaked to allow Crypto to use his weapons, mental powers, and jetpack simultaneously or in different combinations.  You can use PK to grab a human and zap them with the zap-o-matic or use mental lock to lock on to foes and more accurately shoot at them with the disintegrator ray.  Even the flying saucer has been altered.  Now, the saucer can fly in all directions and is not limited to a specific angle or height, plus you can use the abduction beam and shoot weapons at the same time.

Stopping time to redirect a tank shell
back at a tank is quite satisfying.
Crypto's added flexibility means the combat is more fun, even if it's lacking in challenge.  There are many returning weapons as well as a host of new guns to use.  Series mainstays like the zap-o-matic, disintegrator ray, ion detonator, anal probe, and the dislocator are joined by the superballer, the Venus Human Trap, and the black hole gun.  The superballer functions similarly to the dislocator in that it fires a ball that skips around before latching on to a human or vehicle and bouncing them around the place.  The Venus Human Trap summons a giant plant monster that eats anything within its vicinity, while the black hole gun opens a void in space and sucks anything and everything up while its active.

In between games, Crypto wrecked his old saucer, so Pox built him a new one.  This saucer comes with the death ray and quantum deconstructor, but instead of the sonic boom or anti-gravity field, there are seeker drones and plasma cannons.  Seeker drones are heat-seeking beams of energy that lock on to flying enemies and ground units.  Holding the fire button down highlights targets and how many seekers will be launched.  Plasma cannons are rapid-fire plasma machine guns which shred through buildings.  There's also the tornadotron, which summons a twister that can be controlled while it's on the ground.  Even better, you can use this weapon while the saucer is cloaked.

Many of the returning weapons and abilities have undergone some modifications.  The ion detonator now sticks to targets and can be used in conjunction with one Crypto's new powers, the Temporal Fist.  Meanwhile, the comically hilarious anal probe can lock on to multiple humans and launch a barrage of probes.  As for mental powers, Crypto has PK, body-snatch, hypnotize, and mind-reading, along with new abilities such as PK Magnet and the Temporal Fist.  PK magnet can be used to gather humans and objects into a ball while the temporal fist stops time.  From there, Crypto can use PK to launch things in a direction, or fire off the ion detonator to surprise the opposition when time resumes.

Upgrading Crypto's arsenal and other equipment requires DNA, which is given to the player willy-nilly.  You get it from beating missions and challenges, and when a human is killed, their brainstem pops out.  This means having enough currency to spend on upgrades is never an issue, especially in later missions where you're rewarded with high amounts of DNA.  On the other hand, upgrading Crypto's mental powers requires the meditation chamber.  The way it works is simple, the more Crypto uses a particular ability, the better he gets at it.

Path of the Furon features five worlds to explore, including Las Paradiso, Sunny-Wood, Shen Long, Belleville, and the Fourth Ring of Furon.  Each environment has missions to complete, challenges to beat, collectibles to find, and a never-ending supply of humans to kill.  It's routine, yes, but a lot of fun.  Many of the story missions involve wreaking havoc or infiltrating places to gather information, and then blowing them up.  There are also side missions and challenges, the latter of which isn't highlighted on the map, so you'll have to look around the levels for them.  However, challenges are extremely basic, involving things like checkpoint races, either on-foot or in the saucer, or causing as much destruction as possible before the clock runs out.

On the subject of mayhem, destroying stuff and anal probing humans will bring in the law enforcement and military.  The alert system functions similarly to the one used in Destroy All Humans 2, but with a few tweaks.  SWAT units now show up after the cops and are equipped with riot shields that magically block disintegrator ray shots and ion detonators launched.  On foot, soldiers will arrive in helicopters instead of trucks, but in the air, the saucer can be attacked by choppers.  On the highest alert level, Nexo warriors, Nexo walkers, and Nexo saucers show up.  Yet, dealing with reinforcements is no big issue due to the simplistic difficulty.

Enemy AI is idiotic and struggles to get a bullet on Crypto, and when they do, their weapons barely put a dent into Crypto's shield.  Combine this with the fact that upgrades are overpowered, and the only way you'll die is if you close your eyes while playing the game.  The trivial challenge also extends to the boss fights.  They look cool, but all of them use easily identifiable attack patterns, making them a joke.  Considering this entry was made for next-generation hardware, you think Sandblast would have made these fights a bit more involved and entertaining to partake in.  It really says something when the boss fights in Big Willy Unleashed are harder than the ones in this game.

While the game is ridiculously easy, Path of the Furon will keep you busy with the content it has.  Beating the game takes anywhere from ten to twelve hours, and extras like collectibles and the fun of creating destruction provide some longevity.  There is multiplayer, but it's disposable.  It consists of three mini-games, one co-operative and two competitive, that do little to entertain.  Ion Soccer is the best one, but with only two players on a large, spacious area fighting for control of a ball with wonky physics, this mini-game isn't as fun as it should be.

Visually, Destroy All Humans: Path of the Furon ranges from average to sloppy.  The environments are huge in scale and the game nails the look of the 1970's, plus the visual effects for knocking down buildings and Crypto's large arsenal of guns look good.  Yet, the constant pop-in, inconsistent draw distance, and jittery framerate distract the player from admiring the worlds created.  Character models and texture work are all over the place too.  Crypto and Pox look decent, but a lot of the other characters you talk with or see out on the streets look low-res, and the visuals can get muddy at times.  Additionally, whenever Crypto speaks with someone else before the start of or during a mission, 9 times out of 10, all of the people and cars around them magically vanish, almost as if they have been transported to Silent Hill.

Then, there are the numerous bugs that give a Bethesda game a run for their money.  During conversations, lines of dialogue won't play, or they will end abruptly.  PK an object that isn't a car and try to throw it at a human, and it phases right through them.  Crypto and NPCs can get stuck on the terrain and there are numerous grammatical errors in the subtitles, which is distracting.  One particularly mind-boggling glitch I encountered happened in the monastery at Shen Long.  If you grab a monk with PK and put him on top of one of the pillars supporting the place, he'll phase through the roof.  Body-snatch him, and you'll discover this interior area is a billion feet under Shen Long itself.
In still shots, the game looks fine, but it's when things roll
into motion that the problems start to show.
Much like the rest of the game, the voice-acting is hit-or-miss. As stated earlier, Crypto and Pox sound great and are a delight to listen to.  Other performances range from good to mediocre, depending on the character.  On the other hand, the music is excellent, and probably my favorite soundtrack of the series.  The score captures the feel of the 70's to a tee, and the themes for each level fits the feel of each stage, whether it's the jazzy tunes of Las Paradiso, or the weird, synth ambiance of The Fourth Ring of Furon. There are also various licensed songs heard during the missions that further accentuate the music's funky influences, including "Disco Inferno" by the Tramps and "YMCA" by the Village People.

Destroy All Humans: Path of the Furon is a polarizing game.  On the one hand, the story is interesting, even if the secondary characters are lacking, and the gameplay does a lot to evolve the series, while also retaining many of the elements from prior entries.  The biggest problems facing this game are a lack of challenge and polish.  It's too easy because of poor AI, you can max out the upgrades on Crypto and the saucer's equipment quickly because DNA is given to you left and right, and the boss fights are a joke.  This, of course, is not forgetting the laundry list of glitches and graphical shortcomings which mar the title, presentation-wise.

I wouldn't say this is a bad game, far from it.  There's a lot of good ideas present in Path of the Furon and if all the problems had been ironed out, this game would be my favorite entry in the series.  Developer Sandblast had the right intentions with this game, and they came close, but when THQ got hit with financial problems, they laid off the staff and closed the studio, robbing the game of that necessary final spit and polish it needed before it went through the door.  As it stands though, Destroy All Humans: Path of the Furon is a game equal parts fun and frustrating.



DESTROY ALL HUMANS: https://thelairofgamerguy.blogspot.com/2018/12/one-giant-step-on-mankind-destroy-all.html

DESTROY ALL HUMANS 2: https://thelairofgamerguy.blogspot.com/2018/12/one-giant-step-on-mankind-destroy-all.html

DESTROY ALL HUMANS BIG WILLY UNLEASHED: https://thelairofgamerguy.blogspot.com/2018/12/unleash-your-big-willy-destroy-all.html

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