Friday, April 25, 2008

Destroy All Humans! Big Willy Unleashed review

Yep, this came in the mail on Tuesday. Here goes review number 2 for this week! And then we have Mario Kart Wii next week... I hope this makes up for the general absence of reviews as of late!

Developer: Locomotive Games
Publisher: THQ
Release Date: February 25th, 2008
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
ESRB Notes: Alcohol and Tobacco Reference, Crude Humour, Mild Language, Sexual Themes, Violence
Also Available On: Playstation Portable

The Destroy All Humans! franchise began in 2005 with the release of the game of the same name. With snappy writing, 1950s pop-culture references and a refreshing new take on aliens, Destroy All Humans! was a moderate hit. Three years have passed since the original game came out. Has Destroy All Humans! stayed fresh, or is Big Willy Unleashed running on empty?

If you consider the storyline to be an indicator of freshness, Big Willy Unleashed is like a spring chicken. The story takes place at the peak of disco, the 1970s. Cryptosporidium-137 (He prefers to be called Crypto), a native of the planet Gorta, is relaxing in a small-town back alley, watching TV. The digital brain of his invasion adviser, Orthopox-13 (Pox for short), drops in via a portable holographic emitter (This serves as his replacement body after his last one was destroyed). He tells Crypto that he has a mission for him, and outlines that he has recently started his own fast-food chain, Big Willy's. As it turns out, the main ingredient in the restaurant's famous hot dog (Also called a Big Willy. Innuendo abounds!) is the ground-up meat of Crypto's victims, more specifically, humans. Some people have caught on to this dirty secret, and they're determined to have Big Willy's shut down at all costs. So it's up to Crypto to make sure that word doesn't get out, eliminating everything that gets in his way. After all, Big Willy's does need meat for its hot dogs!

Destroy All Humans! Big Willy Unleashed is undoubtedly one of the funniest games I have played in a very long time. First of all, there's Pox's common (And oblivious) suggestive references to the Big Willy name. It's a major source of the humour in the first little part of the game, but Crypto puts an end to it after it gets on his nerves. There's also many cultural references, but it's usually Crypto's reactions that are the funny part. For example, Pox is incapacitated at one point, only able to communicate with Crypto via a prerecorded message, heavily reminiscent of Princess Leia's famous message to Obi-Wan Kenobi. At the end of the transmission, the following happens:

Pox's recording: "Help me, Stupey 137 Crypto-bi, you're my only hope!"
Crypto: "Oh, come on, Pox. Crypto-bi? That's a bit of a stretch"

There was another scene early on in the game which made me laugh just because of how absurdly unexpected it was. Pox orders Crypto to burn down a local disco hall, followed by the line "Crypto, light me up a disco inferno!", to which Crypto replies "Burn, baby, burn!". To top it all off, Disco Inferno begins to play, and continues until the end of the mission. So unexpected and out-there that I just couldn't help but laugh at the absurdity of it all. If for nothing else, Destroy All Humans! Big Willy Unleashed has a killer storyline just for the comedic value.

Playing Big Willy Unleashed is an incredibly varied experience, with a few hiccups scattered about. Big Willy Unleashed is a mission-based sandbox game, with open-world exploration available from the start. Players can travel around on foot as Crypto, using his jetpack for high jumps and hovering. Crypto has a plethora of weapons at his disposal, ranging from the Zap O Matic to a Disintegrator Ray and an alien's best friend, the Anal Probe. He also has many Psychokinetic (Or PK) abilities, such as Psychokinesis (Allows Crypto to pick up objects and people and throw them around), Body-Snatching (Crypto takes over the body of a human to blend in), and Transmogrification (Turn objects into ammunition).

The one problem I can find with any of Crypto's abilities is how Hypnosis, Transmogrification and Body Snatching are carried out. Once the player has chosen to use one of these abilities, several targets appear on screen (More if the object/human is bigger/stronger). This all seems a little arbitrary, and it's almost like an excuse to use the Wii remote's pointer. But, it doesn't last too long, so it's not too bad.

Crypto can also use his flying saucer for air-based combat. The saucer also has several weapons, such as a Death Ray, the Quantum Destructor and, of course, an abducting ray. The other vehicle Crypto has access to is the big ol' robot on the cover, the Big Willy mech. Big Willy has many ways of wreaking havoc, such as Heat Beams, the Regurgitron (An acid that the robot "vomits" onto his enemies) and the Wind Breaker (Artificial flatulence with a shockwave-like effect). Willy can also pick up and throw objects, jump, and eat human brains for energy.

The Quantum Deconstructor is a force to be reckoned with.

While all this is fun, there are some problems. First of all, the flying saucer is a little hard to control when changing altitude. In order to go up, the player must point the Wii remote upwards, and point it down to go down. However, the rate at which the altitude controls actually work is somewhat low. Also, the saucer can only go at a certain height relative to the ground below it. It generally cannot go lower than about 20 feet, and it can't go higher than a few hundred feet. But if Crypto flies over a mountain, the saucer can suddenly fly higher above sea level. What is this, some sort of hovercraft?

The Big Willy mech also has it's fair share of problems. First of all, the controls for using a primary weapon and picking up an object often get mixed up. To pick something up, the player presses A and B. But to use a weapon (Such as the Wind Breaker), the player needs to press B. If you go to grab something an accidentally hit B before A, you'll use your weapon instead. A doesn't do anything unless in conjunction with B, so why can't that be the grab button? And then players could even hold things and use weapons, adding to the possibilities for fighting.

Another problem arises when throwing things. The actual act of throwing is easy and responsive enough, but targeting is somewhat fickle. The game will automatically aim at something on the screen, but the player has little control over what is targeted. So if you want to toss a car at another car down the street, too bad. The game will usually target whatever's closest to you, making you end up throwing a Buick at a Stop sign. Why is the Stop sign even targetable, anyway? Are they known to be hostile when provoked?

When operating the Big Willy mech, it's energy constantly drains. If it fully runs out, Crypto will be automatically ejected, and he'll have to recharge the robot with his Zap O Matic, leaving him vulnerable. Players can prevent this by "popping" the brains of people on the street, and picking people up can sometimes be a problem. If your desired meal is standing by a car or something, Willy will often pick up the object instead of grabbing the life-giving human. I once had to pick up a car, a box and a street sign before I could grab the person standing in the middle of it all. Being able to somehow cycle through targets would solve both this and the throwing problem.

There's a slight camera issue with Big Willy. In order to reorient the camera, players have to tilt the Wii remote left and right, as opposed to simply pointing at the edges of the screen when playing as Crypto. This makes a bit of sense when flying the saucer, but when changing the angle as Big Willy, it just feels unnatural and difficult. Also, I sometimes accidentally try tilting the Wii remote to aim the camera when playing as Crypto out of habit. Would making pointing the standard camera control be so hard?

Despite it's shortcomings, it's a lot more fun to play as Willy than in the flying saucer. In fact, I never use the saucer unless a mission calls for it. The reliable stand-by seems almost useless by comparison. Meh, maybe it's just me.

Moving about the map can be a little glitchy in some places. For example, say you're trying to jump a 5 foot wall. In real life, if you jumped at it with a height of 4 and a half feet, you'd hit it and fall off. But in Big Willy Unleashed, you'd simply slide upwards until you stand on top of the wall, in a glitch I call "skipping". Skipping can also be a problem if you're playing as Big Willy and walking on a narrow bridge with walls on either side. The bridge's walls are too close together for Willy's feet to fit between, so he tends to stand on top of the walls, constantly skipping until the game finds a way to make him stand. This can really slow you down and is quite annoying, although it does supply some unintended humour when Willy's flipping out.

Speaking of the environment, the areas are fairly cramped, especially when considering how big Willy is. When put to scale, a play area is to Big Willy as a gymnasium is to a regular-sized person. It's big, but still restricting. With some streaming technology and a few more months of work, I think all four areas could have been substantially bigger. Yes, that's right, there's only four areas, as opposed to the original game's six. What? And don't get me started on the load times when switching from site to site.

When playing through any one of the game's missions, Crypto can generally die as many times as he wants. A new clone simply takes his place, with no limits or "lives". Crypto can of course be killed by enemy fire and short-range attacks, as well as one slightly less conventional manner: Water. Crypto cannot touch water at all. Even a wading pool can prove fatal. It's even deadly when in the Big Willy mech or body-snatching. I think it's a little cheap, and in some cases it seems to be a substitute for the infamous "invisible wall". The fact that even the shallowest of water can kill Crypto is incredibly annoying, considering one point of the game requires players to jump over a series of narrow rivers to get to the objective. All it takes is one ill-timed jump, and you're a goner. Couldn't the water have merely whittled down Crypto's health instead? It's a real pain when a simple misstep causes you to lose your disguise.

So, if dying doesn't constitute a failed mission, what does? Usually, there is a crucial object in the mission. Sometimes you have to defend a building, in others you have to transport items safely. If you mess up and accidentally end up having the object destroyed or lost, it's game over. If this happens, you have to restart the whole mission from the beginning, no checkpoints. This really sucks when it comes to the mission I'm currently stuck on. Usually I can beat a mission the first try around, sometimes it takes me a couple tries. But this one level is ridiculous. I'm tasked with defending a transmission tower while a message is being broadcast, and dozens of soldiers are closing in from every angle. Not only do I have to take care of the ones shooting at me, as there's some soldiers who sneak by and plant bombs by the building. So I have to kill the soldiers, protect the building and hold out for several minutes. And after several tries, I haven't won. And each time I have to restart right from the beginning of the mission, which has at least five minutes of play before the defense part. So I've played the same easy part of this mission over and over because the last part is virtually unbeatable. This game got way too difficult in no time flat.

But, the game is still quite fun. I just don't know if I'll ever be able to finish it. Oh well, I can always just destroy stuff in the Big Willy mech...

Hot damn do I ever love destroying things...
And Big Willy Unleashed has plenty of it.

It's a good thing Big Willy Unleashed is a pretty fun game, because it's sure not going to win any beauty contests. While everything runs extremely smoothly, it's likely because of how lightly detailed things seem to be. The textures are almost all blurry, and in some cases, the windows aren't even attached to the buildings! I've seen windows floating about a half foot away from the wall, held up by some unknown force. And some details get blurry at a very close distance. Close up the lines on the parking lot may look fairly clear, but walk back slowly and watch it become very, very blurry. The draw distance is atrocious. I've even see people and vehicles appear less than 20 feet in front of me! And speaking of the people, there are very few variations on what they look like. Generally, there's about two or three different models each for males and females, with a load of generic soldiers. Far too often have I seen about three of the same model standing right next to each other. Oh, and everyone's an adult. Not a single kid in the whole darn game.

Now, this game is entirely voiced over. Every word is spoken, and not a single text box shows up instead. This is great, but in this game, there's no such thing as lip syncing. Instead, the camera just angles so you can't see the characters face, and they make gestures to show that it's them talking. Sorry, but that's pretty crappy right there. They could at least make a two-dimensional, pasted-on mouth that opened and closed like in Animal Crossing.

So then, speaking of voice acting, it's all amazing. Every actor is pretty good at, well, ACTING, and the dialog is all so very well written. Fans of Invader Zim may even notice that Orthopox's voice actor is the same person who gave speech to Zim. That's a pretty interesting choice, and it fits very well.

As for the musical score, everything is very 1970s disco, a perfect fit for the game's time period. As I said earlier, Disco Inferno even has a minor presence towards the beginning of the game. A game with Disco Inferno in it can't be all bad!

In contrast to what I said above, their is at least one small issue with the audio. In particular, the sound effects made by cars when they turn. No matter how sharp or wide the turn radius, the tires make a screeching noise as if they're taking a 90 degree angle at 60 miles an hour. Why can't they just turn silently? And this isn't the only sound effect that's of low quality. Several sound bytes that I've heard a bajillion times in other games and TV shows pop up in this game, from the noise made when the saucer cloaks to when Big Willy fires his death ray. I'm all for saving the Earth, but recycling sound bites doesn't quite count.

One minor note: There is a multiplayer feature to this game, but I have not had the chance to check it out due to owning only one Nunchuk. When I do get my hands on a second Nunchuk, I will check out the multiplayer and submit a review of that mode as a mini-article. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Big Willy Unleashed doesn't seem like a particularly long game. I've played it a few hours every day since I got it on Tuesday, and I'm already almost done the second last invasion site. A series of unlockables are good for a bit of fun, but I don't see them doing too much to help the replayability factor.


Storyline: 8.5/10
The writing is some of the funniest I've seen in a very long time, with clever jokes and snappy remarks around every corner. However, the story seems to be entirely disposable in the overall Destroy All Humans! continuity.

Gameplay: 7.0/10
While there is a lot of fun to be had in Big Willy Unleashed, much of it is hampered by glitchy collision detection and brutally hard missions.

Graphics: 4.5/10
I'm sorry to say, but this has to be the worst-looking Wii game I have ever played. Textures are blurry, the draw distance is far too close, and there are far too few character models for the humans.

Audio: 8.0/10
As I said in "Storyline", the writing in this game is incredibly funny, and the excellent voice talent makes it all even funnier. The music is also very suited to the game's 1970s America setting. However, some sound effects are a little lacking, detracting from the overall experience.

Longevity: 7.0/10
I'm almost certain that the storyline is just about over at the point I'm at, and I've only played it for a couple hours each day. The unlockables are fun, but probably not enough to get me to come back after beating the game.

OVERALL: 7.25/10
Destroy All Humans! Big Willy Unleashed is a pretty fun game, but it certainly has it's fair share of flaws. The graphics are pretty bad, and the collision detection is pretty poor on the most part. Also, it gets incredibly hard very fast. But still, it's good for a whole bucket of laughs, and it's a pretty fun distraction. I can't really recommend a purchase, but anyone who likes to laugh should at least rent it.

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