Travel through space and time back to 2005 and you’ll find a game by Pandemic Studios called Destroy All Humans. The game finds you playing as Crypto, a stern alien, disgusted by the human race of which he has to harvest brain stems in order to clone his race back home. The game is set to launch as a remake in July which is being developed by Black Forest Games, and prior to the game’s launch, a playable demo has been made available on Steam.
I actually enjoyed my time with the demo. It brought back memories of being a kid when I played the original on a demo disc. The cows can still be picked up and launched, the story still captivates me, and of course, the graphics are much more modern and the UI has been entirely redone to fit the style of the sci-fi themes. It still carries its quirky charm in all areas, but it’s the subtitles that irritated me throughout the demo.
Firstly, the subtitles can’t be adjusted, but they are automatically turned on in the options menu, so that’s already a plus. Despite not being able to adjust them, the first cutscene that plays show lovely thick fonts that aren’t too bright, are slightly beige and have a heavy drop-shadow. They seemed to stand out against everything and were kept nicely to a single line or two and didn’t span the entire width of the screen. They’re not perfect, but they’re bearable.
So far so good then! My expectations were that this style would carry over into gameplay. I was wrong. It turns out that the subtitles take on a different form when gameplay comes into play. But there’s a key factor to keep in mind for this change. Crypto can hear Orthopox in his mind while wandering the world. Orthopox being the fancy-pants alien boss of you or something like that. His instructions are all fully voiced and subtitled, but the subtitles appear in a small box in the top-left.
This change is jarring and unexpected. The box itself is transparent with a blueish gradient and the name of the speaker in a thick bold yellow. The actual subtitled dialogue though is now a thin blue font that very nearly blends into the box. The text is also revealed through a weird animation and to be honest, I struggled to play the game at the same time as reading it because…you know, concentration on making those cows all floaty.
I wish I could stop there, because when a cow decided to speak to me, the subtitles then changed once again. This time, these subtitles represented the in-world dialogue, or in this case, mooing. What’s strange, I actually preferred these subtitles over the last two examples. The reason being, because the text is presented on a dark background with some nice outlines to keep the subtitles styled to the game’s aesthetic.
I think I’d have preferred a mixture of the cutscene’s thick subtitles merged with the in-world subtitles. But it appears we need 3 different types of subtitles in Destroy All Humans for whatever reason. I can see how each subtitle comes with an intended meaning; cut-scenes, radio communications, and in-world dialogue. But honestly, it’s too much changing to keep up with.
This is something that irritates me in video games when the developers can’t seem to choose a set presentation for the subtitles in-game. The most ideal way of presenting your subtitles is to keep them consistent, using speaker names, avatars, or even captions to explain changes.
For example, Andy: [Struggling] “Don’t let go, Woody!”
I often wonder if developers choose to tuck away conversations that explain things because they feel as if the subtitles appearing on screen would be too intrusive for those wanting to focus more on the gameplay.
If that’s the case, I want to argue against it. Those choosing to have subtitles turned on want subtitles turned on. And in my case, having subtitles in the lower-thirds, with a background, and nice font size means I can quickly read and play at the same time without my line of sight being too deterred from the action taking place.
With Destroy All Humans, I started off feeling comfortable with the subtitles presented to me, under the impression that was how they would stay. Jumping into the gameplay and having subtitles then appearing in the top-left meant I was looking around the lower-thirds wondering what the heck was being said. At one point, I was concerned that gameplay subtitles had been left out entirely.
And then when I finally located the subtitles in the top left, I thought, “Right, okay, that’s where I need to focus my attention for dialogue then.” Then the damn cows started mooing and subtitles appeared in the lower-thirds where I’d have expected them to be in the first place.
Then came the awkward double reading. Trying to make sure I was reading what my irritating overlord was saying in my ears in the top-left, while also trying to read the slowly unraveling thoughts of a police officer while he’s opening fire at me is an exhausting task. That’s a lot of things to keep tabs on while trying to be your best alien self.
The game itself looks to be a fun time. The demo ran nice and smoothly, the graphics are lovely, the controls were simple, the UI was somewhat easy to understand although the space station menus —which doesn’t have a big role in the demo— were overwhelming. The on-screen cues were good too, with enemies being clearly marked even through foliage ready to be toasted to a crispy flesh by the warming rays of your spaceship.
I’m excited to see Destroy All Humans launch, especially as it’s a childhood favorite. But I do think that the state of subtitles at current is an active example of the issue of having inconsistent subtitles. I do hope the subtitle situation changes at some point in development, but considering the game is due to launch next month, I imagine any changes made would be post-launch.