Midway through "Destiny," the new science fiction epic from "Halo" creators Bungie, a smug prince is musing on the hero's desire to visit a mysterious site on Mars.
"You want to turn it into a battleground," the prince sneers. "How unimaginative."
It's exactly the thought that nagged me when I was playing "Destiny" (Activision, for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99). It's an ambitious project for Bungie, creating several gorgeous, radically different worlds to explore. But your goal is always the same: Go kill everybody.
Of course, that's been the mission statement of most sci-fi games since "Halo" first stormed the planets in 2001, propelling hit series like "Gears of War," ''Borderlands" and "Killzone." ''Destiny" seemed to promise something more — but, if anything, it's a setback from "Halo," which at least provided compelling motivation for all the mayhem.
"Destiny" takes place in the far future, long after an alien "Traveler" arrived in the solar system and helped humans colonize other planets. Unfortunately, the Traveler was followed by a "Darkness" determined to lay waste to all its achievements. As the game begins, you're trying to defend the last city of Earth from oblivion.
Your "Guardian" can be male or female, and one of three races: human, exo (humanoid machines) or awoken (a lot like humans, but with bluish skin). There are also three classes — the heavily armored Titan, the more agile Hunter or the magic-slinging Warlock — though all three have access to the usual assortment of rifles, shotguns and rocket launchers.
Each sphere in the "Destiny" solar system is infested with a different breed of weapon-wielding pests. The insectoid Fallen run rampant on decrepit old Earth, while the undead Hive has burrowed deep into the Moon. The lush, green Venus has been taken over by the robotic Vex, while dusty, red Mars is home to the rhinoceroslike Cabal.
The scenarios fall into a familiar rhythm: You explore an alien site until you reach a choke point occupied by enemies — some stronger than others, but mostly cannon fodder for your Guardian. After wiping them out, you repeat the process a few times until you finally face off against one particularly stubborn adversary. The settings and opponents change, but the predictability is wearying.
Shooting games don't have to be this way. Bethesda's "Wolfenstein: The New Order" delivered far more variety, not to mention a story and characters you could care about. By the end of the "Destiny" campaign, I felt like the floating robot voiced by "Game of Thrones" star Peter Dinklage, who sounds hopelessly bored despite humanity's impending demise.
If you'd rather shoot other human-controlled Guardians online, you'll get much more mileage out of the game's "Crucible" mode, which offers the usual death match and capture-the-flag free-for-alls. Or you can team up with other gamers in strikes and raids against supertough monsters. Technically, it's all quite impressive — but, again, unimaginative. Two stars out of four.
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