Built on a fun and underused premise — playing an alien race defending its planet from encroaching humans — and taking a great many plays from games like X-COM, Attack of the Earthlings has made its way to consoles after a release last year on PC. Despite some clever, B-movie sci-fi touches and a gentle sense of humor, Attack of the Earthlings is a short strategy game that can be slow and frustrating.
The frustration comes from the game’s awkward and sluggish controls on the console, and I sense it worked far better with mouse and keyboard. There’s no map, and with a limited zoom and rotating camera, there’s a claustrophobic feel about moving around the levels and effectively planning the next set of actions. For every action, there’s a long enough lag between a button press and result that it’s often hard to tell if the input was registered.
Let’s double back. Attack of the Earthlings takes place on X13, a planet of insectoid creatures that has been chosen for mining and exploitation by the human megacorporation Galactoil. Your task is to infiltrate a multi-floored mining rig and kill its homo sapiens workers, from the lowly wrench jockeys to the top executives. On your mission to run the humans out of Dodge, you control a fragile but powerful queen bug, who can consume biomass (i.e. the bodies of victims) and then spawn a small army of different, specialized units. The goal is to build up your force and protect the commanding queen.
Combat and movement are on a grid and use action points for positioning, attacks, hiding and ingesting victims. Although the gamepad controls are not very responsive, the fundamentals of Attack of the Earthlings will be pretty clear to anyone who has played a turn-based strategy game like X-COM. Stealth is a little more critical here and the smart deployment of your various spawns is key but overall, the strategy mechanics are well implemented. Sometimes, the limited-rotation camera gets in its own way.
Unlike in X-COM, there’s a great deal of humor in the game’s length of dozen or so hours, much of it targeting human greed and stupidity. Both the voice acting and writing are well done and although humor is always a highly subjective element in any game, it hits more often than it misses. The cel-shaded art style — never very explicitly gory or scary — fits with the tone of the game. None of the levels are terribly long, nor is there a huge variety in the collection of rooms and corridors and equipment and since enemy placement is not randomized, there isn’t a great deal of motivation for playing through more than once.
Attack of the Earthlings checks off a few boxes that don’t often get checked. It’s a stealthy turn-based game with a sense of humor and flipping the role of humans to enemy is a welcome change. It’s a bit slow and the highs it hits aren’t stratospheric but fans of the genre who need a strategy fix should check it out.