The idea that the greatest threat to nature is (dun, dun, dun) Man is way older than Fern Gully and in a lot of ways has been done to death. Attack of the Earthlings, thankfully, does not bother spending time building a complex morality play with the self-insert human learning a valuable lesson. The humans are straight up evil, the Matriarch and her brood are unarguably out for blood, and developer Team Junkfish has a ball making this turn-based strategy game into one long sci-fi trope/corporate culture send-up. Imagine that James Cameron’s Avatar had less “pretty” aliens and 100% more sense of humor about itself, and you’re in the right ballpark.
You take the role of an insectoid race whose planet is invaded by Galactoil, a “comically dysfunctional intergalactic energy corporation.” The Matriarch is the key player on your team, taking the biomass from human victims and spawning grunts, which can be upgraded into one of four categories: Disruptor (range attacker), Stalker (trap setter), or Goliath (tank). Use these swarmers to accomplish your objective while keeping the Matriarch alive.
Attack of the Earthlings’ gameplay is fairly straightforward and solidly in the comfort zone of the strategy genre. It utilizes many familiar concepts – action points, ranged attacks, stealth mechanics – and focuses more on the unique setting than offering particularly innovative features. New abilities and enemies are introduced in each level at a rate that neither overwhelms the player nor gives them time to become bored. Enemy difficulty also escalates drastically, not only from one level to the next, but during the level itself. However, some aspects of the abilities are over-explained and some are not explained enough. For example, when the ability to turn civilian humans into drones is introduced, the way that the drones can be used to distract other humans is covered in detail, but the fact that the drone will eventually be detected and destroyed is not.
There’s actually a good deal that the game leaves up to the player to discern: the fact that different characters on both sides can attack a different number of times per turn, or the way that enemies still have the upper hand if you attack them head-on during your turn. This can be a positive as too much hand-holding would be boring, and for any surprises that result in lost swarmers, the game automatically quick saves after each objective and every five turns, so that any disasters are easily undone.
Attack of the Earthlings is a game that really grows on you; flavor dialogue, weird loading screens, and even the weird way the robotic Mr. Motivatio shouts “encouragement” at the office workers or the human drones waving their arms like crazy to distract the normal humans all work together to flesh out the enemy characters and story in a hilarious way. I also felt a real fondness for the Matriarch and her swarmers; I do wish that there had been some way of learning as much about them as the humans. I also really wish that there was some way to combine the Hide and Overwatch abilities so that you could plan a sneak attack from inside a hiding place, but that’s another issue.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.