Attack of the Earthlings is a sci-fi tale as old as time. While enjoying a seemingly normal day, something appears in the sky. You see ships descend and aliens emerge to plunder resources and kill anyone they find, including your friends and family. It's a terrifying sight, yet you decide to fight for your world and avenge your loved ones. You and others rally together to strike back at the alien base in order to protect your home world from these monsters. The twist this time? You're not on Earth, and the humans are the aliens.
This is a single-player, turn-based strategy game from Team Junkfish that is filled with dark humor and plays with perspective. Of course, the idea of humans being the villains isn't necessarily new. However, instead of approaching it like Avatar, where humans have to choose between their own race or peaceful planet natives, it simply uses role reversal on the clichéd humans vs. aliens trope. In fact, you could probably play the same game as the humans and see yourself as the good guys defending yourselves from vicious creatures. But, thankfully, it's more fun than that.
Humans are just as idiotic as they are in any sci-fi flick, however, this time you get to be on the winning, more intelligent, highly appendaged side. The carapaced aliens you play known as Swarmers are attacking invaders for revenge and survival, just as anyone would. Galactoil, a company lacking any decent leadership or morality, has come to drain your planet dry. They make it clear that employees are expendable and receive little to no benefits for working there. People continue to disappear but management assures them that everything is okay because they're only missing, and have not been killed and eaten by the planet locals. Puddles of blood aren't conspicuous, only dead bodies within a few feet of them are. When you attach Drones to the faces of workers no one will take notice. In other words, you really have no sympathy for the humans because the leaders are terrible people and the workers are honestly too stupid to save themselves.
As far as how you play, this is a tactical-stealth game. You begin with one unit, the Matriarch. In order to spawn units, you need to accumulate biomass points by consuming dead humans and your own fallen units. Later on, biomass can also be used to evolve Grunts into specialized units like Stalkers, Disrupters, and Goliaths. My personal favorite unit is the Stalker since they can pierce through heavy armor, are able to travel through vents like Grunts, and sneak up behind guards. Unarmed civilians can't attack you, but armed units will, if you get too close. You have to stay out of sight and clean up your messes as to not alert the enemy of your whereabouts. You have a limited amount of AP, or action points, each turn that can be used to move, attack, consume corpses, or use a unit's special abilities. The use and positioning of different units are important and really make the player think before choosing what to do each turn. Just like chess, you need to think several moves ahead and consider all variables before taking a turn.
In games like this, units can die in one hit, so there's really no way to charge into the fray and the game is a real test of your strategic ability. You need to plan out your moves, have backup plans in case those fail, and take your time waiting for the opportune moment to strike while being as stealthy as possible. As someone with very little patience, strategy games are a difficult thing for me to immerse myself in, however, as I played I found myself getting sucked in. It feels incredibly satisfying to place units all around the enemy units, while hiding or in near-plain sight, and then to wipe them all out at once. If I failed a level there wasn't a feeling that it was rigged or was somehow the game's fault, and I would simply try again and adjust my plan.
Rounds are broken up into various levels that you have to clear in order to advance to the next one in the game. Levels are structured to essentially climb the corporate ladder from the bottom of the company to upper management, with security increasing each time. Each area has a set of objectives to clear, along with an occasional bonus objective. They all have clever names that match the dark humor of the game as advertised. One of my favorites levels is "It's My Birthday And I'll Die If I Want To," a level in which you control the birthday boy Carlos with a Drone to unlock doors and let yourself in for a different kind of party. As you beat levels you also gain Mutagen points that can be used to upgrade and unlock new abilities for your units on a sort of talent tree, allowing you to hone the strategy you prefer. This adds another level of incentive to do well every time and replay levels you barely completed.
The game controls fairly well, however, I think that the controls aren't as intuitive as they could be. I had issues with getting the camera to a comfortable angle at times and found myself mixing up when I should left-click or right-click. Each unit has to be selected and moved individually, but you can tab through units to speed things up. You can't speed up when it's the computer's turn to move, so at times I got anxious waiting for it to be my turn again. If you fail a level and have to try again the cutscenes are skippable, which does save some frustration. Unfortunately, there was a point where a level completely crashed on me and all I saw was a black screen and restarting did nothing to help the situation. I eventually had to load an old save and play through the same section again in order to continue.
I often found myself laughing at the clever titles and dialogue, although I know this brand of comedy isn't for everyone. The voice acting turns the humor up another notch as well. Each time the intercom rings, you hear the disgruntled voice of Mr. Pecker complaining about workers slacking off, and reassuring those who are still alive that everything is okay in an unconvincing tone. He also threatens to take away their non-existent benefits and demands they stop birthday parties but send him the cake. The different loading screens each also have witty and sarcastic notices from Galactoil that resonate with anyone who has worked in an office or a large corporation before. While the graphics and animation quality are nothing spectacular, I believe they don't need to be photorealistic to capture everyone's attention. Cutscenes are enjoyable and playful, and there is a certain charm to the animation style. The way units move, attack, and react to each other is convincing enough that it doesn't take away from the gameplay, and each level has details added that show the amount of work that went into creating something players would appreciate.
You can buy Attack of the Earthlings on Steam for $25 and it will run on Windows, Mac, and Linux. The game will also be released on the Nintendo Switch in the future. For the amount of playtime you can get out of the game and the quality level I think it's worth the price. Although the fully voiced audio is only in English, the interface and subtitles are available in English, German, Spanish, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Italian, Japanese, and Korean. It should also be noted that because of the flashing lights, there is a warning for those with photosensitive epilepsy.
I would recommend this game to anyone who loves classic sci-fi, strategy games, or dark humor. Since I love those three things, I thoroughly enjoyed this game and can't wait to play more. If you prefer to kill insectoid aliens rather than playing as them, I would recommend Into the Breach instead. Hiding in lockers to ambush and consume innocent workers as you dismantle a space corporation may seem like an odd pastime, but it is exactly my cup of tea. Sure, I'm a proud Earthling, but there is just something fun about being an alien and eating humans.
Christine played Attack of the Earthlings via Steam using a code provided by the developers.