I love XCOM, I remember sitting down, glass of coke in hand, turning on my faithful Pentium II and booting up XCOM Apocalypse in 1999. From then I became engrossed with turn based strategy titles and eagerly awaited each new XCOM release. Attack of the Earthlings has been described many times as a form of 'reverse XCOM', where the player's sympathies lie, not with their own species but with the native aliens of the planet instead.
Attack of the Earthlings takes the traditional space invasion plot and turns it on it's head. The evil human corporation Galactoil has landed on Planet X13 and like most greedy human corporations, wants to milk it dry. It's inhabitants - the Swarmers, aren't very happy about this and begin to go on the offensive to stop the evil humans from destroying their planet.
This is an incredibly fun story, told with tongue firmly in cheek. It's a refreshing change to have a turn-based strategy where we are not facing the cliched destruction of Planet Earth. The humans are incredibly inept and hilarious to observe. This is a game which delights at poking fun at the exploits of capitalist industry and middle management. Directing the human defenses is Mr. Pecker, who is a sadistic character whom you enjoy thwarting time and time again. The plot progresses with dry English humor and even pokes fun at a certain President of the United States in the upper management's Mr. Dickinham.
The interactions between the human guards are works of hilarious genius and really help bring an atmosphere of fun to the title.
Attack of the Earthlings is a classic 'turn based strategy' title, it could be described as squad based in a manner similar to XCOM. Although the major difference is that your 'Squad' is spawned by one main unit as she consumes the humans in each level. The concepts are fairly simple, each of your troops has a number of points to spend on moving, attacking and using special abilities. You can do any of these in whichever order you desire. Once you have taken all your actions, you click the End Turn button, play then cycles to the human troops for the computer to make it's move.
You make your way through the corporations ship from the Drilling level and steadily progress to the boardroom to confront the evil executives. As stated before, this isn't a traditional strategy game where you build units from base buildings. Instead, you begin with one base unit, the matriarch, who serves as your base. She can consume 'biomass' from humans that have been recently killed either by herself or her offspring. This biomass can then be used to create the basic 'grunt' unit. These units are initially useful, but they have low health, low armour and soon you will want to be able to use units with more versatility.
Thankfully you can upgrade or mutate these basic grunts into more robust units. The Stalker - an assassin unit with armour penetration), the Disrupter (ranged attacks and decoys) and finally the Goliath (a tank character, strong with powerful armour). You can also use your Matriarch unit to possess a human character to act as a scout. Being able to move around the level without alerting the humans to your presence.
I personally didn't miss the base building concepts, as the game directs the player to one thing. Combat. This streamline approach works far better than it ever did in the ill fated Command and Conquer 4. There's real challenge later in the game where you have limited resources and must choose how to upgrade your characters (as you complete each level you obtain mutagen to upgrade units). There's also significant choice in how you tackle each situation, as there are multiple methods of completing objectives in the levels.
Graphics and Sound
First impressions of the game present an attractive game with middle production values. The game is presented in 3D, but only permits the camera to be moved 90 degrees. The graphics have an almost cell shaded cartoon quality to them adding to the humorous atmosphere. One detraction is that the levels look the same after a while. The character models are very good for the most part, but I would have liked more variety in the human civilians. The animation of the alien characters is good and you do feel a sense of connection between the Matriarch and the spawn at her (and your) command.
The soundtrack is quirky and fairly atmospheric, the sound effects are top quality with screams and various weapon sound effects. One of the detractions of the game is the fact that the dialogue is only partially voiced, but the human enemies such as Pecker are voiced superbly. Most of the script from the other human characters is told in text format, with only grunting noises told over the top.
There's not much here to warrant another playthrough, once you finish the campaign, you have seen everything there is to see in the game. There are different methods of exploring through the levels and some achievements to be gained, but it's unlikely you will push through the game all over again.
What Could Be Better
I would have loved to have heard more voiceover content rather than having to read through text. The script is incredibly well written and it would have been fantastic to hear quality voice artists read it and make the characters come alive. The Level designs feel very similar and at times they didn't feel distinct from one another. A little more imagination and variety for the human character models would have really polished the game as well.
This is a fantastic real time strategy game with unique game mechanics, ingenious story design and challenging, well-balanced gameplay. This is well worth your time and money.