Some of my fondest gaming memories come from playing through the original Xcom: Enemy Unknown over and over again. And although I’ve never been great at the challenging strategic gameplay this genre offers, I have often enjoyed games that stemmed from its heritage, which is why I was so excited to get my hands on Team Junkfish‘s Attack of the Earthlings. This new addition to the turn-based strategy pool not only feel unique and original in every way but also offers a genuinely funny narrative that helps take the edge of the seriously hard trial and error gameplay.
The first element of Attack of the Earthlings that brings a sense of originality is the fact that you play as the stereotypical enemy, the aliens. This race of aliens, known as Swarmers, have seen their planet invaded by corporate, money-hungry company Galactoil – who’s sole aim is to bleed the planet dry of just about any resource they can find. Not only does this spin on the traditional story feel unique in its own right, but playing as this ever-evolving alien race offers some brilliant mechanics that simply wouldn’t be possible with human counterparts.
The main focus of each level is to prevent the Matriarch from being killed, all while progressing further up the corporate tower. Luckily for the Matriarch, she doesn’t need to progress this tower alone, as with the handy ability to spawn addition alien she can build quite an army. In order to give birth to these new troops, you’ll need to acquire biomass which can be collected by consuming dead body, either Swarmer or Human. As you progress further into the game you’ll be able to upgrade these footsoldiers into more powerful and versatile species of the Swarmer race.
This self-upgrade system really helps add a new dynamic to some tense situations, with each of the species offering genuinely different abilities. I often found myself contemplating between how to spend my biomass – should I bring another troop to the fray, or maybe upgrade to a Goliath and take down a higher health enemy? All these decisions can play perfectly into the hands of the player, giving almost complete freedom on how to achieve a levels object, which leads nicely to my next point, almost every objective I was faced with felt unique.
That’s not to say some objectives aren’t repeated, for example, you’ll see the objective ‘Escape the Level’ on more than one occasion. But what makes these objects feel different from one another is the way they are delivered. One of my favourite stages was a stealth-based level, where you have to successfully control a low-level Swarmer without being detected. Although this may not sound original in the grand scheme of things, it does feel like a breath of fresh air in a genre that too often asks you just to eliminate the threat.
So, how do you level up in Attack of the Earthlings? Well, in true Galactoil fashion you receive a performance review at the end of each stage where you are rewarded with good old-fashioned Mutagens. These Mutagens can be spent on acquiring new abilities for the different Swarmer species. What’s best about the upgrade system here, or loadout system I should say, is that it can be altered before any mission. The ability to retract point from a certain species and spend them on another one not only promotes experimentation but also allows you to adjust you ‘loadout’ should you be finding a level challenging – and trust when I say the levels get pretty challenging.
As you’d expect with any game that sits in the same vein as the Xcom series, progressing up the tower soon become a pretty hard task. Although some situation you’ll find yourself in feel tense and sometimes overwhelming, the game always gives you the tools you need to succeed, you just need to use them in the right way. An example of this is during a stage where you need to protect the Matriarch while she tries to break through a door. Honestly, I must have failed this section of the level more times than I can count. But going back to the drawing board and adjusting my Mutagen distribution allowed me to unlock a distraction technique which made the situation play out in my favour.
Before we wrap up the review we have to still mention the star of Attack of the Earthlings, Mr Pecker, PA to the boss Mr Dickerman. As you progress through the levels of the tower, Pecker will often come over the intercom and insult his employes in a witty and sarcastic manner. I found myself looking forward to these interludes as much as the strategic combat. The dark humour here is very dry. When speaking to the developers before the game’s release they spoke about trying to capture the comedic style of the IT crowd, a hilarious British comedy I’d recommend to anyone, which is why I was so happy to see they had achieved this, and to pretty good effect.
Attack of the Earthlings is brilliant! Not only have developers Team Junkfish managed to create an organic sense of gameplay through consumption and evolution, they’ve also delivered a narrative where the human-hungry alien race actually feel like the victims. Although the levels can get very challenging as you progress up the Galactoil tower, the ability to build a playstyle to suit you or overcome levels in a multitude of way inevitable mean success is only around the corner. Attack of the Earthling is not only one of the funniest games I’ve played for a long time but is no doubt one of the finest strategy games I’ve ever played.