Put Down Humanely

HIGH The premise.

LOW The controls.

WTF Was this an early build?

Alien invasions in videogames generally follow the same template — an enemy force arrives on Earth (or an Earth stand-in) and the player must defend. Attack of the Earthlings, as the title would suggest, puts the shoe on the other foot. A mining vessel arrives on a planet inhabited by insectoid creatures, and murders a bunch of them after landing. It’s then down to a matriarch of the native creatures to break into the ship and  fight through each of the themed floors in search of vengeance.

Earthlings is an isometric, turn-based strategy game at its core, but the units are mainly melee, fighting long range opponents. Barging in to any encounter without the advantage will result in a slaughter, so every setup hinges on waddling around armed guards and finding a clean opening to eliminate them. Fortunately, Earthlings does try and mix it up with different units and mission structures. The fail state for most levels is losing the Matriarch, so as long as she can eat felled enemies and generate new grunts, different approaches can be tried without a loss.

In terms of troops available, the player always has a basic grunt that has no special abilities except using vents to fast-travel around a level. More importantly, it can be upgraded in three different ways — into an assassination type that focuses on stealth and backstabbing, a ranged type that prioritizes shooting and distraction, and a heavy that’s able to take hits and dish them out.

The mission design tries to push turn-based strategy vets out of their comfort zone with various twists — one level has a turn limit, another spawns enemies all around and expects the player to hold them off, and boss encounters that rewrite the rules of how units react. These aren’t revolutionary, but it does serve to make sure that players won’t fall into a repetitive, comfortable pattern.

 Unfortunately, despite an unusual premise and a couple of uncommon ideas, Earthlings just isn’t polished. After my time with it, I came away feeling like it was one optimization sweep away from being a final product. 

For example, there are simple things like the color scheme for the user interface making it hard to tell which option is highlighted and what the outcome would be.

Worse is the delay between issuing a command and a units following through with it. I would often press a button to execute an attack, there would be a pause, the unit would start moving, stop, turn, move again, stop in front of the target, rotate, and then execute the attack. It grinds the already-sedate pace of play down to a near-halt. Coupled with the confusing UI, there were moments where I would issue a command, be fooled by the pause, then accidentally cancel the action and be unclear what had happened.    

Attack of the Earthlings is by no means a bad game — its personality and anti-capitalist, anti-human stance works, and the ideas underlying the mechanics are well-thought-out. Unfortunately, the execution, lack of optimization and muddy presentation undermine a title that was already going to struggle in a genre well-stocked with plenty of superlative examples.

Rating: 5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Team Junkfish and published by Wales Interactive Ltd. It is currently available on XBO, PS4, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the XBO-X. Approximately 12 hours of play were devoted to the singleplayer mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Violence and Blood. The game is macabre, the matriarch sucks the life out of corpses, unarmed earthlings can be slaughtered and despite the humor it gets pretty gruesome. The Teen rating is earned.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All information is subtitled, and the game does not rely on sound, it has no relevant audio cues needed for play. There is no option to adjust text size. It’s fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

AJ Small
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