The real-time strategy genre is rife with complication. Playing RTS games is easy, and winning matches is straightforward. However, actually being good at any given title requires dedication. Hundreds of possible combinations of weapons and strategies exist. Factor in each unique faction on top of that and the complications can hit astronomical numbers. Different styles of RTS games vary wildly, from the microscopic clickfest that is the Starcraft saga to the macro-strategies of Age of Empires. You could spend hours perfecting the exact build order that has been handed down over centuries from father to son like an ancient summoning ritual, working to shave vitally important milliseconds from every click. Or you could do what I did as a child: sit down and watch James Earl Jones yell at a bald weirdo in the Command & Conquer series. Many of the people who worked on that particular series moved on to found Petroglyph Games, which has recently created the 8-Bit trilogy, the most recent of which has been 8-Bit Invaders!
The other two (8-Bit Hordes and 8-Bit Armies) were obvious references to previous RTS genre staples, and this one is seemingly no different no different. 8-Bit Invaders! would appear to be a direct reference to the Starcraft saga, only instead of meeting a Protoss or Zerg lookalike, you're greeted by an alien similar to those found in Mars Attacks! While 8-Bit Invaders! is still mostly fueled by references to movies and games, this one has started to create its own culture and ideas, which is a refreshing change. Die-hard fans and people new to the genre alike will find perfection within the soundtrack. Frank Klepacki returns to make yet another stunning RTS soundscape, and he outdoes himself. A mix of chiptune and metal beats makes for a fantastic aesthetic to embrace the overall design of 8-Bit Invaders!
Like most RTS games, 8-Bit Invaders! features a story-based campaign, a skirmish mode where you can play alone against an AI, and a multiplayer mode. 8-Bit Invaders! also includes a cooperative mode with a variety of missions, and a new mode exclusive to this part of the series called "War for the Multiverse". The campaign features two factions, though the story is only revealed through a short description before each mission. Much of it is left to your own imagination, but the basic idea is that a planet full of the human faction of Marines are being invaded by aliens known as Brainiacs.
The human faction is visually tantalizing, as each of the units is extremely detailed. Bipedal tank destroyers stomp around with all sorts of moving parts to them, and even the basic marine trooper unit is detailed with a mobile armor suit and a tiny cigar. The humans rely mostly on enhanced technology to create fairly maneuverable units, including an armored human that can engage in a short amount of jet-assisted flight in order to scale cliff walls. Walkers that can fire while moving, hovering tanks, and unmanned flying droids can storm the aliens quite easily, and since all marine units come with a self-healing shield, they're excellent for hit and run tactics. The aliens, meanwhile, appear to rely on references to movies from the 80's and 90's to defeat their enemies. The basic melee trooper is obviously a xenomorph from the Alien series, and the Brainiac troopers are all big-brained, green-skinned, blaster-wielding abominations wearing capes. They appear to have recruited or domesticated a number of other aliens to do their bidding, including a venomous beetle that sprays marines in poisonous acid and a giant bug capable of blasting you at long range with exploding eggs.
The campaigns in 8-Bit Invaders! are largely based around two different missions: search and destroy, or wave defense. There aren't any overly complicated mission types, no unique campaign-based units (except for a not-so-carefully hidden secret unit in every mission named "Gwen"). It doesn't appear to have much in the way of variety at all. What is unique about the campaign is the accretion of units that can be carried over to later missions. By achieving certain objectives in harder difficulties, you can get a small squad or an extra building to be added to later missions from that point on. Completing the campaign on easy, then, becomes harder over time simply because you've completed no extra objectives and are missing out on the extra starting resources. You can also return to previous missions with your newly unlocked units in order to complete the tougher objectives. Had a hard time getting around the map quickly enough? Just continue the campaign until you unlock air units, then you can tackle the challenge with an upgraded force.
The co-op appears to lack a link to the campaign's story, but each mission is made up of the same style of objectives. They're missing the element of unlocking units for later missions, but this doesn't matter as many of them let you use any units you wish. A few of them even have you fighting enemies that are factions from the other games in the 8-Bit series.
That brings us to the skirmish and "War for the Multiverse" modes. Skirmishes allow you to use maps and factions from the other games you own, so this means you can easily have a fight between undead skeletons and space marines. Or modern soldiers against paladins. The War for the Multiverse Mode takes this idea a step further, introducing a meta-game where you slowly take over tiles, which are made up of skirmish maps. You via for control and manage your resources as any faction you wish, fighting on maps from all parts of the series. You could be orcs fighting in Manhattan against alien invaders, for example.
The downside to this multi-game rumble is that it becomes very clear how the quality has changed over time. The enemy appears to be fighting you with cardboard boxes on wheels while you're controlling exquisite art pieces. This shows you just how far the series has come, sure, but the stark contrast actually throws immersion out the window. A game where you have tanks shooting at dragons isn't meant to be realistic, but the complete contrast is like having art from the first Starcraft suddenly appearing in the modern versions.
The mechanics for both of the factions of 8-Bit Invaders! is very similar. Instead of building resource gathering structures and groups of units with which to collect the magic space crystals, you instead build a gathering unit that hunts down the nearest resource node and starts sucking the cash from it. It never returns to your base and never has to move, neatly collecting, refining, and dumping the cash in your reserves. This is an interesting step, making it possible to pump out these units and largely ignore resource gathering in favor of building up your army. You have to defend the gatherers, but otherwise, it's a significant trimming of otherwise intensive micro-managing found in other RTS games. The building-based superweapons have also been replaced by giant units that can stomp around literally eating the enemy, in the case of the Brainiacs.
Every unit in every mode has a different damage type easily reflected in tooltips. They excel at damaging certain things, like soft targets, tanks, or buildings, but might not even be able to target some others at all. As usual, a good mix of units is a prime strategy. However, barring some stealth mechanics you can find in a few units on both sides, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of strategy. Much of the tactics involved is building up an army of mixed units and tossing it at the enemy. There are some small details like line of sight and flying units being able to see over hills, but all these small, basic strategies serve to merely train you for the big leagues. Other games pull off the same strategies in significantly more detailed and intricate ways, allowing for feints and fascinating tricks. 8-Bit Invaders lacks these tricks, relying on brute force and a few things it learned from watching it's older siblings.
While it's immensely detailed and amazing to look at, the lack of complexity means 8-Bit Invaders! lacks staying power. It's brilliantly entertaining for much of the campaign, but don't expect to find yourself returning to the multiplayer over and over if you're an RTS fan. This is very much a beginner's game, stripping everything to the barest basics and giving you something that's pleasing to look at, but lacking in content. Excellent for a short romp to tide you over until the next big RTS release, and might be fun to drag a friend into for the co-op missions, but 8-Bit Invaders! falls just a byte short. It lacks the jaw strength to really hold on to attention for very long. Unless you are very new to the genre, 8-Bit Invaders! is the RTS equivalent to junk food; tasty at first, but unsatisfying in the long run.
8-Bit Invaders! was reviewed on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.
Stands out purely on aesthetics and is fueled by nostalgic charm, but lacks any staying power or complexity. 8-bit Invaders is a good pick for fans of the genre or beginners who want to get into RTS, but is otherwise unfulfilling.
- Interesting and Intricate Art Assets
- Simple, Easy Gameplay
- Excellent Soundtrack
- Aliens Vs. Goblins
- Very Little Complexity
- Gets Old Quickly
- The Brainiac Laser Gun Sound