Universe at War: Earth Assault Review
developer: Petroglyph Games
PIV 2000, 512MB RAM, 6GB HDD, 128MB video card
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Dec 10, 07
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This holiday season brought a new strategy game our way; straight from Petroglyph Games, creators of Star Wars: Empire at War (a game rightfully hailed as the first "proper" 3D Star Wars real-time strategy). Their latest endeavor is yet another real-time strategy, Universe at War: Earth Assault. Sure the industry is overcrowded with RTS games, but this one seemed like it could breathe some life into an otherwise worn-out genre. Let's find out if that was a good hunch.
The game is set in 2012, when a powerful alien force, known as the Hierarchy, arrives to Earth and launches a massive campaign against the planet's populace. Outnumbered and overwhelmed by a technologically superior enemy, the entire human race is forced to flee at the sight of the Hierarchy. Initially, you assume command of residual human forces, who are simply fighting to stay alive. Amidst all the confusion and with reports of severe human casualties all over the globe, a race of sentient machines referred to as the Novus enters the fray as well. Although hostile to the Hierarchy, the Novus haven't revealed their true purpose to mankind, yet. With these two influential alien species battling it out and Earth's population cowering in between, a completely new threat rises... Enough said, I think. We wouldn't want to spoil the rest.
One of the essential elements of any game (be it a shooter, strategy or otherwise) is a halfway decent plot, appealing central characters and an engaging universe. Universe at War has all of that. The story has its cheesy moments, sure, albeit it should keep you playing and that's enough if you ask me.
The single-player portion of the game is divided into three key campaigns, each of which follows a different race. This pretty much sounds like the standard concept fitted into almost every other RTS on the market. The good thing in UaW is the campaigns emphasize unique abilities of each race, which gives you plenty of room to experiment with battle tactics. Simply put, each race triggers a new style of play.
The Hierarchy, for example, rely on colossal walker units capable of crushing almost everything in their path. Apart from their superior size, these bad boys have multiple segments that can be converted into armor, plasma turrets and such. The awesome part is that all of this can be optimized in mid-battle, depending on the given situation. The Hierarchy walker also produces units, adding a very cool dimension to each battle, and it can be equipped with cost optimizers (reduces unit value). Marching mammoth walkers into encampments is a rewarding sight, provided you know how to handle it. You don't have to generate troops on the other side of the map. Just bring your walker into the heart of the base and start summoning grunts along the way. Resources aren't much of a problem for the Hierarchy, since they seem to get along fine by converting just about anything into usable matter, from various objects to organic life such as cows and even people. Hunting down people and animals is actually quite fun and gives a whole new meaning to the term "resource gathering." Other races, like the Novus, have different ways in that respect. Unlike the Hierarchy, which hunt down Earth inhabitants and turn them into raw material, the Novus gather resources by erecting specific structures and by converting junk and debris into energy.
When it comes to units in general, you could say Petroglyph did an awesome job. Once you collide with the enemy on the battlefield, you'll notice that your most powerful units have been counterbalanced with a completely different and equally powerful unit in your opponent's ranks. Playing the game makes you appreciate the unique aspects of each race. For instance, while the Hierarchy has the advantage of gigantic mobile fortresses and relatively simple resource gathering, the Novus are able to move their units rapidly throughout the map by building so-called flow conduits. Troops can be sent to a remote location on the map. If flow conduits are placed along the way, each unit will reach the desired spot in the flash of an eye. This represents a tremendous advantage in certain battle situations. Flow conduits also provide power, but are usually vulnerable, so it wouldn't hurt to set up a few Field Inverters to guard them - these strong ground units generate force shields that protect all friendlies within a certain radius and are fitted with powerful cannons to boot.
Hero units will accompany you in each campaign. Every hero has a set of special powers to deliver deadly attacks to multiple opponents, deal damage to a specific target and so on. This element also contributes to the overall quality of the gameplay.
As you reach the third campaign, you'll unlock a third playable race - the Masari. At this point, the single-player changes from a traditional scripted campaign to a more open-ended conquer-the-world type of strategy. You choose territories you wish to conquer, while battles are fought in real-time.
This is really the best part of Universe at War. Each campaign feels new and different, so you won't get bored.
Regrettably, even with all this, Universe at War doesn't really break new ground in the genre. What's more, it's not without faults. There are a number of bugs in the game that can hinder gameplay. During one of the missions a few enemy soldiers refused to budge and retaliate even though I kept firing at them constantly. On another occasion, I managed to overcome a Hierarchy walker, but instead of blowing up it stayed on its feet and kept firing at my buildings (even though I took out all of its turrets). Solved that problem simply by reloading a save game. Still, it was an annoying portion of the game, seeing as I had to backtrack quite a bit. Another issue is the occasionally awkward pathfinding which may cause units to get left behind, especially when you instruct them to move a long way across the map. The bad news is that most of these problems won't go away even after you've installed the patch.
8.7 Very Good
Solid single-player campaign, customizable units and fun resource gathering makes it more enjoyable than other strategies, visuals, sound effects, voiceovers;
AI problems and pathfinding problems (the patch resolves neither), best aspects of the multiplayer restricted to Live Gold members (major bummer).