Universe at War: Earth Assault

When you’re weaned on C&C.

8Founded by former Westwood employees, Petroglyph Games has done a lot to revitalize the C&C mold with Universe of War. It opens with an action-packed, summer blockbuster inspired bang – flying saucers and aliens are everywhere, devastating Earth. Specifically they’ve invaded and destroyed Washington DC, and you start the game by leading troops in a desperate attempt to reach the White House and save an injured US President. That’s the prelude, in any case, as the alien races have their own goals, backstory and combat tactics, and make up the primary focus of Universe of War: Earth Assault.

The three factions of Universe at War could not possibly play more differently. Though their general philosophies follow a very typical “fast faction,†“brute force faction,†and “balanced faction†approach, the actual methods by which these are achieved are quite unique. The “quick faction”, the Novus, relies on a network of buildings to link every structure in their base and abroad. This link allows nearly every unit in the Novus arsenal to quickly travel along the energy lines between structures, allowing nearly instantaneous travel along the battlefield wherever a “flow†network is present. The Novus additionally use a “patch†interface that allows for very quick switches between specific buffs that apply faction-wide.

The Masari, the “balanced†faction, rely on the use of light and dark modes, which can be switched between on the fly. These modes fundamentally change the behavior of the entire faction, with dark mode being a defensive mode granting additional shielding but reduced firepower, and light mode disabling shielding but allowing aerial assaults and greatly increased firepower. This makes the Masari a tricky race to play, but a potentially deadly one. The Hierarchy is the “brute force†faction of Universe at War, and proves to epitomize the concept by their mobile dual production facility/war machine walkers.

They are modular and upgradable, with many different hardpoints that can be upgraded with a huge variety of enhancements – production facilities for advanced units, powerful anti-air platforms, extra armor, weapons range or rate of fire enhancement, self-repair facilities, plasma cannons, mass drivers, giant lasers, and on one walker a deadly, if short-range superweapon. The list hardly ends there, but suffice to say, the walkers can be versatile and deadly, if slow and cumbersome. Destroying either of the production walkers requires taking down nearly all of their hardpoints, so surmounting them is a bit of a task.

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Unfortunately, Universe at War has some drawbacks. Issues with pathfinding AI hinder the game significantly, though thankfully recent patches have done much to solve this. There are a few annoying bugs that patches have yet to solve. One particularly frustrating one occurred while attempting to evacuate a hero unit – the transport coming in to evacuate him was destroyed while landing, and the hero unit in question ended up completely frozen and helpless on the ground, unable to act. There are also issues with micromanagement. Although the game includes a waypoint system, there is no way to queue up build or attack orders. Additionally, build queues for units are limited to six at a time, making many battles frustrating exercises in battle management constantly interrupted by rapid clicking of unit production orders.

Visually appealing to the last, Universe at War features a wide array of units and structures that are hugely different from one another. And like the old C&C games, the quality of the soundtrack is impressive and does a great job of setting the fast-paced mood that characterizes the campaign story. With hectic RTS gameplay, interesting factions and that old C&C vibe, Universe of War feels both strangely familiar and compellingly fresh.

System Requirements: Pentium IV 2.5 Ghz, 512 MB RAM, 4.8 GB HDD, WinXP

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