Waiting for StarCraft? Try Universe at War!
Hands down, StarCraft is the ultimate in real-time strategy games. And while many fans eagerly await StarCraft 2’s launch, they may want some good ol’ RTS fun to tide them over. And while most console RTS games like Final Fantasy Tactics or PixelJunk Monster have a somewhat watered down take on the RTS genre, Universe at War: Earth Assault is the closest thing that I’ve ever seen to the full RTS gameplay that I remembered from Starcraft. However, the transition from an almost exclusive PC genre to a complete console game has definitely been a little rough. But to its credit, Universe at War: Earth Assault gets about 90% of the formula right.
The main mode in Universe at War: Earth Assault is the Campaign mode. As is the case with most games of this nature, the story is paper thin and revolves around an evil alien organization called the Hierarchy. This organization targets planets with sentient beings, steals their natural resources, and then moves on. Their attack has been pretty brutal on Earth, and 90% of human life has been wiped out. But just as humanity is about to make its last stand against the Hierarchy, a robotic organization called the Novum comes to destroy them. But their interest is less about saving the Earth and more about destroying the Hierarchy at all costs. And then comes the obligatory third race, the Masari, who are originally from Earth, but fled millions of years ago just as the Hierarchy was coming to power.
Needless to say, all of these races have their own strengths and weaknesses from a tactical standpoint. You are able to play as all of them, as well as the humans. The gameplay is extremely varied as you learn to strategize with all the different races, and the campaign mode is really fun to play. But the campaign mode, though very entertaining, is more of a warm-up for the online mode. The campaign mode really gives you a chance to practice your strategic basics and try your hand at using all of the different races. And once you have practiced enough and feel confident in your skills, you can go online.
The online modes were probably the most appealing, simply because strategy games are so unpredictable online. While the A.I. in the game is pretty good, nothing compares to going head to head against another person, especially in a game where you have to analyze the movements of your competitor so closely. One interesting thing about Universe at War: Earth Assault’s online mode is that it lets PC gamers as well as Xbox 360 gamers play together. I have to say that I take a little issue with this because this game is much more apt for the point-and-click structure of the PC, and I do believe it gives somewhat of an advantage to PC gamers. But that aside, the online modes are pretty fun to play. You have the standard ranked and unranked strategy matches, which give you ample opportunity to match your strategies against other players. But the real unique online mode here is the Conquer the World mode, which challenges you to conquer all the game’s global battlefields. Once you claim them for yourself, you will have to defend them against online competitors who are also trying to claim all the world’s territories for themselves.
In addition to the campaign mode and the online modes, there is also a skirmish mode, which is essentially a custom battle mode. You can design a battle scenario using any map, race, and rules, and see how you fare. This mode is great for testing out new strategies and developing your skills. It is a very useful mode, and even though it may not be as exciting as the campaign or online modes, it is where you can build up the nuts-and-bolts of your strategy, which is what RTS games are all about.
The visuals in Universe at War: Earth Assault shine. The game is presented in full HD up to 1080p, and both the in game graphics as well as the cinema scenes look sharp and very nicely detailed. The visuals are a definite help when it comes to how the game is played, simply because they give the battlefield a lot of room for detail, which allows you to zoom out more and get a bigger picture. This is a huge asset to the game because the levels are absolutely huge, and when you have enemies coming at your base from all sides, it is important to be able to see as much as possible.
One big concern I had before playing this game was about the control. So many RTS games rely on the point and click controls that I wasn’t sure how this type of game would translate to the Xbox 360. Fortunately the game has made some control adjustments including an intuitive zoom system as well as a quick scrolling mechanism that allow you to quickly mobilize your troops at certain locations without actually having a mouse to point over the terrain. Most commands and menu buttons are brought up via the shoulder and trigger buttons and the A button serves the sector/action button. While the control in this game certainly takes some getting used to, I’m very happy that it has made some adjustments to make the game more compatible with the PC style of control. And while I still believe the PC controls are a little more fluid, the Xbox 360 controls do an excellent job of modifying the controls to a console setting, and I applaud the developers for doing a great job with this.
Overall, Universe at War: Earth Assault is a great RTS title. It has actually been quite a while since I played a game that was not a condensed or watered down take on the genre, and it was refreshing to see a console game branching out into what was previously a PC-only genre. The campaign mode is great, but it is the online modes that really make this a must-own title for RTS fans. So if you have a tactical flair, then you’ll definitely want to check out Universe at War: Earth Assault!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.7 Graphics
Graphics both in-game and during cinema scenes look crisp and sharp. 3.9 Control
Point and click controls work well for the most part on smaller maps, but larger maps become much more difficult to manage. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Both music and voiceovers are done very well. 4.1 Play Value
The campaign mode is very engaging and really serves as a training ground before you go online. There is a lot to love in this title, and tons of replay value. 4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.