Universe at War: Earth Assault Review (PC)

Petroglyph, encompassing many veterans of real-time strategy, has set their sights on the Universe but first they just couldn’t resist raising a little trouble on our little blue and green planet.

Ranked online matches will fill up the war chest of Medals A Habitat Walker fresh from its orbital drop launch

While there’s no raging of actual war across the Universe just yet there’s still plenty to pick and blow apart on this third rock from the Sun. Every story has to start somewhere so what better way to flesh out a whole new and ambitiously cheesy IP than to introduce humanity to interstellar woe in the comfort of our own backyard. Although the stage maybe on Earth there are no human factions to play beyond the prelude, we’re just too darn puny to go against gigantic walkers that can crush a building with a single leg.

Three factions make for the all the mayhem and each are completely unique to one another in very cool and strategic ways. The Hierarchy are the villains of the piece and simply care for no indigenous life-forms as they harvest resources and eradicate anything that could possibly pose a threat in the future. They have their units fired down from orbiting ships and have the most powerful goliath units at their disposal – the Walkers. These come in three forms; the Habitat Walker, the Assembly Walker and the Science Walker, each possess great versatility on the battlefield. They have hard points which can be customised with various weapons, construction or ability enhancing pods. They are definitely the most intimidating of any unit and sound fantastic as they stomp to war.

The Novus are sentient machines that have been waging guerrilla warfare against the near unstoppable mass of the Hierarchy across the Universe. Novus units aren’t all that blindingly powerful compared with the other factions but they can utilize agility very well. As they’re robots they get the nifty ability to use their own power lines system, which are called Flow Conduits, to not only provide energy and increase viable build space but also to transport units along them. These can be built all over the map to really let a Novus player strike anywhere quickly and then zip away to safety, each conduit is also cloaked from enemies making them harder to contain.

The Masari resemble common factions found in most RTS titles, they’re really about base building, defence and churning out powerful and costly units. Don’t let them fool you though as they’ve got a few tricks themselves with their light and dark mode which greatly alters their units’ abilities. Light mode increases the power of Masari units and their range while sacrificing defence, alternatively Dark mode will give units an extra health bar to act as a shield but you’ll no longer have the advantage of the heaviest firepower. Dark mode tends to be better for a major and sustained offensive or if you’ve got walkers on your doorstep obliterating vital structures. The Masari can also produce resources themselves and don’t need to go scavenging like the Hierarchy or the Novus need to, the trade off is that they’ll trickle in less than what your opponents will be getting but at least they’re constant and more importantly – infinite.

The campaign has three stages where you’ll have played all three factions and so gotten a good general feel for them by the end. The first is the Novus which introduces the tyranny of the Hierarchy and explores the devastating effects the invasion is having on mankind. This isn’t some super serious game with chilling and disturbing revelations, no; it’s about a brand of loveable corniness in both dialogue and motivation. Learning about how all this war has come to Earth and how coincidentally the Masari have been hiding out underneath the Atlantic Ocean is no plausible string of events but it’s those absurdities that make the action so appealing, being so over the top it’s difficult not to just go with it and revel in the high-tech carnage.

Tactical Dynamics can be a bit messy UI wise The cool and sleek Novus are pains for their guerrilla warfare and suicidal Ohm bots

The beginning missions will restrict movement on the world map to specific regions of activity and you’ll have no control over unit production outside the battlefields. After the Hierarchy campaign, great to play after being the goody-two-shoes Novus, you’ll finally arrive at the Masari which will open up the world map to you. It’s here you get to know how the global strategy plays out, you build a certain structure in a given region, resource collection, unit production, research, and you can also outfit them with two additional upgrades like more defence, super weapon shielding etc. You also manage your armies here by altering them or position them around the globe ready for action; this all plays out in real-time much like the galactic view in Empire At War. Of course you’re still limited as you’re going through the campaign and there’s no danger of being savagely flanked anywhere. The whole global arena though does feel its missing that same magic sparkle you can get in combat.

While research does exist within the game you won’t be using any really during the single player campaign, the whole component is taken away and instead you’re bound to what the mission defines is acceptable. Skirmish games can help alleviate the ignorance of what players are missing, choosing and maximising a path of research can open up entirely new strategies and can really aid you in deciding what personal tactic work best.

Visually the game is superb when it comes to things like the Walkers and how they’re made to be so imposing and terrifyingly majestic. Otherwise the environments aren’t looking to break the bank when it comes to power though there have been some issues with DirectX10. There are plenty of effects like radiation pouring out all over the place or giant chunks of garbage being hurled onto the surface, black holes, and powerful beams of light purging the landscape but still they feel more akin to ‘last-gen’. If there’s anything wrong with the game in terms of graphics it’s that you can’t see enough of them, the camera has a limited zoom so when the action spreads out like it mostly does there’s a lot of scrolling involved to manage units. What with colossus Walkers being a major weapon on the field this does seem like an embarrassing oversight. Design and theme for all the sides are well thought out and take inspiration from many different sources like movies and Japanese-style animation, they look worlds apart and it feels fresh to switch sides.

Multiplayer is both a blessing and a curse depending on how much you crave bashing in another players strategic skull ...virtually and in-game only, of course. You can earn medals along the way which you can then pick and choose to exercise in an upcoming battle. These vary depending on what you have needed to accomplish in order to earn them and they reward players with combat bonuses. The downside is that if you want the opportunity to earn them you’ll need a Gold Live membership account which, given its ‘Gold’ status, means you’ll have to pay for membership. All ranked online games and the Conquer the World mode requires a Gold Live account, no Gold no World domination. If you’ve already got one then this is no obstacle but for those unaware it can be an unwelcomed revelation, Games for Windows LIVE just isn’t going down to well yet on most games – its met heavy resistance from communities.

Modding too has hit a snag for the time being as the security for multiplayer, in a bid to prevent cheating, has locked out modifications that can be made to the game through its system of security cataloguing. Petroglyph is working on a mod kit for the community but so far the game is hostile to any alterations to code which is almost killing some desperate peeps looking to dissect UAW for their own wacky designs. Coded much in the same way as Empire At War the potential and capacity for community content should be quite lucrative for the avid fan when it’s up and running.

DirectX10, a little prettier to watch but comes with serious demands Masari defences, if clustered together, can prove swift menaces

Universe At War: Earth Assault is a finely shaped game with some underlying issues to be sure, mainly UI related, but Petroglyph’s brand of cheesy action humour and the great diversity of strategy, especially when playing against other red blooded players, can make war a guilty pleasure again. Hopefully the next instalments will not only take us galactic wide, with sleek space battles naturally, but we’ll get to see the design short comings hounded out to make this an even better whole new universe in peril – it certainly has the heart and the bravado for it.

Top Game Moment:
Wiping those snooty Masari from the face of the map with three fully laden Walkers and a pack of Brutes. Freedom & liberty can kiss Hierarchy boot!