Universe at War: Earth Assault Review

As if we didn't already have enough to worry about, alien warefare lands on our doorstep.

Review by Darren Cartledge
Published 4th February 2008

Universe at War: Earth Assault

  • Developer: Petroglpyh
  • Publisher: SEGA
  • Release Date: 25th January 2008

It’s often been said that the real-time strategy genre lacks innovation in that all games seem to be pretty much the same, that being said it’s no wonder Petroglyph and Sega decided to include three distinctive modes of play in their latest strategy incarnation.

Universe at War: Earth Assault is set in the near future, and sees the planet slap bang in the middle of an intergalactic war between three alien factions. The Hierarchy bent on galactic dominance are first to arrive with the intention of harvesting Earth’s resources for themselves. They are closely followed by the Novus a race of robots set on wiping out the Hierarchy and avenging the obliteration of their creators. The final race in the game is the Masari, an ancient race who have mastered the secrets of both light and dark energy. The Masari brought the Hierarchy into existence, but they turned on their creators and nearly wiped them out. The few remaining Masari fled and sought refuge on Earth, where they have been in stasis for 10,000 years only to awaken when their enemy arrived on Earth.

Universe at War features all the game modes you would expect to find in any real-time strategy title, Campaign, Skirmish Battles, Scenarios and several multiplayer modes via Live. Playing through the games campaign allows you too play as each of the three alien races, all of which offer different capabilities and an approach to the way you play the game. You also get to play as mankind for a couple of missions, if you choose to play the prelude to the campaign.

As mentioned above each alien race offers a different way to play the game, for instance as the Hierarchy come to reap the resources of worlds they conquer, they don’t need to build permanent structures so all units and vehicles are produced by gigantic mobile walkers. By default Hierarchy walkers can only produce one type of unit! However, they have several hard-points which can be upgraded in order to produce different unit types. Hard-points can also be upgraded with nodes that can benefit the production of units, such as reducing their cost or speed up the time it takes for them to be trained. These hard-points can also be upgraded with heavy armour and turrets making walkers formidable weapons during battle.

While this is an effective way to do battle and allows the Hierarchy to quickly reinforce its troops, it is very highly dependent on available resources which can quickly be depleted, meaning you are unable to generate new units.

Novus and Masari both have to build static structures in order to create new units this is done differently for each. Novus are fairly restricted in the way they build as each structure has to be powered by it central core and can’t be placed to far away from a power supply. This also makes the Novus fairly vulnerable, as if the power core is destroyed all structures stop functioning leaving your base vulnerable to attack. The major advantages of playing as the Novus seem to be the quick unit production and resource gathering. Novus units also have the ability to travel quickly around the game map via your power lines, which is a very nice addition and allows you to quickly reinforce your position.

The Masari don’t really have restrictions placed on them, on how they can build their bases and while playing as this faction you don’t really have to worry about resource gathering, as you simply build matter generators. While playing as the Masari you are able to switch between Light and Dark modes! In Light mode your units gain an attack bonus which enables them to quickly repel enemies. Switching to Dark mode effectively gives a defensive bonus shielding units with dark matter armour, this gives your units two health bars but on the downside grounds your air based units. The major downside to playing as the Masari is that unit production is rather slow meaning you could have an enemy attack bearing down on you before you have had the chance to build up or reinforce your troops.

Speaking of the games units, Universe at War doesn’t bog you down with hundreds of different ones, making it easy to figure out how to use them properly, although there is a nice selection for you to throw into battle. Universe at War allows you to build a mix of infantry, vehicle and air units. In addition to the standard attacks a lot of units in the game have special abilities, which range from being able to plant bombs that cause large amounts of damage or the ability to phase out of sight for a short period of time enabling them to sneak through enemy lines and hit them hard before they know what’s happening.

Using the right type of unit also plays an important part in Universe at War! Some units are more effective against structures, while other units are unable to attack flying units. Overall unit A.I is good there’s no real problem with path finding unless you are trying to move a large number of units all at once, then they try to move in formation and occupy the same space.

Overall the game offers a good challenge and allows for some intense battles, enemies will attack in large numbers and in waves, also don’t expect them to wait until you’ve built up a force that is capable of defending your base, once they are ready they will attack.

The games campaign mode offers a mix of mission types, the RTS standard base building and more tactical based missions where you have to use the units you start with in order to complete the objectives. To add to the games challenge in most missions you are given a hero unit that acts as the mission commander and if this unit is destroyed then it’s mission over. To further add to the challenge of missions from time to time you are given more then one unit that has to be kept alive.

To add to the variation when playing as the Masari the game switches to a global conquest mode, in this mode you will have to invade regions of Earth held by the other factions and take control of them to strengthen your global position. These battles tend to be a lot more challenging and intense then the previous ones you will have experienced in the games campaign.

Included in the games campaign mode are several scenarios, these are played the same way as the global conquest mode you will experience as the Masari. In this conquest mode, the Earth has been split into regions, and you have to take control of them by moving your forces in and constructing global structures. These structures have an effect on how you gather resources and what units you can develop. If you move into a region already occupied by one of the other factions you can occasionally take control without the need to enter into battle.

Other single player modes included in Universe at War are skirmish battles, these are exactly as you would expect from any real-time strategy title, select what alien faction you wish to play as then take them into battles against your chosen enemy.

To add to the games replay value Universe at War features extensive multiplayer support over Live or a LAN. You can choose to play in custom matches which are basically the same as the games skirmish battles, quick matches and ranked matches in which you are pitted against an opponent of equal ability. Universe at War’s main two multiplayer modes are Conquer the World and Defcon.

In Conquer the World you are presented with a view of the globe, and as in the games scenarios you must select which region you wish to challenge for control of, once you have made your choice the game pits you in a battle against another player waiting to claim that territory for his chosen race. If you are successful you are then awarded that region and then you move onto the next until you have conquered the World. While playing through this mode you will earn achievements and medals which you can view in your war chest.

The Defcon mode encourages fast paced battles, each player starts the game at Defcon 5 with a timer counting down, and each time the counter reaches zero new research options are completed for each player allowing new units and abilities. The game counts down until Defcon 1 is reached allowing players to inflict massive amounts of damage on each other.

Graphically the game looks good, it’s in no way ground breaking but units are very nicely animated and feature some nice touches, especially the Masari units when in dark mode, with a glowing energy shield around them. Maps in the game are fairly varied and battles are set in a few real world locations, both the Inca pyramids and the ones of ancient Egypt are the scenes of battles. The games environments all offer a certain level of destructibility. Trees will get knocked over as your heavy units pass by them, and buildings will be demolished when your harvesters convert them into resources. One nice feature is the battle cam! This removes all the games menus and allows you to watch the action close-up.

The games audio is probably its weakest aspect, voice acting is a little over done at times, especially the typical human military man. Weapons fire and music are pretty much what you would expect to find in any sci-fi based real-time strategy title and it not really very remarkable.

Universe at War is in no way a revolutionary strategy title but what it does, it does well and puts in a solid performance. The games campaign mode is complemented by extensive multiplayer support that should keep you occupied for quite some time, and on the whole the game offers enough variation in terms of play there should be something that appeals to any strategy fan.

Review Score: 7.4/10

Please note, this review was scored using our old system. For more information please see our review policy.

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