Universe at War, Earth Assault is the latest game from acclaimed creators of the Star Wars, Empire at War series, the Las Vegas development studio Petroglyph. Originally only for PC the publishers announced it was in development for the 360 and now it has finally arrived. Earth Assault chronicles the war between three alien races across the surface of Earth, and is perhaps unique in that despite being set in the near future, humanity is more of a footnote in the story, and is not competitive and therefore not truly a playable faction in the game.
The basic story is this: an alien race called the Hierarchy has come to Earth to strip mine it for resources. Their general modus operandi is to first exterminate the native population, and as their technology is vastly superior to that of humanity they can do this with ease. The Novus, sentient war machines developed by a race previously exterminated by the Hierarchy, has come to Earth as part of their endless war with their nemesis. However to the Novus’ surprise humanity has not only survived, but the few that are left are even still fighting. This is not due to the humans themselves however, but rather the Hierarchy commander who has been holding back in order to lure the Novus into a trap, hoping to exterminate them and earn a promotion.
Meanwhile the Masari are beginning to awaken from beneath the Earths oceans, and are very angry at what’s happening on their world. The Masari are older than both the Novus and the Hierarchy, and are in fact the source of the Hierarchies’ advanced technology. However the Hierarchy long ago betrayed the Masari and using their technology killed off most of the ancient race. The remnants fled to Earth, teaching some of the early races as well as inspiring the pyramids and Atlantean myth, before going into a slumber. Awaking to find their ancient enemies the hierarchy attacking their world, the humans that they nurtured having infested and polluted it and some crazy race of machines, they’re generally irritated at everything and everyone. As you can see, the story is well developed and well portrayed throughout the game.
Graphically the game is fairly impressive. It’s not C&C3 or Dark Crusade, but it is a step above Generals, and looks pretty good compared to other RTS titles on the 360. One disappointment is the unit detail, which is a bit clunky and old school despite the general beauty of the rest of the game. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem except that thanks to the games strong story close-ups of heroes and units are quite common, bringing the chunky and sharp edges into strong focus. Along with this some of the texture graphics aren’t as high resolution as one thinks they could be, which again only comes to light when compared against the beautiful filters and other effects present in the game.
The game play and controls can be a little counter intuitive, considerably worse on the 360 than they are on the PC. With a bit of effort they can be learned however and particularly through the tutorial missions you can become quickly proficient. Harder to learn is the quirks of the three primary alien races, each of which has its own game play style and resource/construction management system. For example the Masari have two different modes of operation, light and dark, which alters the emphasis between offense and defence of their units and buildings, while the Novus have upgrades (patches) that provide bonuses and penalties when applied. One good point about this is that each race provides a radically different experience, which is cool.
Universe at War is quite a cool game, and probably one of the best RTS titles for the 360, well worth picking up if you’re a Petroglyph aficionado. Frank Klepecki, the artist who did the music score for much of the Command and Conquer series (including the original Red Alert), scores this game much as he did for Empire at War and the music is excellent.