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Universe At War: Earth Assault

Aliens settle their differences in our backyard in Universe At War: Earth Assault

On the eve of the release of Supreme Commander comes another challenger for the RTS crown - an effort from the creators of Star Wars: Empire At War that's not only going to wipe out the population of planet Earth, but is also so deep that it'll make your mouse weep.

"The first mission starts off in Washington DC, and it gets hit HARD," smiles Adam Isgreen (the man with the deranged job title of 'design visionary' at developers Petroglyph), in a dainty preamble before we leap into Earth Assault's staggering list of original features. "Almost every continent is going to get devastated. Australia might make it out alive... We'll see.

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"The year is 2012, and humans have just found out that they're not alone in the galaxy. Not only are they not alone, but the new arrivals aren't friendly in the least," continues Isgreen with knowing understatement. "The invaders are not here to conquer - they're here to harvest.

"Massive walking machines consume plant, animal and mineral without distinction. Press gang-like hordes of invading ground troops herd humans into enormous mass drivers, launching them up to the invader's ships that orbit the planet, never to be seen again. Our game begins on the eve of the last day of human resistance... Or is it?"

The aim, apparently, is to create the most customisable RTS of all time. While you will build and command units as in any other RTS, each unit will have several different uses on the battlefield. In addition, your walkers and vehicles will have numerous 'hard points' to slot enhancements into, while your production facilities will be upgradable in many different directions during battle. You'll also be able to steer your research tree between offensive, defensive and experimental technologies.

Earth Assault will also let you customise on-the-fly, using something called 'tactical dynamics' - so while your goliath units are knocking bells out of each other, you can happily rework tech trees, retrain your units and swap weapons as you please.

"We wanted to create very different experiences as you play each faction. Every side doesn't need a 'heavy tank', every faction doesn't have to have the same resource worries, and every unit doesn't need to function like something on another faction," explains Isgreen. "Is this risky? Sure! We're hoping that players will take the leap and embrace a game where you think and respond differently."

The rabbit hole runs much deeper than this though. You'll also have to deal with the Risk-style complications of fighting on a persistent representation of Earth - choosing whether or not to bring in reinforcements and heroes from other territories. That's right, the game's got hero characters as well, each with three or so different battle modes.

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Beyond this, you'll have to juggle resource gathering, battles that are affected by what time of day or night it is, panicking locals getting in the way of battles, collapsing structures like skyscrapers, forests that burn and even radiation sickness.

To start with though, you play as the quickly decimated human forces as a bit of a tutorial, before the Hierarchy (the walker-packed human harvesters on show here) are joined by intergalactic buddies and Earth becomes a playground for them to express their grievances.

A grand RTS universe with a story with more bumps and revelations than a series of Battlestar Galactica is promised - but can a game that's seemingly as deep as the ocean still be fun and easy to play? More soon...

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