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Universe at War: Earth Assault

Martin Korda gives up on hope on defeating intergalactic invaders solely by coughing phlegm in their general direction

Arguing with Petroglyph's RTS pedigree is daft. With many of its members having cut their teeth on the C&C series and with the solid Star Wars: Empire at War under its belt, much was expected from the developer's next RTS.

Without question, Empire at War was a top-quality strategy game, one which commendably melded epic space battles with land-based missions. But while the intergalactic slugfest proved both feverishly exciting and innovative the land-based skirmishes were lacklustre by comparison, hardly a good omen given that Universe
at War's battles are exclusively set on terra firma. So understandably, we had our concerns when this game arrived for review.

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RIGHT OR WRONG?
But our worries had no basis in fact. Clearly, the bods at Petroglyph have had a long hard think about the criticisms levelled at Empire at War's land battles, as Universe at War's missions have taken the best elements from its predecessor's intergalactic scraps and injected them into ground-based battles that teem with mayhem, explosions and unbridled carnage.

Proceedings kick off in the year 2012, when Earth has come under attack by a technologically superior alien race called the Hierarchy. With 90 per cent of the planet's military in ruins, a gruff voiced, mini-gun toting US colonel, who ticks every box on the action hero stereotype checklist, leads the remnants of the US army in a last-ditch attempt to repel the invaders.

All seems lost until suddenly, another technologically advanced robotic alien race called the Novus appears to help humanity in its fight against the aggressor race. Now that's luck. So begins a war between age-old enemies the Hierarchy and Novus. Their war, our world, to coin a phrase from recent celluloid robotic flick Transformers.

This clash of sentient machines starts with you commanding the Novus, a race of emotionless robots that considers the Hierarchy as a cancer that needs to be eliminated from the universe. Amongst their ranks is a lone human, Mirabel, who attempts to educate her logic-obsessed masters about the merits of morality, by displaying empathy for mankind that transcends her robotic comrades' single-minded desire to eliminate the Hierarchy, no matter what the cost.

Novus's battlefield technology is made up of a collection of mechanised foot soldiers, lumbering artillery units that can encase nearby allies in protective shields and nippy, lightly armoured aerial units.

However, the faction's true genius doesn't lie in its satisfying - if somewhat by-the-numbers - arsenal, but in the way its troops can traverse wide expanses in mere seconds by using Flow technology, which transports units along linked electrical nodes. Naturally, these relays have to be built first, but once you've set up a network across a map, you can traverse an entire level with a sizeable force within a matter of seconds.

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YING AND YANG
Unlike their goody-goody adversaries, the Hierarchy aren't nearly as manoeuvrable, but what they lack in speed they more than make up for with sheer firepower, with several titanic four-legged customisable walkers at their disposal (head over to the Four Legs Are Better Than Two panel for more on these).

The game's final faction is the Masari, a mystical people thought extinct until the Hierarchy accidentally raise them from their slumber when they decide to use some Egyptian pyramids for target practice. This druid-like race can switch between upgradeable Light, Dark and Balance powers (offence, defence, and a happy medium), providing an excellent alternative to its more rigidly structured adversaries.

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