Universe at War PC Review

I’ve always wondered why aliens seem to want to invade earth all the time. What’s so good about our planet? Why do aliens always seem to want to attack it? If you sit and really think about it, they would be coming to a world full of problems, wars and people who want to blow the hell out of you and then blame it on a game. Maybe I’m just not seeing it like they do; maybe they are just interested in ruling over all the hot girls on the planet? Anyway whatever the reason, aliens are coming to Earth again, thanks to Petroglyph’s new game, Universe at War.

Taking place in to the not too distant future, the year 2012 to be precise. Humanity was just going about their typical daily jobs, working, sleeping, and playing games, when suddenly the arrival of an alien species know as the Hierarchy lands on our beloved Earth. The Hierarchy are traveling the universe, going planet by planet stripping them of all their resources. The Earth’s armed forces doesn’t stand a chance against the invasion and are slowly becoming eradicated. When all seems lost another alien race decides to arrive on our planet. Known as the Novus, a race of sentient machines existing only to follow the Hierarchy and stop them from destroying more planets. As the battle rages on between the two, something is awakened in the slumber of the Earth’s oceans. The Masari, a one time galactic superpower race who were chased down by the Hierarchy, had made our planet their home thousands of years ago. The Masari are now furious after seeing the Hierarchy here, plus that’s not all, they are also enraged by all the pollution the human race has supplied to the once lust green planet (sounds like Greenpeace has got a new mascot). Having no respect for any of the other races, the Masari are on a warpath of revenge because of what has happened to their adopted home.

Petroglyph Games hasn’t been around that long. They formed in 2003 and their first game was Star Wars: Empire at War. They don’t lack experience in the RTS genre though as the founding members have worked on games like Command & Conquer and Dune. What the development studio has done with Universe at War is appealing. For once Humans don’t have a part in the factions you play as. Instead you play them for a couple of campaign missions. It’s there basically just to show you how badly the human race sucks against the Hierarchy, well apart from Randal Moore, a Colonel gone General, he’s like some Universal Soldier, kicking the crap out of any alien that comes near him, “come get some!” would be a worthwhile phrase for him.

As mentioned above, the campaign has you starting off as the helpless humans. After finishing that off you begin your Hierarchy destruction with the Novus. The campaign is pretty straight forward, once you’ve played through the Novus missions, you then move on to the Hierarchy arc, then the Masari arc. The Masari arc is different in terms of approach to the missions. Rather than just been told what to do, you have the ability to invade places on the map. It’s more of a strategic feeling than the other campaigns and is a nice way to get out of the feeling you sometimes get from the same old stuff repeating itself.

While it is nice to have that featured, the campaign itself doesn’t show off what the game can do. It actually feels like a dumbed downed version as the missions limit you on what you can do. The research tree is pretty none existent, so it’s not like other RTS games, where they slowly allow you to build up better units as you progress the story. The reason the game is like this is because it’s so heavily scripted and that leads to you never really getting to do things your own way, which is a shame. On the other hand the game does feature a skirmish mode and some preset scenarios, which feature the whole research and development tree. Players will just have to sit down and make up their own stories for the skirmishes if they want a campaign like this.

The thing that really stands out with Universe at War, which is also the main appeal of the game no doubt, is just how diverse each faction is. The three teams play so differently that you would probably think they were taken from different games. The Novus are a quick and agile group of robots that can set up a network of energy nodes. The nodes can be used by the Novus so they can traverse the map at blazing speeds from wherever the points are located. The Novus are a team that relies on using their agility and massive numbers to out swarm the opponents. They aren’t powerful by themselves, but like a group of Chavs, can course havoc when together. Usually White and sleek in design, the Novus look like they were inspired by I, Robot. The main Hero unit of the Novus looks like a Gundam, an awesome flashy white Gundam at that.

Hierarchy on the other hand are slow and powerful. A stand out feature for them are the huge walkers, these are like mobile bases which take a lot of firepower to take down. They have the ability to build add-ons, stuff like extra weapons, shields. It also allows you to build units. It’s basically a walking tank of destruction.

The last of the three, the Masari, are something you’ll be used to. They play like a more traditional RTS faction, meaning you’ll be building bases and researching new things to play with. Petroglyph did spice the ancient race up, giving them the skill of switching between light and dark modes. Dark is good for defence while light is good for going on the offensive. It’s actually pretty amazing that Petroglyph managed to make all three teams, which play so differently, extremely balanced. I never once felt I was overpowered by the other team. The only thing that goes through your head when playing, especially against the Hierarchy is “Damn I wish my team had one of those walking beasts”. They’re awesome when they set out on a full scale attack on a base, and it’s even better when you are the ones doing it. They’re probably the best race to play as.

While the game’s full potential doesn’t come out in the campaign, it surely does in the multiplayer, but yet there’s a major problem if you want to get the full experience from the multiplayer. This is due to players needing to have a Gold account with the Game for Windows program. It’s fine for people who already have an Xbox Live account and are paying for that, as they both work together. It’s stupid really as no one in their right mind is going to be paying £39.99 just to play a few games on their Windows PC. It really has alienated a fair amount of players who don’t own Xbox 360s, but would love to play the game on their PC.

If you are a gold subscriber then you can look forward to playing Ranked matches and the excellent Conquer the World. I don’t think Ranked matches need explaining, they are just your typical RTS fights. Conquer the World on the other hand is about taking over the entire planet. You try to take over territories on the map, you click the area and square off against another opponent trying to get that area too, win and you take over the territory and you can then move onto the next one till you’ve got the whole planet in your grasps. Shame you can only play it if you are a gold subscriber, a real total bummer. It probably explains why there weren’t many people playing it online too.

Universe at War is artistically beautiful to look at. It runs in both DirectX 9 and DirectX 10 modes. 10 seems to not be as well implemented, so using 9 is the best way to get the most out of it as it runs silky smooth. The units look great, with designs that are either fresh or inspired by sci-fi greats like War of the Worlds. The effects are nifty, just watching the units do their stuff, the blue that oozes from the Novus as they travel at super speed or walkers blasting units with their lasers, oh and not to forget the super weapons. Using them for the first time is smile inducing. If there is a slight disappointment, it’s that the backgrounds and maps look a little dated, with bland textures to boot.

A problem that really annoyed me was the amount you can zoom out; basically you can’t zoom out for crap. Its highest point is still too far in, with some units, mainly the walkers, still filling up a lot of your screen. I’ve heard that a patch is coming to fix this, but till then the problem is still a pain, especially after been treated to the chocolate spread loveliness zoom of Supreme Commander (all the way in, all the way out). Overall though the positives outweigh the negatives and the game looks pretty with everything turned up.

If you’ve played any 2D Command & Conquer games, then Frank Klepacki might ring some bells. He was the composer for the series (Hell March! Yeah baby). Now he’s back with the soundtrack for Universe at War. It’s quite rock based, as you might of guessed with some of his past hit tracks, but it fits well and doesn’t break your ear drums or knock you into a coma. The voice acting isn’t the greatest, but not not the worst either, it’s just average. The game features some lines that will probably make you giggle, while others make you cringe. It feels like a cheap B-Movie sci-fi flick in terms of content.

In the end this game would receive a rating of 8 if it didn’t go in the wrong direction with some aspects. It’s got some great innovative factions, fun gameplay and a nice sci-fi presentation vibe. The problem is the campaign isn’t well thought up and the implementation of Games for Windows Gold subscription for the bulk of the multiplayer is just damn daylight robbery. PC gamers have had free multiplayer for a long time and something like this isn’t going to make people pay up anytime soon. Yes there are achievements, but me personally; I’d take full access to multiplayer over achievements any day. Ask yourself this, do you have quick pleasure with oneself or long-time pleasure with multiple people? I know which one I’d take. Not everyone has an Xbox 360 that plays today’s PC games. If you have a Gold account then add an extra 1 to the score, if not then you will probably feel like most of the other PC gaming players, pissed.

7 out of 10
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