Universe at War: Earth Assault Review

Universe at War may be the sci-fi RTS videogame equivalent of the 1995 epic Showgirls: an unintentionally funny amalgamation of average script writing and average…well almost everything else. Unlike the humor one may derive out of these pinnacle achievements of modern man (the fastest train to such destination being the obvious altered state-of-mind express), the realization of the potential knocking on either’s doors seems to be intentionally avoided like an unexpected visit from a family member while engaging in the most primal and oh-so-enjoyable of activities/recreation/entertainment/sex. Before we continue, let me apologize for misleading you; no, Universe at War does not include nekkid boobies.

The game opens with a great looking cutscene of the various factions fighting each other and writes a check to the user with “epic” written in the MEMO section on a generic olive green background, the one associated with all new accounts. It seems a little shady but the signature’s familiar (the game is made by Petroglyph which is made up of former Westwood employees). Continue to the strikingly bland Title Screen and Main Menu and the likelihood the check will bounce is increased by just a tad.

The next destination on this adventure on the console RTS gravel road, a road traveled by so few it’s not even paved, is the tutorial section. Since every new game in this genre attempts to reinvent (create?) the wheel when it comes to control schemes, the tutorial is a boring but necessary step even the most experienced Command and Conquer 3 and/or Battle for Middle Earth veteran should play, especially since this is without a doubt the best controls for a traditional RTS on this or any console. To select an individual unit or structure, press the “A” button, or hold it to select multiple units. To select all units on the screen, press the “X” button. To select all units on the board, double tap “X.” Having difficulties selecting an individual unit in a group? Press and hold the “Right Bumper” and a list of all available units will appear. With one or more units selected, the “L” trigger brings up all available special abilities. With nothing selected it brings up a general use menu containing unit-building shortcuts, the ability to sell structures, and a gee-whiz but ultimately useless cinematic mode that adds black bars to the bottom and top of the screen and dynamically moves the camera. Perhaps one of the most useful additions is the ability to quickly navigate the minimap by holding the “Right Trigger,” which then magnifies the map, using the left analog stick moves to the location and the right analog stick orders a unit to move to a specific location without moving the screen. The entire control scheme isn’t perfect as it’s still not as easy as the ol’ mouse and keyboard, but keep in mind this is a port of a PC game.

Unfortunately, the rest of the game is mostly uninspiring and surprisingly buggy. Although the factions are unique and well-balanced, they lack the certain artistic flair and may come off as excusable knockoffs of elves or “those things from War of the Worlds.” The music changes depending on the faction and with the campaign progression the level of quality goes from average to terrible to above average, not exactly favorable when trudging through a boring campaign for 10-15 hours. The bugs aren’t always evident, but they seem to have a tendency to surface at the worst possible moments, especially the one where the game randomly crashes. Solution? Save often. Bad A.I. also plagues the entire game, making it feel a bit like ordering around the denizens of Spengo from Mom and Dad Save the World. Thankfully there isn’t a “Pick Me Up” grenade in Universe at War, otherwise entire squads would be eliminated in a matter of seconds.

The very worst element of Universe at War isn’t its bland character design, hit-or-miss music or even its laughable script. No, the worst element is that it takes itself too seriously, and because of it, it’s not very fun to play. There are elements here which at times exhibit an excellent sense of satirical humor, for example the saucer units use “foo fighters” to attack and repair and one flying unit uses “Death Bloom”, the superweapon from The Last Starfighter, to destroy enemies; but for every one of those there are two groan inducing bits of dialog, one such exchange between an A.I. hero character and a human hero character appears as follows:

A.I.: I wish you favorable statistics.

Human: You mean luck?

A.I.: You organics are so simple sometimes.

Me:  Ugh.

If the game took a quick breather and realized that it’s about robots, world-conquering aliens, and ancient elfish-looking mystics under the sea, then we might be left with a better game; maybe, maybe not, but it worked for Earth Defense Force.


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Author: Kyle Stallock View all posts by

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