Review: Universe at War
Another console RTS? Whatever could go wrong?
Our own fine editor last week stated in his review of AvP: Extinction: “like most console RTS games, it just didn’t work.” The man has clearly never tried Red Alert on the PlayStation (actually Red Alert is the reason I said most and not all – Ed). Neither have I for that matter, but I have it on Resident Colin’s authority it was highly addictive. A console RTS I have tried, though is Pikmin for the GameCube and let me tell you one bite was all it took to convince me that the genre could work if enough ingenuity was put into it.
In fact, I’d say that the very ingeniousness required to fit such a keyboard-and-mouse reliant genre into the constraints of a console, creates new and exciting methods of gameplay (think of Goldeneye with the N64 controller or Pro Evolution 6 on the Wii) that expands the horizons of developers and players alike. On the practical side, it’s important that Universe at War: Earth Assault (UAWEA, pronounced “you wa?”) succeed, so as to reassure us that the incoming tide of RTS games for the 360 (not least of all Halo Wars), have a successful precursor. Besides C&C3, that is…
“I could wait here until the cows come home, but I’ve seen what these freaks do to cows.”
The comparison with the cutesy Pikmin isn’t as far off as it would seem considering UAWEA’s predecessor, the massively complicated Empire at War: Rebel Assault; both games feature a hero unit (Omilar, Mirabel – yes, Mirabel) leading a swarm of benevolent, eco-friendly creatures (Pikmin, Novus) with the ability to store themselves in small spaces (Onions, Flow Conduits), against ravenous, well-armoured arthropods (Bulborbs, Hierarchy) which can be taken down with a combination of attrition, kamikaze and poison/virus; only now you get to see the world (our’s) from the Galactus standpoint, but either way you play, you’ll find the controls as intuitive as you’d expect from Nintendo quality control. Take that, keyboard! You confusing, beige bastard!
Your ability to access any menu in a second or less is essential for the base-building, resource-gathering, tech-tree-researching genre this game inhabits. It’s not three-dimensions-of-travel or 10,000-troops-on-screen-at-once complicated, but the sheer variety and individuality of units, most with special (often context sensitive) abilities that need to be micromanaged and used at the exact key moment, leads to a sense of engagement from the player that lasts the entire length of a match, especially when engaging any enemy that can change it’s tactics on the fly or appear from nowhere via invisible pylons. There’ll be no lazy Zurg-rushing or Roflcopttering here. A good RTS should be like a game of poker: you keep your cards out of sight and hope your opponent hasn’t anticipated your hand, but you don’t risk throwing everything in at once lest you bankrupt early. I can tell you why UAWEA is exactly like poker, because I always lose.
Pimp my Walker.
Am I allowed to be overtly harsh about this one? I mean the 360 (or any console in fact) doesn’t exactly have a large catalogue of RTS games – the only genre which I regret not being a PC gamer for (I am however quite happy to stick with consoles and therefore keep my head out of my arse).
The biggest reason console gaming attracts myself is the fact that developers have a chunk of non negotiable hardware that must be used â€“ no upgrades, no add-ons (unfortunately no user-modifications â€“ yet) so all games should run smooooothly â€“ and laboriously he arrives at his point. This game doesn’t. More accurately it runs as smoothly as an OAP wading through treacle (hyperbole). In the â€œyou have a set number of units and no build facilitiesâ€ missions the speed was passable â€“ normal even, but as soon as you (and the enemies) get to build units n ting it all starts to slow down, even when you approach half of your maximum capacity for units. The very last battle in the game between all 3 factions is a particular nightmare. So this is 3 armies (each with a max unit cap of 90) duking it out. It was just painful to try and play a game so slow. I’d be giving this game 8 if it wasn’t for the slowdown.
Good points. Many units have extra powers. Varied factions. Online team co-op skirmish vs. AI = fun. Pretty at times.
If you want an RTS get Command and Conquer 3, its great. If you really want another, give this a rent. Oh and the number of online achievements in this game, make me very cross. Still, Command and Conquer 3: Kane’s Wrath expansion pack, if you take much longer to come out, and more importantly if you cost as much as a standalone game I will be much more crosser.
Secondary Score: 5/10
In this metaphor, the Aces would have to be the Walkers. In cuntspeak, they’d be the USP (unique selling point) which explains why they’re all over the box and feature predominantly in the awesome CGI trailer. Quadrupedal walking bases, they are able to launch squadrons of foo fighters and upgrade the numerous hardpoints surrounding their gigantic frame to respond to any scenario. These base-crushing beasts lumber around the battlefield at a slow yet inexorable pace, employing the greatest use of the rumble pack since Jurassic Park: The Game that Never Was. Their sense of scale (a scale which applies to every unit, since even the smallest dwarfs a human being) is diminished due to the barren and featureless environments. The BattleCam(tm) feature can be employed to give a horizontal POV, but you surrender control and the “action” invariably focuses on a unit doing bugger all.
My focusing attention of the Walkers is not to say that the rest of the units are generic, they just don’t make as much of an impact crater. Well, technically they are generic, in that they’re blatantly inspired/stealing from many science-fiction genre conventions. The Novus’ OhmRobots are the same walking Macs that were up to no good in I, Robot, while their tanks are the hovercraft from The Matrix. The Masari are the space-Egyptians from Stargate given an Aztec vibe. And almost the entire Hierarchy Covenant (sorry, Armada) are ripped from the pages of The War of the Worlds (the book, the 50s film and the Spielberg remake – yeesh!). At least they’re extending their inspiration from Aliens and Warhammer, eh Starcraft? If your story is a like someone spliced the reels of The Day the Earth Stood Still and Mars Attacks together, you’ve already surpassed the Supreme Vanilla that is Halo 3’s plot.
And so, it’s that time of the review that we tell you why a fanboy rating of 9/10 game, marred by niggles like the lack of patrol routines is only getting a SPOILERS. Unfortunately, lag is generally frowned upon here at PEOWW, (unless there’s a code to turn off the grass, amirite?) as is having 20+ ranked achievements when NOBODY is playing the fucking game online. Alright, so maybe the lag could be forgiven since it gives you more thinking time in a hectic situation, but I’m writing this review with only 100 or so gamerscore points, because half require skill (fairynuff) and the other half require you to cheat to earn them. That’s not on. Yet, when any game displays this much heart, it is incumbent on you to look past it’s foibles and take that leap of faith. Download that epic trailer and it if it gives you a semi, go for it. RTS on consoles? Yes we can! Supreme Commander? World in Conflict? EndWar? Halo Wars? Yes we can! Total War Empire? No we can’t, sorry.