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Friday | October 30, 2020
Universe At War: Earth Assault

Universe At War: Earth Assault

Universe At War was a relative success on the PC scene a while ago, bringing a reasonably fresh perspective to the rather staid Real Time Strategy genre. With the game being released for the Xbox 360 the question I am here to answer is "Well shucks, can this really work on a console?"

Most of us would already be shouting a resounding "no!", as a console interface is always compromised to compensate for the lack of a user friendly mouse and keyboard combination control system however Petroglyph games feel the real time strategy audience on the Xbox 360 is broad enough to warrant the risk of a port. After spending some time with this game I can say it ends up a bit of a mixed bag with plenty of good points being interspersed with the bad.

PC RTS gamers won’t need me to tell them how difficult it can be to manage units, resources and tactics with a gamepad, however in defense of Petroglyph they have attempted to alleviate these issues, helped in part by some rethinking of the interface mechanic.

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Many strategy games rely on heavy micro management such as Age Of Empires or Command and Conquer, however with Universe At War the focus is much more on combat rather than resource gathering (which is now virtually automatic) so the translation should be rather less painful. Well, that’s the theory anyway.

Firstly, the map interface in Universe At War has been overhauled with a quick-pan function that instantly enlarges the mini map with a simple press of the right trigger button allowing you to scroll anywhere on the map very quickly. On the flip side of the coin, they really should have spent a little more time on the camera angle and allowed the gamer to zoom out to a birds eye view.

The game also uses a rather cool wheel ring style mechanism for selecting units, building structures and special attacks, and while it takes a bit of getting used to, after a little practise it works rather well. The only downside is the sheer amount of options for units and upgrades, meaning that a certain amount of icons will need to be virtually memorised, especially if you wish to be successful during the heat of battle.

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The control method while simplified still has its fair share of problems, controlling units is extremely frustrating particularly when trying to move specific groups in close proximity. Petroglyph have tried to compensate for this by offering some fine tuning with a magnetism slider, however it is still fiddly and doesn’t resolve the problems.

On a more positive note, the units are still as stunning as they were on the PC platform, with the huge walkers taking centre stage. The Hierarchy faction is still one of the greatest ever created with a fine selection of kick ass units available. That said, while the Walkers are awesome to behold, when it comes time to fight against them it proves a monumental pain in the ass and not just because of their fire power.

Walkers are huge robotic units with multiple hardpoints scattered across their husks, these hardpoints are upgradable allowing for regeneration units, upgraded firepower and weapons, armour points, unit spawn pods (to name but a few). This all sounds peachy when they are under your control, however when you have to take out one of these hardpoints the targeting method is sadly lacking in precision. So much so, that I was literally tearing my hair out in frustration, time after time, knowing I had to take out a core reactor, but unable to get my units to target it. All I was able to do was watch it stomp over my tanks and soldiers while I screamed "You Idiots, Target the ****ing core!"

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Quite often instead of adopting a subtle tactical approach which is possible in the PC version, the only way to take down several walkers is to build a huge amount of units and initiate a head on charge. Not exactly efficient and a common strategic issue with almost every PC to console strategy port throughout history.

The list of niggles and quirks doesn’t end there, with some rather horrendous frame rate issues rearing their ugly head from time to time. This combined with some game stalls and hiccups makes for a less than stellar gaming experience. These issues actually help to ruin the game on many levels as the hitches can make the already cumbersome targeting issues ten times worse. I know when I walk away from a game for ten minutes to cool off that there are some serious problems under the hood. I had so many problems with this game that after venting to Sega they instructed me to clear my hard drive cache and adjust the tactical game speed in the games options menu. Neither made the slightest bit of difference, so it was back to kicking the cat.

Now that I have the problems out of the way (finally!), the storyline is based around Earth’s struggle with other alien races, the Masari, Hierarchy and Novus. Interestingly the human race isn’t really technically advanced enough to be a prime race in the game, so they often hide in the shadow of their protectors, the Novus (who are the good guys). The Hierarchy are the token aggressive "kick everyones ass and ask questions later" bad guys, and the Masari are the mysterious alien race whose true purpose is somewhat veiled. Yes, you guessed it, the plot isn’t going to be winning any awards…

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The online multiplayer options are: Conquer The World, Ranked and player and they are all extremely straightforward. More problems come to light when playing online with lag and synchronisation issues hampering the game play considerably. Additionally for some reason I found the few people playing online to be arrogant and sore losers, as once I started to win they would log off mysteriously. Pffft.

The game boasts "PC v 360" cross platform support, so you can imagine my surprise to see not a single PC gamer online in the Conquer The World map. After consulting with my SEGA contact it appears that this feature has yet to be added and will be fixed in an upcoming patch – Visit Developers Forum.

There is still no news of a definite date for this patch but my fingers are crossed that there will be a lot of game bug fixes also incorporated.

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Universe At War: Earth Assault is a rather poorly executed port of a very good PC game, while it might be appealing to a small group of Xbox 360 strategy gamers, for the rest of us it ends up being a solid game ruined by a plethora of bugs and glitches.

Hard to enjoy with so many issues.
Look great in still frames, but end up juddering and hitching like crazy. A lack of optimisation shows.
Music is decent, and the sound effects are spot on. Capable voice actors as well.
This game needed another month of optimisation and bug fixing, poor value for money in its current state.
(Not an Average)

Hard to recommend without a plethora of bug fixes.

About Author

Stuart Davidson

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