by Patrick Steinmann
previewed on PC
Living up to the legacy?
Universe at War: Earth Assault is the second game to come from Las Vegas-based Petroglyph but has a rather famous line of ancestors. You see, back in 1992, a small company called Westwood Studios released Dune II, and with it invented RTS games and moving units via mouse click. Three years later, Westwood launched one of the most famous franchises in gaming history: Command & Conquer. It brought the RTS genre to the masses, was a runaway success and spawned three separate lines of games. Westwood’s success sparked the interest of Electronic Arts who bought the company 1998.
A fair share of the old Westwood employees decided to start up their own studio and Petroglyph was born. Their first game, Star Wars: Empire at War, brought few innovations. With Universe at War: Earth Assault, Petroglyph are hoping to establish themselves in the same massive style that Command & Conquer did. Will the game live up to its genes?
There is a lot of hard evidence out there that suggest that it will. Petroglyph is trying to change (or at least heavily improve) all three pillars of the RTS genre: factions, tech trees and the gameplay itself. We will take a look at all three, but before anything else, let’s take a look at the setting of this near-future RTS title.
You might have guessed from the title that this game is set on the Earth -in 2012, to be exact- yet interestingly, you won’t be able to play as the Human faction. Humans will be bystanders as war ravages their planet, although Petroglyph has hinted humans may come into play as AI allies/enemies. You will play as one of three alien factions. The Hierarchy are paying a visit to Earth, hoping to subdue any opposition and then strip-mine the planet for badly-needed resources. The Novus, as survivors of another Hierarchy war, are here to fight their nemesis, whilst the Masari emerge when they are roused from their hibernation by the ruckus caused by the other two factions.
One of Petroglyph’s main goals is to make battles longer and more interesting. By precisely balancing units, they want to make sure you can’t get overrun without a fighting chance. To win a battle, you won’t be able to just mass-build one type of unit and then swarm your enemy. Instead you must balance your resources to accommodate for all kinds of units. How exactly this will be achieved is yet undisclosed but we can speculate that limiting the numbers of one unit type is a possibility. The result of Petroglyph’s efforts should lead to battles that go beyond the ‘one side attacks, the other gets overrun, game over’ gameplay that we so often find in strategy titles. Players will find themselves attacking and parrying for a long time before one side succumbs.