Decent RTS games on the 360 are few and far between. Command & Conquer 3 was a fantastic game and adapted the brilliance of the PC game onto the 360 for console gamers with terrible PC specs to battle it out with the Brotherhood of Kane. However, converting PC RTS’ so they are easy to pick up and play on the Xbox 360 is pretty hard and as such, not many RTS’ released for the Xbox 360 have been that great. It would be brilliant if Universe at War was the game to finally become a great console RTS, but this is not the case. Heavily flawed and at times unplayable are two main reasons why Universe at War will not be joining the ranks of C&C. Let’s not focus on the negatives first though.
Universe at War is set on the lovely planet of Earth. Our beloved planet is being ravaged by an evil race of aliens known as the Hierachy. The Hierachy are very Covenant-esque aliens, apart from one major difference – the Hierachy has massive walkers that can trample on anything. The game begins with a band of human Marines trying to fight off the Hierachy. Then the Novus, a race of clichéd Japanime mech warriors and i, Robot style soliders, arrive to take down the walker the Hierachy have unleashed. A little late to the battle the Masari arrive, a bunch of very elf-like religious aliens.
The game hosts the varied factions, apart from humans, as playable factions throughout the campaign, online and scenarios. Each faction provides a different way of playing, which adds a lot of variety to the game with different types of soliders and vehicles to destroy your opponents with. The Novus are very futuristic, boasting hovering tanks and robot style warriors and they move around in a very unique way. When you begin playing as the Novus, it is best to set up a network of conduits so that the units can ‘flow’ around the battlefield quickly. This saves a lot of time when you need to send multiple units to different parts of the map. The Hierachy bases are mostly all moveable apart from the command base. The bases can be fitted with weapons if they are large enough, so if anyone gets in their way the opponent gets fried to a nice crisp. The Hierachy rely on brute force to win and it shows in the building structures and the units. The Masari are the least exciting faction. As mentioned, they are very elf like, relying on magic and energy to win rather than speed or force. Personally, I prefer the Novus forces, but others may disagree saying brute force or magic is the best way.
The campaign mode is very linear and scripted and it there is no freedom for you to do what you like. Enemies appear when needed and there are never any real objectives. You just need to collect so and so, escort so and so, kill so and so as well as killing as many enemies as possible. The dialogue that runs throughout the campaign is laughable and pretty pointless. The cutscenes actually made me feel the need to scratch my eyes out as well! Everything is so blocky and terrible I felt like I was playing a 1998 Playstation game with Lego people.
The other campaigns include skirmish, which is probably the best mode in the game. There are no shoddy scripts, no terrible acting, no scream-inducingly bad cutscenes. Instead you are just given a faction, a map and the ability to battle it out. Much more like an RTS than anything else in the game. The only objective is to destroy the opponent into an alien style pulp to make a delicious smoothie of victory. But unfortunately, even this is plagued with problems. The frame rate is just appalling. If there is too much action on screen, the game just gives up. Many occasions I felt like taking the disc out and using it as a Frisbee for the dogs down at the park because it was that useless. An RTS game is meant to be quick and easy to work with. This is not. The AI at times is almost laughable. The enemy units seem to attack your base for two minutes, then run away, then come back, then run away, then come back and so on. At times it’s terribly easy to defeat your enemy as they’re running back and forth like lost lambs.
One of the few good things about this game is the controls. The developers have done a very, very good job making things easier for Xbox 360 users to get to grips with the controls. Everything is placed in an easy to find place so, in the heat of battle, you can access which ever troops you need to. It’s a shame the developers spent more time on the controls and not the actual game. If the frame rate was better and the AI was increased, I’m pretty sure this would be a great game.
It is pretty useless playing online. Although the modes such as the “Conquer the World” mode are very original, the frame rate affects the online play as well as lag, making it unplayable. Conquer the World sees you looking at a globe and picking the countries to fight in. This is a very original idea for an RTS opening up new and more interesting options for online, but its a shame everything else lets it down so badly.
The graphics, as I have said, are definitely nothing to write home about, or even write anywhere about for that matter. At times I felt like I had been taken to 1998 and placed in front of my old PSOne. The graphics are incredibly muddy looking and just generally bland. The frame rate issue doesn’t make this problem any better unfortunately. The audio, however, is quite good. Sounds of explosions and gun fire ring in the air and the stomping of the walkers sound like the drums of doom. But, to be truthful, a few good sound effects isn’t going to save a game. The voice over actor is incredibly poor, but provides some entertainment with the clichéd sci-fi scripts and ‘urgent’ voices.
Universe at War could have been a good RTS, but another conversion from PC to console results in a failure. The controls are a brilliant crossover from the PC version, but there are too many issues that make this game verging on the unplayable.