Universe at War Xbox 360 Review - 23/04/2008

Real-Time Strategy being played out on a console has always had its problems as it never seems to give you quite the same control as its PC brothers and sisters can. But I'm happy to say that Universe at War has changed that totally, everything feels simple and natural to do.

As things go it is very much a typical RTS, nothing fancy or overly original in there, but that's not all that bad, really. The plot is possibly the most unoriginal thing about this game; it centres on the destruction of Earth by an aggressive alien force, known only as the Hierarchy. These aliens start to strip-mine the planet of all its resources from the moment that they arrive. But there is a slight twist in the proceedings; another alien force, Novus, who have been battling the Hierarchy for eons, arrives on Earth to try and destroy the invading forces. The surviving humans have no idea how to deal with what they see as two enemies and are forced to flee from the cities of the world and take refuge in caves and mountains to plot the resistance. This is when another new threat arises in that an ancient race that gave the Hierarchy the technology that they are using to rule the galaxy and crush any that opposes them. This new race is the Masari, who seem to be the race of Atlantis myth and have no particular allegiance to any who currently reside on Earth.

Universe at War is supremely clever in how it actually plays out; the elements of the game add up into the overall and amazingly impressive package. The game has no real dynamic change to the stats quo for the genre but takes some of the best elements from Petroglyph's previous space age game, based in the Star Wars universe, Empire at War. These elements are reflected in the customisation of the gameplay, each of the three factions feels different and each of the battlegrounds require you to adapt your style of play to suit.

Each faction looks and plays very differently.

Take the destruction loving Hierarchy; their play style revolves solely around just that, there is very little R&D for them, all their resources are ploughed into the race's mammoth war machine. This is so much the fact that they don't build bases with different building offering different building options, they just build massive platforms of death that lumber around the map dealing death to any that come near it. Whereas the more elegant Novus aim to protect more than destroy, preferring defensive positions over the Hierarchy's eliminate-everything agenda. This is mainly down to Novus' unique transport system that allows their units to move from A to B in no time, permitting them to change from the offensive to the defensive much quicker than any other race. But of course they have the most overload of "special abilities" that require a charge-up before use. The final race the Masari are the complete opposite of Novus in that they can change between offensive and defensive with almost zero micromanaging. The Masari are pretty much the game's uber-race, which makes them almost unstoppable.

The interesting thing is that in Universe at War, almost all the factions that you can play as handle resource gathering in a completely different way. The Novus and Hierarchy collect in similar fashions, by sending out small drone-like ships to harvest any buildings or material that can be found on the map. The Masari on the other hand have infinite amounts of resource, meaning that they simply do not need to collect, they seemingly just create any resource they need out of thin air, thus allowing for buildings to be built anywhere on the map.

There's certainly good variety on offer.

The online multiplayer of Universe at War does work well, but only when you can access a game. I lost count how many games it started to load and after waiting five minutes or so have it totally collapse and kick me back to the game selection menu. This is the one major problem that I kept hitting into when I was playing, which is a shame as online has so much potential that it could rival PC greats, such as Supreme Commander. But as I said when the games do log on they work brilliantly well, with little or no lag; the running is as smooth as can be.

Most of the games played online are very good, with the odd problem or two being a sudden slowdown or just a quick movement jump, which admittedly is annoying but nothing too disastrous. The small percentage of games that I couldn't play mainly had the same problem being that either I got the "Unable to join" message or on the odd occasion I would be in mid-game and about to annihilate the opposition's base when their base would go up like a nuke, without me instructing my unit to do a thing, to be told by the game that "You are Victorious". Now I'm not sure whether or not that was the players running off before losing or just a disconnection, that said however there were plenty of times that I was about to be on the receiving end of just such a painful defeat when all of their units would just explode and again I would be told that I was victorious.

It's a shame the story's far from original.

Overall, Universe at War is an excellent addition to the RTS genre, but its flaws do hinder it in being anything like a must have. This one is pretty much aimed for the Sci-Fi lovers out there, but there is plenty for newcomers or casual gamers to get their fun out of the game.


An attempt at something unique in a very samey genre


Each faction does feel unique


Control system is very easy to use

The online can be very poor

Once you get the Masari, you can beat just about anything


Final Score:
A great RTS for the Xbox 360, though not without flaws.

- Alec Hilton



Petroglyph Games
Xbox 360 - PC