You can consider me a cynic, but I don’t think I bend the truth too much when I say that the announcement of Starcraft 2 represented an extremely hard blow for real-time strategy developers. Titles which previously could be considered interesting (or even spiritual successors to Starcraft) suddenly became only appetizers until the release of one of the most expected follow-ups in history. So the only option for the competition was (and still is) to release their game as fast as they can before being “swept over” by the madness of the birthing of the new Blizzard Entertainment wonder kid.
After impressing us in 2006 with Star Wars: Empire at War and Forces of Corruption, probably the only quality real-time strategy games placed in the Star Wars universe, Petroglyph Studios focused on an internal IP, the main attraction point of this new title being the possibility to personalize the units “on-the-fly”, depending on the situation on the battlefield.
Although it takes place in the near future, the Universe at War story is a bit different than the usual standard fare. Yes, Earth is invaded yet again by a hostile alien race, called the Hierarchy – the galactic equivalent of a locust swarm – and of course humanity is almost obliterated, even though scientists warned the world’s governments before the imminent disaster. But this time around we don’t need to lead the human race to victory, because a short while after the Hierarchy’s initial attack, the Novus forces appear, androids which have the sole purpose of fighting a guearilla war against the Hierarchy, to revenge the annihilation of their creators. As if this wasn’t enough, the permanent battles on the Earth’s surface alert the last survivors of an ancient and extremely powerful race, the Masari, which refugeed on Earth after they were defeated by the Hierarchy. And they realize that the only solution to end this conflict is to eradicate everyone.
Fortunately for Petroglyph, few real-time strategy games can boast completely different factions in terms of look and game-play, and Universe at War is one of them, because each belligerent force will need different tactics and strategies to win. Having the experience of thousands of conquered and devastated planets, the Hierarchy prefers frontal attacks, as the term subtlety isn’t featured in their vocabulary. The first interesting aspect regarding the Hierarchy is that besides the initial landing point, its bases are mobile, taking the form of colossal walkers, which will certainly remind you of Steven Spielber’s War of the Worlds. Barring the three main types of walkers (Assembly, Habitat and Science), the Hierarchy also uses flying saucers (a little tribute to Mars Attacks!) as well as very strong infantry units and tanks, and the ability to turn civilians into mutants.
The walkers are one of the most terrifying sights on the battlefield, each type having its own upgrades and weapons which can be used (only the Science mode can use one of the two Hierarchy’s super-weapons for example). To knock down this kind of monster, the opponents will first have to destroy the armor which protects the upgrade slots (if it exists), the slots themselves and in the the end, the core reactor. And because of their size and number of upgrades which they can use, knocking down a walker is quite a challenge, especially if you play against an experienced opponent.
Another interesting aspect is that the drones which gather resources are mobile too – they don’t need to return to a refinery. Because of this, economic strangulation is quite difficult to pull off against a Hierarchy player, because you’ll need to constantly look for his drones, as they won’t be in the same area for too long.