If you have seen this game already, and can see similarities to some of the C&C series you used to play in the mid to late nineties, don't be too surprised. As it turns out, some of the old Westwood Studios crew got sick of being shoved round the countryside by their Electronic Arts masters and went their own way when EA tried to merge the Pacific Studio with Los Angeles. Even the few that initially accepted the relocation came back into the fold to join the newly created Petroglyph Games.
This is their second RTS game release in as many years. Petroglyph are also responsible for Star Wars: Empire at War, which was released in February 2006. Clearly they've made use of their game engine once again, with the release of Universe at War - Earth Assault. Perhaps this could be construed as a cash cow, but with all new content and media, the new title is by no means a simple reiteration of their previous star wars title. There's been plenty of work go into this, that is for sure.
A couple of minor technical issues plagued my initial experience of this title. The game installed with no issues, however once it had completed, I had trouble finding a start menu or desktop top icon with which to launch my new found friend. I had trouble, because there wasn't any such icon. So I was forced to plunge into the murky depths of my inordinately slovenly hard drive to find the executable. I tested this on both Windows Vista and Windows XP with the same results, so a bit of a "woops" there, but nothing too serious.
Aside from the start menu balls up, the game ran fairly well, though I discovered that at times during a level, the general game speed and frames per second would drop dramatically (average 7fps by my count) and wouldn't recover until I restarted my OS and tried again. I once experienced some graphics corruption and the game dropped me to the desktop, but this could have been attributed to the fact that my video card was overclocked to Africa. Once I calmed my over excited hardware, I was ready to get stuck in.
Greeted with a compelling intro movie, I was keen to try my hand at leading my US Army forces to victory against a seemingly overwhelming alien force. Unfortunately, the oppressive alien force was... well.. overwhelming. With the exception of my hard assed, minigun toting, cigar chewing commander, my troops were quickly splattered over the battlefield by the evil Hierarchy like hot custard flung at speed onto a large terracotta paving tile. However, with the introduction of a second alien race, the Novus, sworn enemies of the Hierarchy, the tides started to turn and the game really began.
Controlling units, buildings and the battlefield in general is sublime. The controls have been well thought out. Simplicity is the key, and following the age old, and proven left click to select, right click to action method, the designers have clearly decided to run with a fan favourite. Skipping the tutorials I easily slipped straight into the seat of command and had my army following my every command (well.. almost). The interface is intuitive and uncomplicated, making it easy to learn within just a few minutes.
Moving round the battlefield is a breeze, with options of screen edge scrolling, right-click and drag, or selecting your desired location on the in-game map. The only gripe I have at this conjuncture is the underlying feeling that I should be able zoom the camera out just a little more. Which lead to a slight sense of claustrophobia. That aside I found navigation and control wieldy and agreeable.
Shortcut keys for almost any command are available for those who want to customize their game to the nth degree (sorry console users, your use of an inferior gaming system will clearly limit you in this aspect so expect to get a whopping when you play against your master race of superior PC gamers) Overall this game shows it's pedigree, and doesn't make any of the stupid annoying mistakes that are often found in games developed by newcomers to the RTS market.