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niverse at War has more in common with StarCraft than with Petroglyph’s previous effort, Star Wars: Empire at War. This micro-management heavy real-time strategy title pits three factions of aliens against each other in a war over a devastated Earth, and succeeds far more often than it fails. A few UI blunders are all that hold this back from being a classic.

At first glance, this title has everything a triple-A RTS needs. The factions play very differently, a huge mix of units makes for extremely varied strategic options, and the carnage is fast and furious. Whether you’re commanding the Novus’ legions of highly mobile robots, the Hierarchy’s towering walkers, or the Masari’s tree-hugging idealists, building up your forces and conquering the world is a blast. Each side has enough units with their own sets of powers and disadvantages to ensure that players can get quite creative in devising methods of domination. Zerging with air units still feels cheap, but that’s nothing new to the RTS genre.

Like Blizzard’s RTSs or Command & Conquer, Universe at War requires a hands-on approach to command. Adept focus-firing, forcing enemies into bad unit matchups, resource harassment, and the like will carry the day more often than out-gathering your opponent – especially given the particularly binding population cap.

Unfortunately, the interface trips up grand plans of conquest with annoying regularity. Unit pathfinding fails occasionally, requiring players to waste time manually disentangling groups of units. The keybindings are terrible; you’re forced to mouse everything since it’s nearly impossible to fire special abilities via keyboard input (try quickly hitting ctrl-H in the thick of battle, I dare you). The inability to queue orders is maddening for RTS vets, and walker hardpoints are incredibly difficult to reliably click when the icons are rotating and occluding each other with the walker’s movement.

Despite these issues, playing through the single-player story-driven campaign or fighting a real-time global campaign is fun. Multiplayer is somewhat bare-bones, but the matches themselves are entertaining enough. It’s also worth noting that some bugs forced us into mission restarts, but the Universe at War experience is definitely recommended for bored strategy gamers.


Petroglyph must be sick of playing RTS games with human factions, because its first order of business was to smoke us off the face of the Earth in favor of three alien races. Each of the factions is a blast to control—the Novus overwhelm with sheer numbers and an innovative troop-moving network, the Hierarchy dominates with brute force, and the Masari harness ancient powers for offensive and defensive bonuses. UAW also offers deep customization for sculpting your army. The user interface is very clean, but mastering the nuances of micromanagement takes time; I longed for a troop summary view where I could see which units needed further customization. But none of these minor issues stopped me from having a good time.
Fight over the remnants of Earth as one of three unique alien factions
One of the better-looking real-time strategy games around. Unit detail and the lighting model are particularly impressive
Laser beam zaps and constant explosions form a fitting background
Some boneheaded elements of the UI hold this back from greatness
There are many worse ways to tide yourself over until StarCraft II
Moderately High
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