And it turns out that UAW is just getting started, Playing as The Hierarchy is a hoot, not just because they look a bit like the even nastier cousins of Spielberg’s Martians, but because their whole structure is based on vast, customisable walkers. Tool your various walkers up with armour plating, plasma cannons, ant-aircraft arc cannons and various unit-production pods, and you can then enjoy a quiet stroll towards the enemy base while you prepare to unleash hell on their front doorstep. “Call that a tank rush?” UAW seems to be asking other RTS games. “This, my friend, is a tank rush.”
Inevitably our third faction – the Masari – isn’t quite as strong as its rivals, mainly because its mechanics aren’t so obviously brilliant, and because their offensive and defensive capabilities take longer to build up and get a handle on. All the same, I can’t think of another straight RTS game since StarCraft – including Rise of Legends or Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth 2 – that has produced such an interesting selection of playable factions. What’s more, with the possible exception of the initially weak Masari, they’re surprisingly well balanced to boot.
The result, in the single-player Scenario and Skirmish modes, is an RTS game bursting with tactical potential and strategic depth. If you love getting to grips with a wide range of units, playing with different combinations and discovering new options, attacks and counter-attacks to try, then you’ll find yourself in your element with UAW. The only thing that might get in your way is the complexity of the various systems and mechanics, and the rather mountainous learning curve you face before you master them.
You see, the main single-player campaign isn’t actually that good an introduction to the game. It’s boring, badly balanced, packed with irritating difficulty spikes and very heavily orchestrated. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – Call of Duty 4, World in Conflict and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune are all heavily orchestrated games within their genres, and all were among last year’s best games. However, Universe at War seems badly orchestrated, and stuffed with some of the most laughable, ugly-looking in-game cut-scenes I’ve seen in years. By the time you’ve reached the end of the prelude, in which a low-rent Duke Nukem leads the President to safety, you’ll be begging for the return of Command and Conquer’s cheesy full motion video. Had the budget run out by this point?
To compound things, the campaign doesn’t actually cover much of the groundwork required by the Scenario and Skirmish modes, removing the technology research tree altogether. The result is that players are left with a dilemma: do you suffer through the campaign trying to glean what information you can, or do you just go straight to the more enjoyable game modes and suffer weeks of humiliation while you learn the ropes?
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