May 10, 2007 - Petroglyph was on hand at SEGA's San Francisco offices today to show off a little more of their upcoming real-time strategy game, Universe at War: Earth Assault. The brief demo showed a bit of a multiplayer skirmish between the Novus and Hierarchy factions. Before the game launches this winter for PC and Q1 2008 for Xbox 360, Petroglyph will reveal the third faction. We think it's safe to say it'll somehow involve robots, because they permeate pretty much every aspect of the game.
The storyline has the Earth getting invaded by the Hierarchy in 2012 (so soon!), characterized by gigantic robotic walkers and a play style tailored to those who enjoy brute force. During the game, these constructions slowly plod around the battlefield, crushing everything underfoot. In an effort to differentiate the play mechanics of the three factions, Petroglyph made the walkers function as a sort of mobile base. The units are covered in numerous hard points which can be clicked and upgraded with weapons, armor, and sensing devices. In addition to their armaments and crushing power, walkers can instantaneously produce groups of units to scout ahead and protect their flanks. Of course these sorts of modifications require resources, and the method of collection seems interesting. By producing smaller walkers, called reavers, players using the Hierarchy are given the ability to search the maps and suck up houses, skyscrapers, farm animals, and other environmental structures.
To repel the creeping walker menace the Novus can build stationary artillery like reflector turrets, which periodically bounce back incoming fire at the shooter. This robotic race's focus is on speed and base expansion. Between structures is slung something called a network, represented onscreen as spindly glowing lines, allowing for rapid transfer of units, presumably making Novus bases more dynamic. Like the other two factions, the Novus have access to a tactical dynamics menu that allows players to make quick changes to their faction's play style. Unit speed can be accelerated, immunity to radiation granted, and various other abilities to give players more of a chance to rebound when faced with an opponent executing a superior strategy.
For multiplayer modes, the game will feature standard skirmishes as well as a conquer the world mode. In the latter, players see a three-dimensional globe split into sections. The goal, as you might expect, is to capture the various sections and eventually conquer Earth, should you have enough time to play that long. Once you've conquered a section, you can even build weaponry on it to assault other sections from the world map, which features a real-time day and night cycle that affects gameplay.
Unlike Gas Powered Games' recently released RTS Supreme Commander, Petroglyph is trying for a minimalist UI in Universe at War. Instead of being ever-present on the screen, build and ability options will instead pop up after a unit or structure has been clicked. The developers also commented on the map sizes, saying they'd be larger than those featured in Empire at War: Forces of Corruption.
In terms of how the PC version of the game, currently in its pre-alpha stages, and the Xbox 360 version will compare, Petroglyph said they're working to optimize the RTS experience for the consoles. They liked a few things EA has done so far with console RTS control in Command & Conquer 3 and Battle for Middle-earth II, but were less impressed by other aspects they wouldn't specify. It seems they may be cooking up a new type of control scheme, which hopefully advances the playability of the console RTS even more. Whether they can realistically refine console controls enough to allow PC and Xbox 360 gamers to compete against each other on even terms remains to be seen. When asked whether Universe at War would support cross-platform play, Petroglyph said they weren't yet ready to talk about it. Regardless of that outcome, the game still looks to be promising, and the allure of another seasoned RTS developer taking a crack at console controls makes it even more interesting. We'll have more on this one as soon as we can.