*Warning: May contain TONS of references to Command and Conquer*
Command and Conquer is a game series that needs no introduction. Back in 1995, Westwood Studios didn't create the RTS, but they sure revolutionized it. Nowadays. Command and Conquer may have fallen on hard times on the reigns of EA (I think we can all agree C&C 4 was a turd), but many of the ex-Westwood guys formed "Petroglyph Games," and made a name for themselves with their "holy shit this is good" debut: Star Wars: Empire at War. Now, they're back with Universe at War: Earth Assault, a game with more similarities to their Command and Conquer roots than to Darth Vader and the Death Star.
Universe at War: Earth Assault is a game that flew under the radar for many people. After all, strategy games on consoles (with the exception of Halo Wars and a few Command and Conquers) aren't really that spectacular. However, Petroglyph Games aims to make another solid RTS on the console, offering up three very distinct factions, a deep online mode, and even cross-platform game-play, so PC users can hysterically dominate anyone foolish enough to play an RTS with a controller.
I kid, I kid. But seriously:
The plot is that, well, the Universe is at war. And Earth is being assaulted. Specifically by three races: The Novus (robots who want to protect the remaining human population), the Masari, and the Heirarchy (who want to essentially wipe out the human race). After a brief few missions (and the ONLY missions I might add) playing as the last remaining human military squads, you jump right into the first campaign. You beat one campaign, you unlock the next, and so on. I'm not that far into the campaigns, so I can't comment on the plot in great detail.
The gameplay itself is interesting, because each faction plays entirely different. The Novus, for example, can build "flow conduits" that allow rapid transit between each conduit, and are invisible to the enemy. Additionally, slightly overpowered "hero" units can be called into battle, which can be anywhere from bigass robots, to alien super soldiers. It's a fun balance, and none of the three factions really feel "overpowered" in comparison to the others.
But much like any good RTS, it's all about building up your base, collecting resources (which translates to all the crap left behind, like trees and old buildings), commanding large armies, and conquering your opponents. At the core, UaW plays just like your average RTS. And there's nothing wrong with that.
The production values are solid as well. The music is extremely well done, and if you've ever played Command and Conquer before (yep, it's the same guy), you'll hear some striking similarities. The graphics themselves look nice, and even on an underpowered laptop, the game runs smooth with only a few of the details turned down. The 360 version is less fortunate, and suffers a few framerate hits when the action is going on. Still, these are relatively minor, at least from what I've experienced.
The control, if you are playing on PC, is spectacular. As I mentioned, it's not THAT different from your average RTS, and if you played, off the top of my head, Command and Conquer Generals, it plays a lot like that. The difference is you get a "tech tree" which lets you upgrade three specific branches for extra abilities and firepower. 360 "claims" to have one of the best RTS control schemes on the platform, but it's still kind of clunky and awkward... though I could be biased, as I'm more used to the C&C 3 control scheme. Either way, RTS's were created on PC, and it feels far more natural on that platform.
Online play is interesting as well. You can choose your standard Ranked or Player matches, as well as a "conquer the world" mode, which lets you battle it out as your favorite of the factions in different locations on the globe, in an attempt to commander the entire planet. Also, there's a medal system here that ties to your achievements, that can give you bonuses in combat as well. Sadly, it seems that nobody plays this game online anymore.
In terms of version differences, PC and 360 are moreorless the same game. The only real non-performance difference I saw was that on some of the skirmish maps, PC gives you more player slots (ex. An 8 person map can have up to 7 bots), while 360 restricts you (ex. 8 person map = 3 bots) to a sense.
Achievement wise, Universe at War is NOT an easy game. It's approximately a 50/50 split between online and single player/skirmish stuff, but some of it is still a challenge. Winning 5 matches IN A ROW with each faction, beating each campaign on HARD, defeating 3 HARD opponents AT ONCE, and abducting... er, cows. Moo. It's not that tough if you have a good boosting buddy (or, if you have a copy of both a 360 and PC version), but it's a solid, if not slightly tough, list. Only two cross platform achievements rear their ugly heads, and they are surprisingly easy to obtain.
It's no Command and Conquer, but Universe at War is still a fantastic RTS from an established developer. If you have a PC, I HIGHLY recommend it, if you want to see what the Westwood guys are doing now. If you get the 360 version, you may see some unwelcome framerate dips and wonky controls, and I'd recommend Kane's Wrath, Red Alert 3, or Halo Wars over this, but you'll still get a solid experience nonetheless.
360 - 3.5/5
PC - 4/5