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Universe at War - hands-on

But what you really want to know is how the hell you’ll be able to cope without a keyboard and mouse, right? Simple: with an incredibly diminished HUD, you can easily focus on the action at hand without a bunch of pesky menus popping up in your way. Rather than having to slowly scroll across the screen for your desired units, you can easily snap to each one with the d-pad, or hold in the right trigger to scroll at impatient-PC-gamer speeds. Tapping A selects units, while double-tapping selects all units of the same type, i.e. architects, infantry, etc. From there, you just have to find a spot to deploy them, and tap A again to get them moving. And if you need to select all units onscreen, tap X, or if you’re really getting spanked, double-tap X for all units on the map.

Your production menu, which lets you quickly access special attacks and building options, is similarly easy to access by just holding down the left trigger. But probably the coolest feature we saw was the ability to simply create your own group unit; all you need to do is paint the units you want by holding A to highlight them. Then, just hit the semi-useful Back button and you’ve got an instant, quickly selectable battle group that’ll stick together until you say otherwise.

UaW will support up to four players over Live and takes a page from Halo 3’s game-enhancing Skulls by introducing unlockable “medals” that are tied to certain achievements. So, if you harvest 100 cows for example, you can get a medal for use in multiplayer that will grant you a boost in resources or abilities. To keep things fair, you’ll only be able to attach up to three medals for any match. We suspect this will lead to enough depth and strategy to keep fans busy for a long while… or at least until Halo Wars.

It surprises us how intuitive Universe at War’s simplified controls are for this demanding a game. We didn’t have a chance to play very far into the campaign, so it remains to be seen if RTS fans will really dig into a new control scheme after being breastfed on the mouse and keyboard for 20 years. Expect to see more on this port in the coming weeks.

March 4, 2008

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