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Micromanagement is the keystone of the entire game. All fuels must be maintained, from Iridium for the cloaking systems to Radine crystals for the nuclear reactor. All personnel on a ship, sometimes as many as 160, need to be manually sent off duty, or brought on duty. While they will feed themselves, it is necessary to assure there is a sufficient supply of Nutripaks. All tactical assaults with marines need to be planned with waypoints, each with specific orders. Add to this a shuttle’s drop path to the landing zone and any air support from fighter craft and each land-based engagement becomes an enormous ordeal. In addition to all of this, the clock within UCAWA progresses in real time. This means that if your ship takes massive damage during a battle and the game indicates four hours till repairs are complete – assuming the player has the necessary components required for repairs – then you might as well walk away from the computer and find something else to do four a few hours.
Universal Combat is one of those games that sneak up on you. I really was not impressed when I first started it. No in-game tutorial, hundreds of buttons and displays, few of which made sense, and some garbled voices jabbering at me incessantly all combined to present UCAWA in a very unflattering fashion. But, in the end, I opened up the written tutorial located in the game’s documents folder, and started my way through the hundred pages of Derek Smart’s humorously sarcastic instructions. And somewhere in that, I began to care what happened in the game, especially now that I had the knowledge necessary to affect an outcome. I found myself growing attached to my crew, down to the lowest grunt on the ship. I even cared about my marines, easily replaceable as they are, as they were my first and last line of defense when boarded. The people who make the carrier or cruiser function grow with the player, gaining more intelligence from their experiences, and begin to take initiative on many jobs. After a while, rather than having to delegate every little action, eventually the crew will begin to do things themselves, without having to be told. This is very like working for someone for so long that it becomes possible to anticipate what he wants done.
The sense of realism within the game might seem extreme at times, but it definitely lends itself well to the suspension of belief. Plotting a course to a nearby moon is not a simple five minute trip. If a player were to fly directly toward his destination at maximum thrust it would realistically take several days – in real-time – to achieve his goal. Utilizing the HyperDrive engine shortens this duration to a few minutes, but there is an incredible sense of distance whenever traveling. The same goes for movement on planets. I never once reached a boundary within this game. No arbitrary barriers, no invisible walls denoting the limits of the area. Interestingly, I think I was most impressed with the sense of scale within UCAWA. If the player were to exit his ship (and he can) and stand on top of it, he would appear to be a speck of dust against the surface when the camera is zoomed out. That same enormous ship looks like a matchbox car when set against one of the starbases. And that same starbase is comparable to a mustard seed when set against the backdrop of a planet.
Universal Combat: A World Apart Screenshot caters to a very categorical type of gamer. It requires more work to master than any other game I have experienced, and it does not sugar-coat anything. If a gamer were to approach UCAWA with the same install-and-play method that works with most any other game, he will fail and he will get a false impression of what Universal Combat is. Given the colossal effort to learn, and the open-mindedness to approach it without presumption, UCAWA succeeds at most of what it sets out to. It is an excellent game that targets a very specific audience.
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