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In “Universe at War: Earth Assault,” a three-way struggle for interstellar domination envelops Earth.

There’s not much the lowly Earthlings can do when the Hierarchy shows up with titanic walking machines and hordes of servile minions. Luckily, the race of self-aware machines known as the Novus steps in to try to save the day. Then, to complicate matters, the fighting stirs the Masari, a powerful race of beings who had been hiding on Earth for eons.

“Universe at War” is a real-time strategy game developed by Petroglyph for Sega for the PC. It allows gamers to take the role of each of the alien races in a separate campaign, or set up skirmishes online or off.

Each faction has its own specialized units, technology and tactics. These differences can be very stark. For example, the Hierarchy — definitely the bad guys here — uses an immense walker, which is unlike anything fielded by the other two factions. Each walker offers several spots for special attachments, which can turn it into a mobile base that generates new units or an incredibly lethal assault weapon. What makes them especially tricky to deal with is the fact these attributes can be switched on the fly. However, the Novus offers some of its own customization. As they are computer-based beings, they can download upgrades to deal with new threats. In addition, the Masari are capable of wielding light and dark energy, which allows them to switch between defensive and offensive modes. The unpredictability resulting from this ability to make on-the-go changes is what helps set “Universe at War” apart from other strategy games.

The interface is easy to pick up, especially if you have any experience with strategy games. It’s never cluttered or cumbersome, but there’s always enough information and options on the screen to keep things flowing smoothly.

The game play is generally fast-paced and fun — and a bit chaotic when a walker descends on your base. The going can be a little slow for the Masari at the beginning, but they’re hard to beat once they get rolling.

The graphics are good, with plenty of detail and variety among the three races.

This has been an excellent year for strategy games with a sequel for “Command and Conquer” and “World in Conflict,” but “Universe at War” holds its own against the competition.

Platforms: PC, with an Xbox 360 version due early next year.On the Web:www.sega.com/gamesite/universeatwar/


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