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Since the dawn of real-time strategy civilizations, computers have had a tremendous edge over consoles when it comes to empire building.

However, that began to change as developers learned how to take advantage of the power available in the new generation of consoles and to streamline the cumbersome control schemes used in most strategy games.

Now, “Universe at War: Earth Assault” aims to take the competition head-to-head. The game developed by Petroglyph for Sega was released on PC last year and just came out for the Xbox 360. And it’s one of the few games where PC and console gamers can face each other.

“Universe at War” features three alien civilizations who wage war against each other and use Earth as their battleground. Each of the factions has different methods of gathering and managing resources and waging war, which means that tactics change dramatically depending on which factions you join.

The ravenous Hierarchy aims to strip Earth of its resources and fights using immense “walkers” that can be customized on the fly. The Novus are a race of machines who use high-tech wizardry and weight of numbers in their quest to stop the Hierarchy. The mysterious Masari, who have lived for eons undetected in Earth’s oceans, can control matter and energy.

The control scheme is pretty similar to those used in other strategy games that have appeared on the Xbox 360, though streamlined and tweaked a bit. A joystick takes the place of the PC’s mouse for selecting units and scanning the surroundings. The other joystick and various buttons and triggers permit you to open different menus and cycle through specific options.

Overall, they work quite well. However, even if you’ve played the PC version, you should play through at least part of the campaign and a few single-player scenarios before heading online. Remember, you’ll probably face PC fans who’ve mastered all the hot keys, which gives them a definite edge.

Online play generally flows pretty well aside from a few stutters now and then.

The graphics are very good — a definite plus if you were playing the PC version on a machine with an older graphics card.

If you’re a hard-core PC fan, you’ll probably have some gripes about the control setup. But if you’re new to the franchise or looking for a solid port from PC to console, you’ll be very pleased. The Xbox 360 version delivers all of the fun and intensity of the original.

Platform: Xbox 360On the Web: www.sega.com/gamesite/universeatwar/

‘Opoona’

Science fiction hasn’t been this cute since those fuzzy little Ewoks smacked around Darth Vader’s stormtroopers.

Koei’s “Opoona” is a role-playing game featuring cute little aliens — sort of like a mix of “Final Fantasy” and “Lego Star Wars.”

The story revolves around Opoona, the son of a warrior from the planet of Tizia. His family crash-lands on the planet of Landroll, where Opoona must make friends with the human natives and battle the Dark Rogues who populate the countryside outside the humans’ protective domes. As the story unfolds, Opoona gains experience and strength, acquires new items that boost his abilities and lands new jobs that allow him to explore new areas of Landroll.

Opoona’s primary weapon is a “bonbon,” an orb that hovers over his head. Whenever he encounters an enemy, Opoona can energize his bonbon and hurl it toward his foe. If he’s facing numerous Rogues, he must also beat the clock because he only has about two minutes before his energy timer expires. If he loses the battle or time runs out, he’s returned to the last place you saved.

Promotion to a new level requires completing a series of missions. That’s where Landroll’s bureaucracy sneaks in to steal some of the fun. You spend a lot of time running back and forth and up and down in the domes’ corridors and elevators collecting new assignments, completing old ones and obtaining licenses. Since the paths from one location to another can be a bit confusing, this gets irritating. It also adds to the feeling that the game moves a bit slowly when inside the domes — even though there’s plenty to explore and do.

All actions can be controlled through the nun- chuck’s joystick and two buttons, but it’s often better to use the Wii remote and nunchuck together.

The game is obviously designed for kids, with its E10+ rating, simple control scheme and simple graphics. However, it didn’t grab my 13-year-old twins. They decided to go to bed a bit early instead of watching me play.

Platform: WiiOn the Web: www.koei.com/opoona/

— Brian Bowers

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