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Empire Earth

Score: 85%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Sierra
Developer: Stainless Steel Studios
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 16
Genre: Real-Time Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

To be honest, the graphics in Empire Earth aren't all that great. The game is 3D, which is nice, but the units are fairly undetailed, with weak texturing and not many polys. And many of the incidentals on the map--trees, for example--are actually sprites. However, this lack of graphical punch undoubtedly helps one of the main things about any RTS--a large number of units on the screen don't bog the game down, which is a serious plus. And what the units lose in detail they make up for in sheer variety. I wouldn't bother counting the number of different land, sea and air units there are in this game, because it's simply not worth it. Fourteen epochs gives a lot of room for different kinds of construction, and you'll see all sorts of things traipsing around the maps. The buildings also change as the epochs progress.

The game's sound is strictly middle-of-the-road. The music is nice, the properly epic stuff that you'd expect for the genre; the sound effects are strictly standard, with rock-on-steel and chop-chop-chop and everything else that you'd expect from this sort of game. The unit acknowledgements range from passable to very blah, but they work well enough. It's not a game that sounds spectacular, but it's not godawful either.


Gameplay:

What Empire Earth may lack in presentation, however, it makes up for in gameplay. For sheer scale, it's completely untouched in the RTS genre, and while it may seem like a direct riff on Age of Empires II, it's different enough and complex enough to win converts from that camp.

The game spans what amounts to all of human history, albeit with gaps here and there; you'll find yourself starting off in prehistory, progressing through the Stone Age, Bronze Age and the like, coming up through ancient Greece, and eventually finding your way to the 20th century and beyond. This gigantic time span, from prehistory to the Nano Age, is divided into Epochs. Like in Age of Empires II, you progress from Epoch to Epoch by spending certain amounts of resources. New Epochs bring new units, which are often completely devastating when used against civilizations behind the development curve.

In fact, many of the concepts in the game may seem directly taken from the Age of Empires line. Many of the resources--food, wood, and the like--are directly from it, as are the methods of retrieving those resources. This causes an amusing incongruity as you get further into the game; it's funny farming a fish shoal in the Nano Age. Nonetheless, weird 'time' issues aside, the core mechanics of the 'economy' are so tried and true that it's no surprise that Empire Earth feels like it got it right.

The game also sports different civilizations to choose. The difference between the civilizations is more like the differences in Civilization or the SimTex games than those in Age of Empires--each civilization has a number of strengths, and you can even create your own custom civilizations with their own particular strengths. These can be civ-spanning, such as quicker peasants and the like, or they can be geared towards a specific age--stronger tanks, faster cavalry, what have you.

What's more interesting is the way that the units themselves work. In a given age, units have a sort of 'rock-paper-scissors' relation. Unit X may be strong against Unit Y, but it's weak against Unit Z. Sometimes the choices of these are sensible, sometimes they're fairly arbitrary, but whether they make logical sense to you or not they're key to becoming really good at the game. Using your units against those which they fight well and keeping them away from the ones that damage them is an important part of any strategy.

There's much more here, of course. The game sports a number of different campaigns, each taking you through a particular period of time. They're fairly heavily scripted, and often quite challenging. It also sports a training campaign which is meant to get you used to the game's controls; veterans of the Age of Empires games probably won't need it. During the campaigns, you can gain civilization points, which you can spend on more abilities for your people. It's a nice touch, and it makes it feel like you're really accomplishing something when you gain those points.

Where the game really shines is the random and multiplayer options. You can make maps ranging from tiny to absolutely enormous, set their features, set the number of civilizations on it and the distribution of the resources of the like. Perhaps most importantly, you can choose how many epochs you want to play through. There's pretty much no way you can play through the entire span of Empire Earth in a single setting, unless you can go without sleep for a few days; thankfully, the game doesn't force you to do that. It even has 'tournament' settings, which basically make the game more dynamic, with quicker jumps in epochs and weaker structures.


Difficulty:

The AI in Empire Earth is challenging, especially for newcomers to the genre. It's surprisingly intelligent, doing the sorts of things that you should be doing. Nevertheless, it's certainly defeatable, and the game's balanced well enough that any good RTSer should be able to find their way through the campaigns. Of course, if you set yourself up against eight opponents in a skirmish, don't say I didn't warn you. It's nice to play a game against an AI that actually puts up a fight.

Game Mechanics:

As expected, Empire Earth is both mouse and keyboard-driven, with the keyboard being used mostly for shortcuts. Anyone who has played the Age of Empires series will find themselves right at home, and other RTSers will pick it up quickly enough. The fire-beats-water-beats-fire nature of the units feels a bit artificial at times, but it's definitely one way to keep people from simply throwing all of one unit type at the enemy; you have to constantly change your tactics depending on what your opponent does, and make sure to test them with tactics of your own. The game does have a number of bugs--I had structures eating my own units once--but many of them are resolved with a patch that came out on the first day of the game's release. The load times are short, especially on a reasonable system.

It may not be the most original of concepts--Empire Earth really amounts to Age of Empires over a much greater time period--but the execution of this game is solid enough to warrant a look for any fan of the genre. With more units and time covered than just about anything out there, Empire Earth is sure to appeal to anyone who's growing tired of their other RTS games and is looking for something both familiar and new. Those who enjoyed the Age series should definitely snap it up, as should people who are looking for a solid RTS to pass the time; those looking to get into the genre could hardly go wrong by starting with Empire Earth. Just because it's not revolutionary doesn't mean it's not good.


-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:



Win98/Me/2K/XP, P2 350, 64MB RAM, 450MB HD space, 3D video card with 8MB VRAM, CD-ROM, mouse
 

Test System:



Athlon 1.1GHz running Win98 SE, 512MB RAM, GeForce 2 GTS w/ 32MB RAM, SoundBlaster Live!, 8x DVD-ROM

Windows Emperor: Battle for Dune Windows Empire of the Ants

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated