Reviewed: November 26, 2002
Released: November 13, 2001
It’s interesting how different types of game rise and fall in popularity. We can all remember the fighting-game wave which included the all time great Street Fighter and, in my own egotistical opinion, the wish-it-could-be-as-great Mortal Kombat. Sports games, action games, racing games — they’ve all had their time in the sun. Well, now the sun is shining on real-time simulation games, and frankly, the glare is killing me.
Empire Earth, produced by Sierra, is the next game in line. Rick Goodman, the same evil genius that produced Age of Empires, is continuing to try and take over the world through dastardly clever and fun games to play. Are you thinking what I’m thinking, Pinky? (Well, no, if they called it Trailer Park Earth, nobody would have bought it, Brain!) Well, if you’re thinking that he took his game to the next level, you’d be right. For those of you familiar with the earlier version, you’ll recognize the basics of every RTS game; basic economics of five resources, builder units which support your economy and build your infrastructure, buildings and military units.
However, in addition the basics, this game has many extras I have yet to see elsewhere. The first thing is that this game is the most comprehensive chronological RTS I’ve seen. Hey. HEY! Okay you Civilization fans, put away your pilums and satellite armaments, at least give me a chance to back this up. If you think I’m wrong, then you can strike me down with all of your hate.
Like many games, you start off at the basic start of humanity. Heck, your starting characters grunt and drag clubs around, just like fraternity guys...uh wait, I mean Neanderthals. Then you’re off. You literally have all of the following Ages of mankind with which to wage war:
In a one-time fight, it literally took me about 7 hours of game time to get through all of the ages from start to finish against two really annoying computer opponents. Of course, I drug it out to get every technology advance in the process, but I had to do it at least once. However, it is obvious that this is not the way this game is truly meant to be played.
This game’s expanded timeline allows for a variety of RTS fans; medieval, WWII and future/sci-fi fans all have a link to this game. However, this versatility is also it’s weakness. Remember that glare I mentioned earlier? Well, it’s burning my corneas because there was literally too much in this game. There are over 200 units in the game, and it was impossible for me to learn which units really were effective in any given situation. Also, sometimes the technology advances that every RTS gamer likes to get still don’t mean as much as they should. Case in point: my wonderful nuclear tactical sub with all of the advances it could get (speed, training, etc.) died to about four 3-masted Cannon Battleships. That frankly gave me the worst case of gas I’ve gotten since I had a rank bag of sliders from Whitle Castle and washed it down with a $2 burrito from the Mexican place that advertises “Burritos as big as your head!”
Again, like all RTS games, the gameplay is good if you are willing to learn the hotkeys for the game. If you’re a dedicated point-and-click artist, good luck. But if you learn to group units well and learn their more basic and immediate commands, I guarantee your success rate will triple.
The game does a good job of highlighting individual units in a cluster, but you can easily lose units behind buildings or in terrain. I think the time-honored ghosting effect would have been well used here. If you are strong enough in the force to keep track of your units though, the game play is quick and effective.
The visuals of this game are essentially very good. The terrains are nice, and it has a nice “fog of war” that I like. Each individual unit’s motions are smooth and fairly distinct. However, while fundamentally the icons are good, I found that it was hard to distinguish some units from others, especially the early-age units. In order to effectively control my troops, I generally left the zoom out a bit so I could see a good number of units, but then I kept confusing troops. Suffice it to say that sending my archers into charge the cavalry was a colossal mistake, second only to that of declaring land war in Asia! Obviously, I meant to send in my spearmen, but I instead cleverly chose to have them cover my archer’s rear from a surprise attack by the local fauna.
Zoomed in close, the terrain gets even better, and the advanced weaponry does nifty things. I particularly like the nuke explosion fragmenting buildings, but that’s probably because I have a twisted sense of pleasure. Just ask my wife. Wait…better yet, don’t.
Like most RTS games, the classical compositions that are the background music for this game are quite good. There are also a good variety of click-responses and weapon noises. However, it’s not quite like hearing the 50mm Brownings going to work in “Saving Private Ryan.” Also, many of the “future” units had pretty cheesy noises. The only thing missing was little ol’ Twikki running around. Bee-dee-bee-dee-beep.
You can pick up Empire Earth for around $29 and it is certainly worth the money. While I think some players may tire of it early, those that don’t put it aside quickly will spend a minimum of 60 hours on the game. With the online component that supports up to 16 warmongers plus the ability to create your own civilization the game is limited only by your imagination and your patience.
To wrap it up, this is an awesome RTS. My biggest beef is that there is too much beef. In striving for completeness, they’ve made me feel overwhelmed by all of the ages, technologies and units in the game, and I simply don’t feel like continually playing 5+ hour skirmishes each time I fire up the game. That point made, I still enjoyed this game immensely, and I’ll probably keep it installed and revisit from time to time it for quite a while.