One of the more ambitious real-time strategy games at the time of its release, the original Empire Earth offered 21 authentic civilizations, four historical-based campaigns, a scenario editor, and 14 time periods spanning 500,000 years. It also had a manual that could kill a chihuahua if it accidentally slipped out of your hands. Fast-forward six years, and we find a completely different series. Instead of significantly building on or refining the content in the first two games, developer Mad Doc Software narrows the scope so dramatically it's hard to believe this is Empire Earth.
If the series continues on its current course, the next installment might as well be called Empire Candy Land. In a radical departure from the first two games, the factions have been stripped down to three generic choices: Western, Middle East, and Far East. Even more shocking, the breadth of history, the game's true selling point and distinguishing feature, has been abbreviated to Cliffs Notes proportions. There are only five epochs in the game, from "ancient" to "future," with disparate units lumped together like entrees at buffet table. Why use biplanes, for instance, when the same epoch offers bombers?
Another interesting design decision is the removal of a traditional campaign system. In its place is a Risk-like world domination mode played from a cheap, plastic-looking model of the globe. The goal is to conquer nearby territories (referred to as provinces) from your faction's starting area. The turn-based phase basically involves creating armies, purchasing special technologies, clicking on a region to attack or negotiate with, and then clicking on a button to carry out the orders. Battles against the computer can be auto-resolved or fought in real time. Once conquered, the territory can be assigned different "roles" based on its numerical rating in four areas: military, commercial, research, and imperial. The greater the value in one area, the more valuable the territory is for building armies, providing funds, acquiring technologies, and so forth.
While the world domination mode offers some fun, the problem with Empire Earth III is that the actual real-time strategy game is boring. Little effort is spent on gathering resources, as factions simply build markets to earn gold and warehouses next to a resource spot to automatically gather stone, wood, ore, or fish (all are lumped into a basic "raw materials" category). Yet freeing up the micromanagement associated with collecting raw materials doesn't lead to more strategic depth in other areas. You can't create massive, sprawling armies; there are no tactical formations; terrain and weather have no bearing on combat; and battles essentially come down to the rock-paper-scissors format of matching certain unit strengths against certain unit weaknesses.
Solo players willing to live with some of the design limitations won't be happy with the computer opponents, either. The computer AI, even on the hardest difficulty setting, is aloof, failing to exploit weaknesses or adjust tactics. It is easy to crush them early, making it difficult to lose in either the world domination or skirmish modes. The Middle East faction has considerable trouble building units or advancing epochs, making skirmishes against them useless, which means you only have two viable alternatives: Western and Far East. Even then, computer opponents don't seem to understand the importance of defending against air strikes, so you can basically win each and every time by bombing them back to the dark ages. Other issues include naval units that sail around aimlessly, unable to find land even if it were lit on fire, and ground units exhibiting some of the worst path-finding AI yet seen in a real-time strategy game.
While path-finding problems are not unusual in the genre, units here actually have trouble moving across open fields. You end up clicking and re-clicking on groups, trying to coax them into following your orders, and each time you'll hear lines of dialogue that a fifth grader would find childish. There are snobby units, fearful units, macho units, lazy units, and everything in between. The one thing in common is the universally annoying voice acting, particularly in the case of the Middle East and Far East factions, with insulting, stereotypical accents. Expect to hear such gems as "My place or yours?" "I'm one swingin' guy," "I'm not superstitious, I'm super-duper-stitious," and "Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana." Okay, that last one is genius, but the rest are painful to listen to, and you're hearing them every few seconds.
The irreverent dialogue, cartoon-like art style, and simplified play mechanics all point to a conscious effort to create a lighthearted game aimed at younger audiences or those new to strategy games. Yet that's not what fans of previous versions are expecting from an Empire Earth title, one that supposedly "covers the entire span of human history and beyond." If you're opting for a whimsical approach, then go all out with crazy units, wild special abilities, space maps, and so forth, instead of trying to adhere to some pretense of historical context. Empire Earth III is a basic real-time strategy game with enough problems to suggest it was rushed to the table before it was fully cooked. There are dozens of games in the genre offering more satisfying content, so tactic addicts and history buffs alike should look elsewhere for their fix. Not even Greenpeace could salvage this Earth.
People who downloaded Empire Earth III have also downloaded:
Empire Earth II, Empire Earth, Age of Empires III, Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings, Age of Empires, Age of Mythology, Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos, Diablo 2
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