As a rule, the history of humanity's time on Earth is usually summed up by the development of mankind's tools and weapons. Since games about armaments tend to fare better than games about hardware, it is little wonder that Empire Earth charts the 500,000+ history of man by advancements in military might. The title is ambitious in scope, rife with innovative ideas and, while not flawless, is a genuinely fun addition to the ever-growing lineup of RTS games.
Empire Earth follows mankind through 14 epochs, from the Prehistoric Age to the futuristic Nano Age, each made distinctive by weapon and building designs. Four single player campaigns, individual scenarios, and multiplayer skirmishes portray some of the greatest struggles throughout history such as the Trojan War and World War I. Historic personages are also introduced, including notables like Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, and even Manfred von Richthofen , otherwise known as the Red Baron.
Lead designer Rick Goodman mostly sticks to the same formula he used in his smash hit Age of Empires. It takes a strong home front economy and an even stronger military force to create the greatest empire of all time. The grand scale of the game is astonishing, and the progression from rock throwing to flame throwing is handled nicely. The reliance on basic materials remains a constant, but production means improve as well; peasants go from dragging items on the ground to using poles and finally incorporating wheelbarrows. Such a large breadth of time and evolution means that only the epic battles and greatest conflicts are featured, however.
Just as new ideas lead to improvements in weapons and technology, Empire Earth uses several new design ideas to improve on the state of RTS games. Civilization points earned after completing objectives can be used to buy specific improvements for buildings, peasants, or military units. Everything from swordsmen to cyberbots can be built faster, stronger, and cheaper, giving players unheard of customization opportunities for their society.
Additional building improvements can be researched and individual unit types will specialize for a modest cost of gold, wood, iron, or stone. Players cannot rely on one unit type, as it is still a highly developed game of rock-scissors-paper, or, in this case, spear vs. sword vs. arrow (and their later incarnations). Still, commanders can shape their strategies around key weapon types using these advancements, giving even more depth and variation to the solid design.
While Empire Earth may be an offshoot (if not spiritual successor) of Age of Empires, it doesn't have the meticulously clean and crisp graphics of that series. The polygons comprising the host of tanks, ships, planes, and people are somewhat blocky even at the best resolution and even worse when viewed close up. After a while, the flat-faced characters develop their own charm, but it is an acquired taste.
Movement animations are fairly good. Planes tumble from the sky convincingly and ships sink realistically. Ship battles look better than air and land battles, as the multi-tiered water makes for neat submarine and torpedo effects. The camera, unfortunately, fails to take full advantage of the polygon playing field. While it does a fine job of scrolling in for intimate cut-scenes, there is no swivel command, which would have been helpful in locating hidden units behind trees or buildings. Also, the polygon count adds up quickly in multiplayer games with high populations, resulting in major slowdown for lower end computers.
Continuity through the ages requires not only cohesive graphics, but sounds as well. Even though the clanging of swords is exchanged later for the clanking of tank treads, the sounds are uniformly superior to most other RTS games. The background music is also decent without being distracting, although after a few hours of play, the looping may start to grate on some players' nerves. The only real blemish is the voice acting. Often cheesy English lines are read with even worse foreign accents that fail to stay consistent, sometimes changing in mid-paragraph.
Despite minor quibbles with graphics and voicing, Empire Earth is a fun game for seasoned gamers. Expect stiff opposition early on, as the scenarios are very challenging and well designed. Those who polish off the campaigns and human opponents will enjoy the sophisticated editor used to make countless encounters including personalized cut-scenes.
Although not the prettiest game in the genre, Empire Earth's expansive timeline of conflict is unmatched. While it would have been nice to see more of the economic aspect of war, it is exciting to help a tribe of troglodytes fight through 500,000 years to become a nano-tech nation. Empire Earth is literally a game for the ages.
Graphics: Graphics are a tad blocky, but unit movement animations look decent, especially the death spirals of airplanes and ships sliding to a watery grave.
Sound: Barring the questionable voice acting, the sounds are consistently accurate and reflective of the proper time period.
Enjoyment: While the game is mostly military in nature, the battles are exciting, more so if at sea. Customization reaches a new high with civilization points, tech research, and unit improvements.
Replay Value: Multiplayer fights and long campaigns will occupy gamers for quite a while. Those with a creative urge can recreate scenarios from history, complete with cut-scenes and event triggers.
People who downloaded Empire Earth have also downloaded:
Empire Earth II, Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings, Age of Empires, Age of Empires III, Age of Mythology, Empires: Dawn of the Modern World, Command & Conquer: Generals, Empire Earth III
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