Mad Doc’s Empire Earth II is another entry in the vast expanse of real-time strategy games that are out there. I never played the first game by Strategic Simulation, but I hear it was a pretty good game. If Empire Earth II is any indication of how the original one is, I’d have to agree.
Empire Earth II uses the standard foundation of RTS games: find product to harvest in order to grow production, erect buildings with those products, build an army via military buildings, put money towards technology, etc. It also offers some things that I personally haven’t seen in RTS games that I will get into later on in the review.
This is a rather large game that contains many parts of history for different sections of the world. I’ve also found out this game is not the easiest RTS to get a handle on and that it takes a long time for someone new to the Empire Earth series to understand all of what is going on.
The graphics of Empire Earth II are nothing special when compared to Rome: Total War, Warcraft III or the upcoming Age of Empires III. Of course one of those games recently came out (Rome) and one has not come out yet (AoE III), but Warcraft III came out in the summer of 2003. This means that Empire Earth II is far behind the times in regards to graphics and taking a look at them close up only confirms that fact.
There are things that look real good in this game though. The machines in sections revolving around our time and beyond, as well as bigger weapons look nice. The same goes for the buildings that look rather nice, but many of them look the same across different cultures even in different epochs. When we get down to the civilians and the walking army is where we start to see the okay graphics. If you zoom into the units you notice no realistic face design or body design given to units. In fact, the faces look a lot like original Half-Life ones with the faces just sort of plastered over the vectors making up the shape of the face. It was a bit disappointing to see, although I can see why they went this way. You have the ability to have a large army moving at one time and it would drag down the graphics quite a bit if each unit was detailed.
Given the kind of graphics being pushed around, it was a bit surprising to see slowdown pop up from time to time. This usually happened when two opposing forces faced off against each other…and just imagine what happens when more armies are involved in a fight. There were times that my Radeon 9800 Pro had to push a bit even at the default settings, but the slowdown is only temporary. From what I have played of multiplayer games the same kind of thing happens there as well.
There isn’t anything special in this section either, outside of the music in certain situations. The overall sound is okay and the voiceover does a good job setting up the situations. The biggest problem with the sound is that the weapons sounds don’t sound clear enough and the voiceovers during the campaigns are repeated over and over again. Yes, the Command and Conquer and Warcraft games also had repeaters, but not to this level and at least Warcraft had some fun interspersed with them.
The overall sound is just flat from my perspective. I’ve heard other RTS games that are better in the sound category than this game. It is obvious Empire Earth II’s major plan is to have a strong gameplay engine, but I think a little more time could have gone into the sound section of this game.
The control is pretty standard for an RTS game, including the ability to tie armies to a number via the Control key and a number. I have found that Empire Earth II is like a hotkey lover’s wet dream. There are so many hotkeys in this game that they go into having to use the Control key, Shift key and Alt key. Unless you’re used to Empire Earth you will find the control a bit daunting, but once you understand it the control becomes second nature.
Mad Doc has given you the tools to see just about everything from your side’s perspective and each menu is easily reached via either a hotkey or a button on the HUD. The HUD doesn’t seem to get in the way very much and is actually very well laid out.
Put simply, Empire Earth II is a blast to play once you figure out the overly complex play mechanics. A cry heard by many hardcore RTS gamers is to have a nice balance of micromanagement and overall management. Empire Earth II seems to strike that balance pretty well, although I’d say you spend most of your time trying to defend your area, have diplomatic relations and moving into enemy areas over keeping your area thriving. The reason I say this is because it is quite easy to get a big fund accumulated in a short time, much easier than many other RTS games. This game is not as meticulous in the city/building/land areas as something like the Civilization series is, but the option to oversee that is there.
The single-player section of the game is rather vast. You can choose to do campaign scenarios or create a skirmish. The campaigns are split up between 5 sections: Tutorials, Korean, German, American and Turning Points. The tutorial section will run you through the game and how it plays. It is divided into four time periods: 1190, 1519, 1840 and 1941 AD. In some ways the narrator holds your hand a bit too much, mostly because I can read much faster than he can talk. The Korean section is split up between 8 time periods: 2333, 400 and 341-279 BC; 82-313, 356-562, 634-697, 668 and 676 AD. The German section is split up between 8 time periods as well: 1220-1280, 1263-1410, 1410-1466, 1525-1526, 1640-1688, 1756-1763, 1812-1814 and 1863-1871. The American campaign also has 8 time periods: 1898, 1918, 1943, 1944, 1958, 1988, 2058 and 2070. The American campaign toward the end is where you start to get mechs as soldiers and other cool futuristic toys.
The Turning Point scenarios are a little interesting. The ones shipping with Empire Earth II are D-Day and the Chinese Three Kingdoms battle. With both scenarios you can play as either side: American or German with D-Day; Wu or Wei in the Three Kingdoms battle. You can obviously change history if you choose the losers of those battles and you are able to defeat the other team. I personally can’t wait to see what some modders do with this game and see what other kind of situations we can find ourselves playing in.
Setting up skirmishes is the best of the single-player options. Through this you can create a game with a ton of options to choose from. This is where you are able to do a more Civilization type of game. You can go through all 15 Epochs, each with 12 tech upgrades to learn or you can decide to go through only a few Epochs – it’s all up to you. You can have quite a game on your hands if you decide to go for all the Epochs, but this is the type of game that will suck the time away from you and you not knowing how long you’ve been playing for.
Additions to the RTS mold are a detailed civilian page, a picture-in-picture view where you can have up to 6 viewpoints so you know what is happening in your bases at all times, and a War Plan section where you can draw how you are going to attack your enemies. The detailed civilian page allows you to keep your civilians more managed on a micro scale than I have seen in any RTS before. You will readily know if there are any civilians that aren’t doing anything, such as mining for resources, and you can get them to work. The picture-in-picture viewpoints are quite helpful in keeping track of your cities. You can assign one to the F1-F6 keys and you can press those buttons to see if anyone is attacking that area so you can go straight to that area in order to defend it. The War Plan is a nice little addition as well. You are able to plan your attack ahead of time using arrows; you can choose whether to go straight at your enemy or split up the army and take them out on each side.
Empire Earth II also includes a multiplayer option where you can play with up to 10 people total. Creating a game gives you the option of what type of game to play: Conquest, Crowns (number), Crowns (time), King of the Hill, Capitols, Allied Capitols, Regicide, Hot Spots and Territory Control. Conquest means you have to beat all the other players, the two Crowns ones revolve around holding (or maintaining) military control, economic control and imperial control. King of the Hill requires you to hold the center area for the longest, Capitols and Allied Capitols means you have to hold another players capitol for a certain time and they are eliminated. In the Allied one if you wrest control of an ally capitol, the person who controlled that capitol will take over again. Regicide is where you each have a King unit, if your king dies you’re out. Hot spots is where there are certain spots on the board and if you can build the first city center you win that zone. Territory Control is where you win if you reach a certain amount of total land under your control. I’ve only played Conquest and Regicide, but they have both been very fun, although I am pretty outclassed by many of the people I play with being new to this series and all.
Much like every other RTS game out there, your feeling on the value of the game revolves around how much time you wish to partake in it. I personally did not find Empire Earth II as engaging as games like any of the Warcraft games, Age of Empires or any of the Civilization games, but to be honest I already knew what I was getting into with those games since I had past experience with them.
I did find the time going by very quickly though while playing Empire Earth II. The only warning I will give is that if you are new to this series you may feel way over your head when you get into the game. There are a lot of hotkeys available and it will take you a while to get them into your head. You have a lot of control over this game, but at times it may feel as if it is in control of you.