Empire Earth II: The Art of Supremacy
|a game by||Rockstar New England|
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When You think about it, the notion of a PC strategy game that spans the swathe of history from Ancient Egypt to the 21st century is the dream of either a deluded slavering lunatic, or a balding US games genius called Sid Meier. It's no easy task to pull off.
Now, owing to a fundamental aversion to bum-jousting with convicted armed robbers in prison toilets, we're not going to provoke this land's stringent libel laws by accusing the developer of Empire Earth II: The Art Of Supremacy of being a slavering loon. But we will go as far as to say that, judging by this ultimately unsatisfying add-on to an already ageing game, receding hairlines or no receding hairlines, Sid Meier it ain't.
Admittedly, Empire Earth never set out to be Civilization. It's real-time for a start, and you don't make great jumps in technology and history during gameplay here, rather between missions. What Empire Earth has always been about is a cunning fusing of the classic history game gather-and-build dynamics perfected by Age Of Empires, with Civ's epoch-spanning scope. Or that was the plan, anyway.
In The Beginning
Empire Earth first arrived way back in 2001 with the fanfare of a military tattoo, but behind the drum rolls and the pipe playing there was a really rather derivative RTS. When Empire Earth II pitched lip last year, despite packing one of the finest RTS interfaces ever splashed across the bottom quarter of a computer monitor, it also started to knock at the knees when confronted with one of its more muscular, effective competitors. And, sadly, this expansion pack, for all its extra units, missions, civilisations and modes, doesn't really help matters much when it comes to taking on the big boys.
The chief offerings of Art Of Supremacy (is supremacy an art, by the way? Can you hang it in the Tate? Has it ever won the Turner Prize?) begin with the three new single-player campaigns, and the four new civilisations ready to be obliterated within. The first unfolds in Ancient Egypt, charting 30 years of conflict between Egypt and Thebes. The second puts you in the rather plush shoes of Czar Alexander of Russia in his fight against Napoleon, and the third somewhat bizarrely follows the plight of the semi-nomadic Maasai people in West Kenya, circa 2037, who are being menaced by agitated lions. Guess which scenario designer was probably honking on the crack pipe the night before? On top of the campaigns are two huge battle scenarios that can be played on either side: the clash between Russia and Germany at Kursk; and Rorke's Drift, where a handful of heroic British Redcoats slaughtered hordes of dastardly Zulus with their boomsticks.
Having ignored the continent in the two expansion packs and a sequel, we finally have a campaign based in Africa to play through. ("It's a small country near Eye-rack"). And it's in this new environment you'll find what's possibly Art Of Supremacy's biggest gameplay tweak: the native tribes scattered across many of the maps. Essentially caught in a shit sandwich between you and your opponent, your first impulse is naturally to bomb them back into the Dark Ages and nick all their land and resources (us British built an empire on such enlightened tactics after all). But should you take the time to lure them over to your side by trade and diplomacy, impressive rewards await, with your new friendly chums bestowing you secret technologies, maps and no doubt ten of the chief's daughters. A neat touch, for sure, as is the new battle plan manager that, once mastered, lets you coordinate simultaneous attacks between your troops and those of any allies. All well and good, but for all its added ingredients, Art Of Supremacy doesn't provide the recipe Empire Earth II needs.
Packed full of elements and ideas, the game needs an identity of its own. Part Age Of Empires and a dollop of Civ, what's missing is a memorable game experience. And as for the visuals - line it up against Total War or Rise Of Nations and it's almost laughable. Garish colours, blocky terrain, stupid and repetitive animations - we could go on.
If there really is an art to supremacy, the developer of Empire Earth II had better go back to the drawing board.
Smack my bitch up
One of Art Of Supremacy's new features is Fealty: if one of your opponents is about to do you in and you can't take annihilation like a man, you can swear Fealty to him, and from then on you are his bitch. You still play, but resources and military units go over to him. If he goes on to win, you win too. The other interesting new mode is Tug Of War, which sees multiple battles see-sawing over several maps until an ultimate winner is decided. Plus, Empire Earth's multiplayer was always strong, and Art Of Supremacy's is even better.