Empire Earth 3
Excited and happy. That's the overwhelming impression you get from meeting Mad Doc's lead designer Matthew Nordhaus and producer Maximilien X Klaisner. They might be working on a game so ambitious in scope as to be daunting, but this is their fourth Empire-based release and they seem pretty confident.
The Empire Earth games, everyone agrees, are solid, epic strategy. Everyone also agrees that they're not for part-timers or the tactically faint-hearted. The first game (the only Empire Earth th.it wasn't developed by Mad Doc) divided human comb.it into 15 epochs, from scrap-happy cavemen to futuristic mech combat, and featured huge conflicts and fivepronged resource management that kept your attention split between pretty much everywhere.
While developing EE3, Mad Doc are bearing in mind the fact that previous acclaim has always been qualified and reserved. For every compliment about the gameplay balance, there'd be a lament about the dated and samey graphics. For every respectful doff to the strategy, there'd be a whimper alxxit information overload and micromanagement They were rewarding (james, but the reward was locked in a combination safe. So what have they done to improve the third Empire Earth?
"The tendency is for the interface to grow and grow, but we wanted to make the screen a lot cleaner with EE3," admits Klaisner. The overview map, from which the turn-based element of the game is conducted, is much like Google Earth. There's vital information at the top and a handful of buttons at the bottom, each opening up a modular set of menus. From these panels, you can access the deep underground vaults of options and settings. Much of the complexity of the previous games is there, but it's not forced down your throat. You'll have to discover and use it to be any good, of course, but it's designed to feel like a discovery rather than a tutorial mission chore.
Wispy, Swirly, Pretty
The graphics have undergone a change too, joining ns in the modern day. The cloud system gently circling the globe is subtle and pleasing, and in the RTS element, the old functional graphics have been vastly improved, to the point where a physics engine determines how exploded lumps of btiildinq will interact with the terrain. Needless, yes. But way, way cooler than the previous games.
It's all about wowing the newcomers; Empire Earth has a loyal fanbase across Europe with many thousands of devotees, but a more welcoming and pretty game is the way to rope in us shallow idiots in the UK.
Once you've moved your armies around the globe and played your secret special powers, any conflicts on the map are resolved with the game's RTS mode. Foregone conclusions can be skipped with a time-saving auto-resolve feature, so you won't have to mobilise your fleet of space-tanks against a peasant and a tree. What's left on the map at the end of the battle stays there - waiting for next time that terrain becomes a battleground.
Clean, Crisp, Tasty
The 15 epochs have now been replaced with a less dogmatic tech tree, and no player will be able to research the whole thing over the course of a game - specialising will be essential. Another way they've smoothed out the freshly-laundered gameplay is by simplifying the resource management - there are no longer five resources and units who rely on a number of them; there's just cash and goods. Artificially simple? Maybe. But certainly more accessible.
Mention the other problems with the previous games to the Mad Doc boys -for example, the inability of units to choose sensible paths to their destination - and their reaction is open and reassuring. "We're dealing with that," Nordhaus and Klaisner tell me. "We're really chasing the guys on that one. It's a top priority."
New game modes will include World Domination, in which one player will act as the server, where up to eight players can make their moves on the world map individually. Then they organise when to play the RTS battles that follow in their own time. It's similar in theory to the Pitboss server for Civ IV, or playing chess by mail with someone in Greece. Games of EE3 could range from a 'quick' few hours to an ongoing war taking weeks.
For all the effort spent on tech trees, balance and physics engines, it's good to see Mad Doc are putting in a sense of humour. Irritating vocal responses to basic commands are the bane of RTS games, but hearing a US marine say, "It's time to roll out the red carpet... OF BLOOD!" is encouraging. One glitch in the physics engine, meanwhile, caused debris to start orbiting the globe like an asteroid belt. The response from the developers was indecision as to whether they should fix the bug or start adding space colonies to the game. They love their game, and it shows. It'll be our turn to love it - or pull faces over its shoulder while we hug it - by the end of the year.
Download Empire Earth 3
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Whereas Games Like Heroes of Might & Magic V have improved with time, Empire Earth has become less appealing. Where effort was made in fairly pointless touches, such as buildings that collapse semi-believably, Mad Doc lobotomised the series.
We've nothing against streamlining, but technically the human body could be streamlined by removing the arms and legs, and that's essentially what they've done here. Then they've thwacked the head with a frying pan, which has mucked up elementary RTS elements such as pathfinding.
Empire Earth III isn't abysmal, it's just a pale shadow of previous games -if you're determined to dig around in the past, go one step further and play the first two games. They're both available in the budget shelves as well.