Empire of the Ants
Deep in the wilderness of your backyard there’s an empire being forged. Soldiers guard the frontier while laborers scour the land for resources and food. Strategy First’s Empire of the Ants, based on the best-selling novel of the same name written by Bernard Werber, takes you into the undergrowth of the frantic world of colonization and dominance within the insect kingdom.
Inside the microscopic world of the ants, players take on the role of an up-and-coming ant commander that has been given the task to oversee the welfare and expansion of a colony of russet ants. You must build up the colony's forces, guard the anthill, collect food and building materials, build huge colonies, lead your armies into battle, and breed to improve your numbers.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
In Werber’s book, ants are intelligent beings with their own eons-old civilization of trillions. With their own insectoid technology they have built an empire that is vast and as advanced in many ways as human civilization. As a new commander in the ant army you will guide the destiny of the Bel-o-kan Federation, an empire of russet ants with a history that spans five thousand years. To succeed you will need to master managing your anthill as well as waging warfare against other ant species and non-ant enemies.
Your control over the worker ants in your colony is very indirect -- you can locate resources and assign groups of workers to harvest them, but the individual actions are largely out of your control. You do need to allocate your workers prudently -- too many workers means can give you plenty of resources but leave you vulnerable to attacks. Too many soldiers and your food supplies will disappear leaving your colony dead. You will also need to allocate resources for hill maintenance and care and feeding of larvae. Keeping the queen well cared for and happy is most vital -- if she is unhappy she will stop laying eggs. This style of economic management will be very familiar to strategy fans, and is very well done in.
Where the game breaks down for me is on the combat side. You’ll be required to fight against an array of threats ranging from other ant colonies to termites, wasps, and bees. There are also predators such as spiders, stag beetles, and hornets that see your workers as a food source. Controlling your insectoid military to meet these forces is difficult -- I found it almost impossible to accurately select an enemy for my soldiers to attack with any regularity. Almost all enemies move too quickly to be easily selected, and many are small enough that even when they aren’t zipping around, clicking the correct spot is tedious.
Your army (as in most strategy games) includes an array of units with different abilities, ranging from the basic warrior ant to the elite queen’s guard. There are also special non-ant units ("domesticated" species) like beetles and midges that can act as flying reconnaissance and transport for your army. Even with the variety of units in the game combat ends up being a simple contest of numbers. The biggest army will win every time -- very rarely will tactics make any appreciable difference in the outcome.
I also found the multiplayer support in Empire lacking. There’s no matchmaking system included -- you have to know where the game you want to join is located. This means that unless you already have friends to play with, you’ll have a very difficult time finding opponents.
Adding to these issues are the stability problems rampant throughout Empire. The game requires 3D acceleration, but doesn’t support many popular cards. Getting through a campaign without crashing is entirely too uncommon (I recommend that you save often). A few patches to improve the stability and fix compatibility problems will go a long way toward improving playability.
Graphics & Audio
The best part of Empire of the Ants is the detailed world that has been created. The landscapes are dynamic and lush. Weather and seasonal changes affect the gameplay and are richly detailed. Huge raindrops (well, huge for ants) splash across the ground during storms. Day and night cycles as well as the changes through spring, summer, winter and fall are all rendered in detail. Every blade of grass, flower, and mushroom fits into the landscape as well as a varied mix of other insects and other critters who roam about doing their business. From butterflies drifting across the flowers to vicious enemies like the preying mantis, each species is detailed and realistic.
Adding to the rich visual environment are some excellent audio effects. The background of a living forest can be heard throughout the game, with the audio adjusting for seasons and weather right along with the visuals. The orchestral soundtrack blends very well with the gameplay. The rich score brings a sense of the majestic to the game and provides an excellent backdrop.
Minimum: Windows 95/98/2k, PII 233, 3D accelerator card, 32MB RAM, 200MB available hard drive space, 8x CD-ROM drive, and a Direct X compatible sound card.
Recommended: Pentium II 350, 3D AGP video card, 64 MB RAM, and a 16x CD-ROM drive.
Empire of the Ants had a lot of promise but unfortunately failed to live up to much of it. The graphics are rich and detailed but the game suffers from serious stability problems and slow gameplay. The game does have a certain appeal initially but quickly loses its novelty. I found myself wishing for the gameplay of Maxis’using the graphics of Empire instead of the lackluster strategy found here. Unless you’re a huge ant fan you will want to give this one a miss.