Empire Earth 2
Empire Earth wasn't a perfect game, but it was the first real attempt to meld the Civilization concept with that of real-time strategy. The idea was to distil the entire breadth of humanity's past, present and future into a range of thrilling storylines, and it was successful enough to ensure the commissioning of a sequel.
Surprisingly Stainless Steel (home of Rick Goodman, lead designer of Age Of Empires and the original Empire Earth) has not been involved in its making, leaving development in the hands of Mad Doc Software - the guys who made Star Trek Armada II. Thankfully, Mad Doc is no stranger to the Empire Earth experience, and one game in its past provides more than a glimmer of hope: The Art Of Conquest, Empire Earth's one and only expansion pack. Contrary to the rule that all add-ons should be inferior to their parent, this managed to rack up an impressive 84 per cent in this very magazine. Rest easy epoch-spanning RTS fans, it appears the right people are on the job after all...
By listening to feedback from players of the first game and its expansion, says Ian Lane Davis, Mad Doc's CEO, founder and figurehead, we learned that whilst players loved its epic nature, they wanted new command and control features to facilitate playing such a big game. Now the player has an unprecedented ability to smoothly control large empires.
By way of example, 'Mad Doc' Davis puts up a number of gameplay innovations that look set to impress far more than the updated 3D visuals. We've really done a great deal of work. In general, we kept the things that made Empire Earth a great game (core RTS gameplay and epic scope) while moving the franchise along. We're implementing advanced Al, enhanced environmental realism - with weather, seasons - new multiplayer modes, and improved management systems with an all-new engine. In the end, Empire Earth II is a really strong step forward for the franchise, as well as for the RTS genre in general."
The core group of new features are designed to allow easy management of the Al and the game in general. For example, the Citizen Manager allows you to make sure your civilians are working in the right place at the right time. It appears by setting up b priorities geared towards gathering resources for war or for economic prosperity. By and large, you can then leave your civilian population to get on with the dirty work. Similarly the new War Planning feature will allow you to call up a regional map and create war plans for allied troops to follow. Plus you can follow everything - Mad Doc has instigated a picture-in-picture feature, where cameras are set up to watch events unfold from important vantage and perhaps witness what Davis proudly proclaims as non-cheating Al".
You should also keep in mind that with Empire Earth II, there'll be bigger battles over many ages, and hardcore gamers can expect adaptive, more dynamic Al to give them challenges that seem more human. We did this by simply knowing more about Al than any other developer. I've worked on about a dozen strategy games, and I have a PhD in Robotics (Al). Let's be realistic here. Al for an RTS game is a hard problem -an extremely hard problem - which is why so many people take too many shortcuts. But it's not an absolutely impossible problem, and we know how to solve it better than anyone else."
The core Empire Earth concept is unchanged, the aim being to conquer each map - whether it be in a skirmish battle or over the course of the three linear campaigns (a Korean campaign covering the early epochs, a German series of missions that spans the 19th and 20th centuries and an American campaign that scoots happily into the future). All told the game covers 12,000 years of human history - some of it unwritten - divided into 15 epochs, with 14 playable races and close to 350 different units, some of which will be unique to each race - a lack of which was a criticism of the original game.
More of the same, then? Not according to the wacky physician in charge of things. In the end, EEII is different from its predecessor in a lot of ways. It's a game designed to appeal to casual gamers, while offering advanced players more depth and strategy to keep them enthralled. The two aren't mutually exclusive. I really believe that Empire Earth II is definitely a game that appeals to everyone - but not at the expense of the hardcore faithful." Mad Doc's goal to give players more, while making it easier to digest and control, appears to be on target. Empire Earth II is shaping up to be an elegant sequel, with enough innovative gameplay to keep any strategist happily occupied for 2005 and beyond.
You And Whose Army?
A Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours
Each map in EEII is divided up into a number of territories, which will either be rich in natural resources or have strategic value. To claim a territory, a city centre must be built before any other buildings or units can be produced there. Of course, expansion has its hazards as resources become overstretched, as does consolidation, which lends greater weight to the economic and diplomatic options in the game.
Territories can influence your movements as well, adds Ian Lane Davis. If you have an alliance with another player, it may specify that you don't have border permission, and in this case, you may be prohibited from moving civilian units, military units or both types on to their territory. The whole idea here is to make the game more real, more interesting."
Why Are you playing that?" asks our bewildered editor when he casually glances across at my monitor and catches me deftly managing my gold and tin supplies with a few taps of the mouse. I may blather on about my macho leanings towards shooters that allow you to dismember enemies with an overpowering amount of brutal weaponry, but as Woods has now discovered, I'm also perfectly happy ruling over virtual kingdoms - especially ones that allow you to blow the shit out of large futuristic robots.
Empire Earth II is the sequel to the excellent 2001 empire-building RTS, and is promising to improve on the original in, oh, at least 17 new ways. As we said in last month's mag, EEII has14 civilisations (including British, German, American, Aztec and Greek), each with unique units, spanning over 12,000 years from 10,000BC to well into the future - hence my excitement at stumbling onto the mechs in the city. Each map is divided into territories that can be acquired through diplomacy or war, enabling you to expand your military, economic and/or Imperial empire.
The most obvious improvements when playing the new Empire Earth are the short-cuts that enable you to get to grips with your world much quicker and with less faffy micro-management. The Citizen Manager gives you unfettered access to your units (of which there are more than 270 in the game), so you can easily group them and, for example, move all the townsfolk from wood-collection to gold-digging in seconds.
Also, a new picture-in-picture feature (shown in the bottom right-hand comer of the screen) enables you to bookmark any unit, object or location in your empire and switch instantly between them, like having numerous interactive close-circuit TV cameras. You can now easily keep tabs on large areas of territory and even issue orders without having to zoom frantically around the main map.
Other major additions are the improved 3D graphics, weather conditions that can hamper operations, improved diplomacy for forming alliances (to be broken later at your convenience), and non-cheating Al' - basically the computer doesn't automatically know where you are and what resources, armies or firepower you have.
Meanwhile, single-player mode is broken up into entertaining campaigns and skirmishes, with turning points' such as WWII's Operation Overlord and scenarios that include the soon-to-be-famous USA Cyborg Insurrection of 2058. Multiplayer is included too, with the usual Deathmatch and King of the Hill modes accompanied by Quickstart, which is great if you're impatient to get on with the action. There's also Sole Survivor, where you can make alliances with other players, knowing that you're eventually going to have to screw them over to win the game - if you're a fan of Risk, you'll love this mode.
With a few months to release, there are still a few bugs to iron out in this early code, including the quirky ship movement, which unfortunately turned my Normandy landings into a new Pearl Harbour. However, developer Mad Doc appears to be crafting a complex, yet hugely playable strategy epic that as well as giving you access to classic civilisations such as the Aztecs, puts your despotic finger on the nuclear trigger. And it has robots - did I mention that?
In The Last couple of issues we've written extensively about Empire Earth Il's single-player components, so today we're going to do something a little different. A little daring. Well, maybe not daring, but certainly different. Y'see, today we're going to talk mainly about the game's multiplayer features, which if you believe Mad Doc Software's CEO Ian Lane Davis, are themselves a little bit different from most other RTS games. Why? Over to Ian...
"There are a number of features in Empire Earth II that will make you think, 'Why didn't anyone think of that before'?" he explains. "For starters, there's a whole new multiplayer mode called Sole Survivor. Usually in multiplayer RTS games, a number of players form an alliance and when they've beaten everyone else, the game ends. However, after the alliance has achieved victory in Empire Earth II, the remaining players have to fight each other. This way, only one player can be the winner."
Keen to show us first-hand, Ian invites us to take part in a six-way multiplayer Sole Survivor skirmish game. Setting the game speed to the fastest setting so that we can experience as many of the 14 available Epochs as possible in the shortest time period, the hostilities kick off in the Stone Age.
Give Peace A Chance
Within seconds, we receive a message from another player offering us an alliance. "There are two sorts of alliances, normal and timed," chirps Ian as we consider the proposal of peace. "Both kinds of alliance enable you to set border permissions and allow your ally to see everything you can. You can also trade resources and units and if you don't like what's being offered, you can offer a counter proposal. However, with a timed alliance you can't break the pact before the time runs out."
Given that there are six of us vying for control of the map, we opt to accept the half-hour alliance in order to buy ourselves some much needed research time. Then, sallying out of our city, we move into adjacent sectors (each map is divided into dozens of sectors which can be captured and built on in order to expand your empire - a bit like a real-time Civilization), our new holdings furbishing us with bountiful amounts of resources.
Arts And Crafts
Ian encourages us to start researching, as each Epoch sports 12 different crafts to be researched which are divided up into three tech trees: Military, Economic and Imperial. To progress to the next technological Epoch, you must research at least six different crafts and if you're the first player to research all four crafts of a specific tech tree in multiplayer, you're awarded a Crown. This then furbishes you with a five-minute bonus that can boost anything from the prosperity of your market place to the amount of damage that your units can inflict.
Having won the Military Crown and also having researched a couple of Economic crafts, we hit the Epoch Upgrade button and watch as both our buildings and soldiers morph into more advanced versions of themselves.
We continue to spread further into the map, and before long we're building universities and temples in every land -two buildings required to speed research - and charging up the Epoch ladder. Swords change to muskets. Muskets into rifles. Rifles into machine guns. Machine guns into tanks. As the final seconds of our peace agreement tick down, our burgeoning society has been transformed into a superpower. Stealth fighters glide noiselessly above our sprawling cities while behemoth tanks roll through the streets. It's time for war.
We cut through the fog of war like a scimitar through naked flesh, deeper into the unknown, hungry for conquest Caterpillar tracks kick up plumes of dust as our army advances. Suddenly, we stop. There, stretching from the foreground to slightly behind it is a tiny, primitive Stone Age settlement. Bemused resource-gathering Neanderthals turn to stare, animal bones in hands ready to repel us. They charge the strange metallic beasts that have invaded their lands, only to die under the tracks of my tanks and in the napalm clouds from my bombers.
I Will Survive
As the fires die down and our nation rebuilds the land with new, modern-day buildings, a new threat looms into view. Two-legged machines charge at our cities, just as our nation reaches the 14th and final Epoch The hattie for survival is brutal as robot kills robot, cyborg terminates cyborg, the war swinging backwards and forwards for the next half hour as sectors are won and lost by both sides. However, thanks to superior use of the excellent Picture In Picture feature -which means we can bookmark our major cities and forces so that we can watch them and issue orders from a little window - we gain the upper hand by co-ordinating six simultaneous attacks on their major cities. Millions die, but victory is ours.
We conquer the world and taste a truly innovative multiplayer RTS experience in the process. Empire Earth's multiplayer options can be allconquering, like a merciless king smiting his opponents and calling the vanquished to his banner. And if the single-player game can match the multiplayer's potential, then the balance of RTS power could be about to shift in a very dramatic way.
Let's Make History
Historically Accurate Or Intelligently Marketed?
While most of our time was spent talking about and playing Empire Earth Il's multiplayer game, we did manage to get some time to talk to Mad Doc Software's CEO Ian Lane Davis about the single-player campaign too.
"There are three single-player campaigns," he explains. "The first is Korea, which covers the establishment of the nation and starts off with you controlling a historical hero from Korean history who must unite the tribes. The middle campaign is German, which depicts the establishment of Germany during the Middle Ages, all the way up to the 1800s. Here, you have to ally the land before the Polish invade you. The third campaign is American, which goes through from Roosevelt to the near future."
It's interesting to note that the three campaigns are centred on the three biggest RTS markets in the world - Korea with its burgeoning online community, Germany with its strategy-obsessed gamers and the USA, with the biggest gaming market in the world. Coincidence or clever marketing ploy? You decide.
While The strategy genre is well represented by a number of distinctive games, a new release will typically either be a real-time click-fest -frenetic, fantastical and usually not very strategic - or a ponderous, more historically accurate and impenetrable turnbased affair. Of course, there are a healthy number of games that furtively prod these boundaries, and many more that happily exist within them, but only a handful have ever transcended them. Empire Earth II, with its fast-paced combat set across the breadth of human history -the likes of which even the mighty Civilization would be hard pushed to recall - clearly has aspirations to be one of the elite.
Genetically, Empire Earth II comes from good stock: the original game was of course designed by Rick Goodman, lead designer on Age Of Empires. We're happy to report that the sequel (handled by the chaps responsible for The Art Of Conquest expansion) continues in much the same vein, offering the kind of gameplay you might expect of a game so accurately summarised by us as Age Of Empires with loads of bloody big knobs on'. As such, there is much to do above lassoing a bunch of tanks and sending them against the enemy. Cities need building, research must be undertaken, resources harvested and allies fostered - all this while keeping an eye on the calendar.
Fitted As Standard
Empire Earth II differs from the typical historical RTS in a number of ways. For one, rather than dumping units into a large empty space and then asking you to fill it with buildings, each map is subdivided into territories. Erect a City Centre somewhere within its boundaries and the province becomes yours. Land ownership, of course, has obvious benefits, the main one being an increase in the number of units you can build and a staging post from which to eventually conquer the map. Though the borders are rigid (whereas in Rise Of Nations they were cleverly ebbed with the tide of war), the maps are vast enough to ensure w a greater degree of dynamism in the way each level plays out.
This is aided by the game's approach to diplomacy, as rather than opt for complete subjugation, it pays to try and bend other tribes and nations to your will by offering them tribute or territory. Having an ally on side constitutes more than a backdoor route to ambushing the enemy, for here you can create war plans for your ally to follow simply by marking out waypoints for their armies to follow. Whether they carry them out is another matter, but the fact that you can concoct elaborate plans of attack for Al or human allies to consider is a feature sure to be a standard fixture in future strategy efforts.
Shock And Awe
Whilst most games of this ilk make a point of hurrying you through various stages of human development so you can build the biggest, baddest weapons more quickly and defeat your foes through ovenwhelming technological superiority, here it pays to pause a moment before advancing towards Armageddon. See, a dozen technologies are available to research during each of the 14 epochs (ranging from pre-Classical to post-nuclear holocaust eras), but only six are required to advance to a new stage. The catch is, if you do advance, some technologies are no longer available to research. Simple, but clever.
As well as planning research, the game forces you to plan your attacks with greater care than might be required in other games. By erecting Outposts, for example, your border guards can tell you if a storm is brewing and thereby warn you that should you be planning an attack, it might be prudent to sit in your fortress and put some extra logs on the fire.
Beauty Or Beast?
Packed with superb and unique features, Empire Earth II comes with two caveats. The first is the graphics engine, which, although it features plenty of detail and can accommodate impressive numbers of units without slowing down, simply doesn't look anywhere as spectacular as a 2005 game should. Explosions have a transparency to them that makes them look like the cheap overlaid effects they are. Very few of the units move with any kind of realism, either - foot soldiers don't so much walk as skate, while vehicles often get stuck in bunches and formations sometimes lack cohesion. None of this has any impact on the gameplay, but next to today's lavish strategy titles, EEII stands out for its average appearance.
The other problem is the single-player game, which lacks any kind of dynamic missions -a paltry three short campaigns focusing on ancient Korea, 18th century USA and 19th century Germany. Rise Of Nations was quick to borrow Total War's Riskstyle turn-based campaign and it's a feature we've come to expect in these epic strategy games. But the superb skirmish mode does go some way to redressing this, offering a rare degree of flexibility and customisation options. Besides, it will take months before you tire of all the multiplayer options. However, EEll's lasting legacy will be, without a doubt, the innovations the developer has created for the interface. As other RTSs have borrowed heavily from Total War's campaign structure, so too will they steal Empire Earth Il's diplomacy options and character manager. Empire Earth II may not be the best historical strategy game on the market, but it is bloody good all the same, and points to a bright future for the RTS.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode