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Platform

PC

 

Genre

RTS

 

Publisher

Sierra

 

Developer

Mad Doc Software

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

Q4 2007

 

 

- Highly detailed visuals
- Well recorded audio

 

 

- Uninspiring music
- Unengaging art style
- Overly simplistic gameplay
- Numerous and egregious AI issues
- Undocumented, unintuitive, and completely hobbled map editor

 

 

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Empire Earth III

Score: 4/10

 

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One of the many things that I love to immerse myself in when I'm not playing games is history. Really well written historical texts are not just dry recountings of fact, figures, names, and places. They come alive, almost like a good novel, keeping you in touch with the story even if you know how the ending turns out. History can be a wonderful, adventurous, often bloody, sometimes hilarious, sometimes tragic field of study. Which may explain why I liked the Empire Earth series so much. Admittedly, there may have been some creative liberties taken in scenario design, but it stayed relatively accurate to most civilizations and events. The campaigns were not only well thought out but engaging. Mad Doc Software, who gave us the very complex and strangely satisfying Empire Earth II, has decided to take a different approach for the third entry in the series, one that may have come about from the cries that EE2 was needlessly complex. In doing so, they went overboard.

 

The first thing that should be noted is that, like its predecessor, Empire Earth III's recommended system requirements are a bit stiff. If you've got a screaming rig, it shouldn't be difficult to play, though even with a fast processor, a strong video card, and plenty of memory, you will undoubtedly notice pauses in gameplay when the game performs an autosave. While there were a few instances of slowdown here and there, particularly when large numbers of units and buildings were on the screen, it wasn't necessarily a game killer. However, lower end systems will probably need to start at the top and scale their settings down until they find a happy medium.

 

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Without a doubt, the biggest change in EE3 is in the gameplay. Whereas EE2 was a deep and occasionally confusing array of options, EE3 has gone to the other end of the spectrum and made things more simple. Too simple. Beyond "simple" and into the realm of simplistic. They kept the mechanic of a map being broken up into various territories which 

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the player must conquer by planting a city center in it before the other players. They kept the mechanic of markets generating more money by how far the trade unit had to go in between the market structure and the city center. But it seems they scrapped almost every other feature of EE2 that made that game and the original interesting. Gone are the campaigns which took players through various points in history. Now, your options have been reduced to two: a general skirmish or the Risk-style World Domination mode which will toss "quests" at you randomly. The broad array of epochs that a player ran through have been cut down from fifteen to five. The choice of different civilizations has been cut down from fourteen to three, the incredibly generic Western, Middle Eastern and Far Eastern. And while it should be noted that you can set up players in skirmishes or multiplayer as specific nationalities (American, German, French, Japanese, etc), they don't have any of the iconic units that are associated with those nations. It serves as an essentially mean ingless label. The War Planner, which helped players sketch out battle plans for their friends and allies, has been dumped. The Citizen Manager, which helped keep you informed about who was working and who was idle, has also been dumped. Why? I can only speculate that the changes to both army building and resource acquisition have been so radically altered as to make them pointless. Where once players harvested multiple kinds of resources, now you're down to two: raw materials (in various forms) and wealth. The well tested "rock-paper-scissors" model of previous EE games has been tossed. EE3 has completely unimpressive AI in an overall sense. The AI pathing, which has been a complaint throughout the series, actually seems to have gotten worse. Naval units in particular are brain dead and painfully slow to move or fire in combat. And for all who might dare to hope that the map editor which comes with the game might prove to be the key to making the game better, forget it. The lack of documentation a nd unintuitive interface guarantees long hours of painful trial and error which will drive all but the most masochistic of partisans to walk away in disgust. Even worse, there doesn't seem to be any way to make anything other than skirmish maps and maybe some short cutscenes. Those of you hoping to cook up your own campaigns may well be out of luck.

 

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Many remember the tiny infantry unit models from EE2, and how easy it was to lose them in the underbrush, or behind mountains, or buildings, or other bigger units. The good news is that Mad Doc seems to have listened to that complaint and made the infantry models bigger. The bad news is much more troubling. One of the many problems I've noticed throughout the series is the odd habit of builder units getting stuck inside a section of wall. Can't move, can't do anything. They're just stuck in there like it was a retelling of "The Cask of Amontillado." EE3 seems to have taken this bizarre collision glitch and compounded it. Builder units now get stuck inside any building if they happen to be occupying the same area at the time that they're building it. Additionally, depending on the placement of market or dock buildings, it's entirely possible for trader units to get stuck as well. Since there's no gameplay mechanic to raze buildings that you've built, not even by shooting at them, you're pretty much out of luck when this sort of thing happens. While EE3 certainly has improved over the blocky character models of the first two games, they've also gone with a caricatured art style that just doesn't entertain. The distinctiveness between the three civilizations is quite obvious but it's not terribly interesting from a visual standpoint. Additionally, the weather modeling which was present in EE2 and which was one of the few games I've seen where such a visual effect had a genuine impact on gameplay and unit movement has been removed without any good reason that I can think of.

 

Audio seems to be an area where EE3 got a few little things right and a few major things wrong. Environmental sounds and small incidental stuff like the sound of bells at the dock, explosions, vehicle sounds, those have all been handled quite nicely. Even when you get up to the Modern Age and the application of a walkie-talkie tone to unit acknowledgments when they're off-screen is one of those little touches that is really well done. But those same unit acknowledgments go beyond irritating and drive right into infuriating. It's not that they're badly recorded. If anything, the voice actors should be commended for delivering their lines with great clarity and character. Unfortunately, the lines themselves are badly written, either just plain pointless statements or riffs on cultural stereotypes which a more politically correct soul might well go into a foaming rage over. As it was, I wish I'd found a way to shut them off while playing. The game's music is rather humdrum, nothing that would inspire either martial fervor or suggest the slowly sweeping grasp of a budding nation.

 

While going through the game, even the World Domination mode, I got the feeling that I'd seen this all somewhere before, and not from the previous two games in the Empire Earth series. It didn't really occur me until just now that EE3 is little more than StarCraft with a thin veneer of historical flavor to it. The basic similarities are just too obvious to ignore. What's worse is that it lacks all the personality found in StarCraft and the previous two Empire Earth games. I can understand a game being derivative, but only so long as it adds something good to the mix. Empire Earth III fails to meet up to the standards of the games that came before it. It has failed to learn from its own history. I can only hope that the average gamer will not be doomed to repeat it.

 

Axel Cushing

February 3, 2008

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