Empire Earth II – Recon (PC)
Following on from the success of the original Empire Earth and the expansion pack The Art of Conquest, Empire Earth II builds upon the series with improved graphics, sound and additional features that were not in the earlier releases.
As with the original Empire Earth and the similarly themed Rise of Nations, EEII is a vast real-time strategy game that places the player in charge of a fledgling civilization which must be nurtured and expanded through all the ages of man. Facing devious AI opponents, or even human players online in one of nine Multiplayer modes, EEII looks to be as challenging and enjoyable as its predecessor, if not even more so.
Having played a Preview Version of the game, I can advise that in addition to the obligatory Multiplayer and Skirmish modes, the game also features three separate campaigns which lead-on from each other, taking the player through the various epochs of world history. Playing as the Koreans, then as the Germans then as the Americans, this is a game with a truly epic scope – nothing less than the entire past and future history of mankind is mapped out in attractive detail. With over 500 different types of unit to command, and 12,000 years of history to work through, it’s easy to see that the replay value here is staggering.
In Skirmish mode, the game features a powerful terrain editor that will randomly create a map for you to play on based on the parameters you select. Being a Naval buff, and a citizen of the country in question, I chose to play as the British in the Skirmishes I selected. Selecting different nations affords a player different bonuses – in this case, being British means cheaper and faster ship production.
Using a standard click and point interface, units, both civilian and military, are controlled by the mouse directly on the map or by the use of icons to instruct your minions to perform specific tasks. Using the mouse wheel will enable you to zoom in and down so that you can sit amongst your people and watch them work to do your bidding. With limited buildings available to start with, more construction options are opened up to the player as the game progresses. Advancement through the epochs is achieved by research at your local University, which can be "garrisoned" with Civilian workers to increase your thinking power. Other resources such as gold, tin and wood are harvested by your industrious population. The addition of Warehouses, and the further "garrisoning" them with workers improves production and shortens the delivery time.
Markets can even be built to trade goods – short on tin? No problem, trade some of your surplus food – but only if the rates at the time are favorable, of course. Indeed, it’s possible to become quite the little Economist playing EEII.
As resources and "tech-points" are gathered, players essentially "buy" their way to the next age of man – resulting in improved units, weapons, buildings and additional options. Simply upgrading your technology from the Stone Age – the first Epoch to feature in EEII – results in the addition of farms to your available buildings.
Perhaps it’s because I live with it all of the time, but the first thing that really impressed me on loading the game was the weather – it was raining, pouring down in fact.
Actually, weather plays a large factor in EEII, severe blizzards can hamper vision and movement, whereas the sunshine can get one trigger finger itching to get cracking with a nice summer campaign to crush your opponents. In a skirmish setup, you can even configure how long you want seasons to last – up to 15 minutes a time, or turn the weather off completely.
The sound too is very impressive, with rolling thunder adding an ambience equal to any other game I’ve played. The sounds of battle can be quite intense – with rolling drumbeats warning you of an impending battle, and the cries of the dead and dying on the battlefields.
The graphics are smooth with clear uncluttered lines and were always pleasing to look at – except when I was being attacked by the enemy, obviously. Flame effects particularly impressed me – small, but nice to see, especially when it’s an enemy city that your troops have just sacked.
Another impressive feature of the game is the concept of "Crowns" and "Doctrines". There are three Crowns to be controlled during the game – based on how well your Empire is expanding, you will be awarded one or more of the Economic, Warfare or Imperial Crowns. Once you get one (for a limited time only!) you then get to choose an appropriate Doctrine to support your gameplay – and get bonuses as a result!
For example, if you are awarded the Warfare Crown, you can choose an appropriate military doctrine to support your plans. If you are content to wait for the enemy to come to you, then select "Static Defence" and increase the vision and weapon ranges of your guard towers and fortresses. If, however you want to rule the waves with your mighty Navy, then select the appropriate Doctrine and watch as your ships move faster and mount more powerful weapons. But beware! The Crowns can be taken by the enemy – you have to work hard to keep control of them.
The inclusion of Crowns and Doctrines really adds depth to the experience of playing, and with many options to choose from, and new options presented to you as you progress, it requires a degree of skill to choose the right Doctrine at the right time.
As you advance through the 15 Epochs of man, your skills will determine if your civilization flourishes and prospers, or withers and dies. If all goes well, you will invent new ways to kill your enemies, develop new devices to help improve your resource production and expand your borders. If your skills are lacking, your enemies will seize your territory…
From the humble catapult and Ballista to the Main Battle Tank of the future, there is little to dislike about EEII. Watch as your people develop flight – within minutes I guarantee you’ll be sending Stealth Bombers to drop nuclear weapons on enemy troop concentrations, or sinking trade convoys with your fleet of advanced attack submarines. This is definitely a game worth looking out for on its release.