The Empire Earth series is a distinguished one in the RTS field. EE1 was a twist on the traditional Age of Empires formula, making it more epic and large scale, and earned its place in the heart of many RTS enthusiasts. EE2 expanded on the original, with more tools and game dynamics that perhaps led to more micromanagement than many were comfortable with. Innovation in traditional formulas is always risky, and while as a gamer I laud such, it perhaps hurt the games ratings a little. Nevertheless EE2 was still rated high. Now EE3 is here, and I have to say it looks as if they suffered a kneejerk reaction from the criticisms of EE2. EE3 is massively simplified, and really doesn’t feel like an Empire Earth game at all.
The chief change is a general dumbing down, some may call it ‘streamlining’, of many of the games features. Instead of the myriad factions of the original two games and most games in the Age of Empires genealogy, in EE3 there are just three: West, Middle East and Far East. Each faction has slight game play differences, specifically noted in how each builds buildings: The West uses builder units, the Middle East deploys buildings from trucks constructed in their main building and the Far East uses their infantry to build buildings. The way they use units is also different, in that the West employs more technical and strong units, the Middle East more stealthy and cunning units while the Far East uses masses of weak units. Why they didn’t just call the factions the US, Arabian Terrorists and China is anyone’s guess, although the similarity to C&C Generals is probably a factor.
There are several welcome innovations amongst all the simplicity. Resource gathering has been changed so that static resource nodes simply need to be built upon, in order to passively gather resources. No more tree chopping or mountain mining in this game, no sir. Instead of the multitude of resources required in previous games in EE3 there is just two, and with enough nodes and central buildings you can support a large army very quickly. There are only five eras, and to go up an era you only need the research points produced at your central buildings. This aspect of the game seems a little unbalanced, as with three central buildings built in the ancient age, the amount of research produced is sufficient to level to the last, futuristic tier with no wait between upgrades. The second and more major addition is the addition of a world campaign mode, which works reasonably well. Similar to the modes offered by Rise of Nations, Total War and Dark Crusade this new grand campaign extends the games replay ability significantly.
The graphics of course have been upgraded, but in a fashion that makes them more cartoonish. Buildings can now be destroyed rather spectacularly, and several units, especially in the future era have pretty awesome attack effects, such as the singularity generator which destroys units and structures with a miniature black hole. The cartoon-like feel is a bit of a departure from the traditional seriousness of EE, and I’m not sure I like it, but it is nevertheless impressive. However, the new engine introduces a number of graphical errors and even with the latest patch much of the animation is stilted and unnatural, and certain units have serious problems with their shadows. Audio wise the unit phrases and such get tired very quickly, and although the campy humour is mildly amusing, once repeated 30-40 times by every unit in your army of you don’t find the check box to switch it off quickly you will start bleeding out your ears.
In conclusion, EE3 doesn’t feel like an EE game and in this reviewers opinion doesn’t deserve to be. On its own it would only be let down by its bugs, so it would have been best if it had been marketed as a new game line, rather than capitalising on and subsequently disappointing the fan base for the series. Alone its new resource system, once ironed out, is promising and the ‘cartoon-like’ atmosphere could be the start of a new theme, rather than the betrayal of the old.