Empire Earth III
The PC market has always been well known for first person shooters and real-time strategy games, one of the reasons for this is that these genres lend themselves so well to the control scheme on the PC; this is why we tend to see a lot more of the latter genre appearing solely Personal Computer screens. My point being that when you look at the market for PC games, it is very over-crowded with all manner of RTS titles and as such when a company wishes to release a game of this type there are more than a few gems out there that they either need to be equaled or surpassed in order for a game to be accepted by fans of the RTS genre. Empire Earth III certainly promises big things from the off, but does it really cut the mustard in such a crowded market?
When reviewing games it is impossible not to compare the title to similar offerings that have come before it, in Empire Earth III's case there are such classics as Command & Conquer, Age of Empires, Supreme Commander and Warhammer 40,000. All of these franchises have been successful in their own right and really do set a benchmark for other developers to aim for. Empire Earth 2 for example, was received with mixed opinions because of the steep learning curve and sheer quantity of playable 'factions'. In Empire Earth III the game has had an overhaul and one of the first things you notice to have gone is the immense number of factions you can choose from. Empire Earth 2 had a whopping 15 civilizations to choose from and the third outing has just three main factions.
In Empire Earth III gone are the individual countries that you normally choose from in RTS games, instead you select from one of three cultures: Western, Middle Eastern, and Far Eastern. Each of these Empires is drawn from stereotypes of their respective regions. The Western Empire is geared towards expensive units and research, Middle Eastern goes for the power in numbers approach and the Far Eastern Empire sow their specialty in cavalry and tactical play. When playing in skirmish however you have the opportunity to choose from a more traditional line up of countries from around the world, yet they never really stray too far from the generalization that is incorporated into the game's main three Empires.
Play progresses through a number of distinct 'eras'. You start in the Ancient era and are given the choice to progress through the Medieval, Colonial, Modern and Future of humanity's preogress. Whilst this may be an appealing aspect it does fall a tad short of the promised 'entire span of human history' seeing as it tends to take only 20-25 minutes to get from the Ancient era all the way to the Future (and especially as Empire Earth 2 had 15 distinct eras to progress through). Collecting resources in Empire Earth III has also been simplified as now all you have to do is collect two types of resource (raw materials and wealth) to progress through the game. The other main source of income is by way of trading carts, that travel to various sections of the map to gather resources. The farther they travel the more you gain each time, yet this leaves them open and vulnerable to attacks which reveals whole new tactical side to the game.
Battles in Empire Earth III often have unintended conclusions, whereby units that should be stronger than others can be decimated because of bad AI and flawed path-finding. Sometimes your units will simply turn on the spot trying to find a route to the enemy and bump into each other on the way to their target, this slows everything down and if you are trying to attack a ranged enemy the outcome is generally in the AI's favour, which can be a little frustrating to say the least, especially when your units should really wipe out the opponent you were trying to face. It's this level of frustration that can really put you off the whole game, in fact, if the developers had made the combat as intuitive as the resource collecting then maybe the game would be a little more appealing.
Another mode included is called 'World Domination', which sees you vying for complete control of the globe. This mode is a turn-based affair whereby you build up armies and send them into other territories to either capture by force or win over the natives with a show of power. If a battle is the order of the day the game will zoom into a skirmish on a map that suits the area you are trying to take control of. Sometimes a special mission will appear in which you have to escort dignitaries or defend against invaders which adds a little spice to the proceedings. The 'World Domination' mode is a neat idea which is sadly flawed in a few astounding ways. One of these is the seemingly random positioning of units on the battlefield that simply makes no sense, like deploying right next to your enemy so that you can defeat them in a few seconds, not exactly what you had in mind when you decided to take over an entire province!
Graphically for a game released in 2007 this is a pretty poor showing. I run a Dual Core rig with 2 gigs of RAM and an 8800GTS 640mb... yet when I turned many of the settings up the game became sluggish and un-responsive, and yet it still didn't look very good at all. Maybe the engine is flawed but still that is no excuse for it running at such terrible frame-rates on good modern PC equipment, especially when a game like Crysis runs so well on high settings. When I turned down the settings I expected the unresponsiveness to go away, only to be surprised by the fact that this is a major problem within the game itself. Trying to make your units attack is fine until they run into a seemingly invisible wall proceeding to turn on the spot (which inevitably leads to their untimely death). Of course, this doesn't always happen but it's stupendously frustrating when it does. And another thing I wish to convey to you all is the absolutely hideous use of sound when you command units. Most RTS games are content with one word or using a sound effect as a way of informing the player that their command has been received, not so with Empire Earth III. You tire of lines such as "A soldier walking in cow dung" very quickly, especially as it is repeated so often.
Whilst it is true that fans and critics of the series asked the developers to scale down the complexities from the first two iterations, many people didn't expect this kind of watering down. One of the things that set the Empire Earth series apart from other RTS games was the fact that it took such a fresh approach to the genre by creating such diverse epochs and factions to get to grips with, and although some people found it a bit too confusing to master, those that took the time felt very rewarded for their patience. This time the game feels rushed and un-loved, many aspects of Empire Earth III frustrate to the point of wanting to take out the disk and snap it in half; therefore saving yourself any further agonizing play-time.
In conclusion it would seem as though Mad Doc strayed a little too far from what made this franchise appealing, which is a real shame especially as it was one of the RTS games that went for complexity and variation, and as I stated before in such an overpopulated market every title needs to have a distinct niche or offer progression of the genre. Unfortunately for Empire Earth III, some very bad AI coupled with terrible path finding, a watered down experience, frustrating battles and terrible use of character speech leads me to suggest that you spend your hard earned cash on one of the finer genre examples of late, such as Age of Empires 3 or Supreme Commander.