RTS, ONCE AGAIN
It?s tough to follow up success, especially in the field of Real Time Strategy (RTS) gaming. Over the years the genre has produced hundreds of titles, some superb and others sadly horrendous. If you are a developer of a previously successful RTS, when creating a sequel you?re cautious about changing a formula that already worked. The old adage ?if it isn?t broke, don?t fix it? applies more to this genre than any other. Empire Earth is one of those titles that did work the first time around and its sequel tries to follow the same line, offering a bit more but without taking too many chances. Empire Earth 2 is not by any means a brave attempt at advancing the genre but it does provide a good addition.
There has always been a graphical limitation to RTS games due to the sheer number of elements in action in any given scenario: soldiers, vehicles, vegetation, animals, explosions; you name it. This has lead to many games being very weak graphically, while others stretch out a little more and come up with outstanding results (take Warcraft III for example). A graphical characteristic that is expected to be found in most RTS? is attention to detail, especially in historical games. As a player, you need to quickly differentiate from one type of soldier to another. Also, an overall view of the map is necessary to plan a good strategy and to see the results of your orders. Empire Earth 2 will not wow you with its graphics but it brings the overall feel of a graphically above average historic real-time strategy game. However, while attention to detail is present, there are instances where buildings and units tend to look the same, a fact that detracts from the game?s overall realism.
Not everything is bad though and there is one aspect that EE2 has nailed that not many games of the genre have: weather effects. Storms or heavy showers will actually block your view and affect a military campaign, as it does in real life (just ask Napoleon about how the weather affected his attempted invasion of Russia, for example). The downside of this achievement is that your computer may take a hit in frame rate when climate changes occur. Overall, the graphics are above average without being ground breaking.
In the audio arena, Empire Earth 2 is a bit more frustrating than other games of the genre. Like some aspects in the graphics, EE2 occasionally offers up repetitive sounds and dialogue. The only thing that saves the day for the sound department is the game?s soundtrack. Some of the melodies are captivating, engaging and appropriate to the situation or campaign.
This is where the genre can be revolutionized, but Empire Earth II never takes that risk. There are few additions to the game that help EEII rise above its predecessor. The user interface has been simplified, so that the gamer doesn?t feel lost or out of control. The feeling of being pulled away from the action on-screen by a complex interface is something any RTS gamer has felt from time to time, and the streamlined GUI really helps in this regard.
A particularly nice addition to the interface is the addition of the Picture-in-Picture (PIP) option. Many games have offered the ability to bookmark areas and then with the click of a key go to that area, however in EEII instead of having to be taken from one area to another, you can stay where you are and have picture frames of other areas show in your PIP. This allows you to see at a glance what?s going on someplace else without having to move from the action. This option will surely make gamers feel more like the mastermind behind the development of a culture or a brilliant wartime general.
Aside from the PIP, the overall micromanagement system has been simplified, also via overlays, to show statistics of your city (or empire), so you can more easily assign responsibilities. In RTS?, micromanagement is the name of the game and the better you can manage your people, the more success you will have.
And last, what would a strategy game, or history itself, be without wars? Conflict in EEII, as in real life, is always the catalyst for gathering resources, expanding an empire or recruiting more workers. The ability to engage in war is, many times, the most entertaining part of strategy games, due to its more action-oriented interface. In Empire Earth 2, before going to war you can plan your attacks with a football-type interface where your ?draw? out your plans via a war planner. These plans can be sent to your allies for review. This ability gives many scenarios the potential for a richer gaming experience, as your allies will not always agree and you may have to rethink your strategy or figure out if your allies have ulterior motives behind their choices. Or, if you?re the irrational type, you can always declare war on your former allies: after all it?s just a game.
The game play may very well what saves Empire Earth 2 from being a mediocre title. The added ?little things? give it a different feel than other games in an already highly populated genre.