Previews

Empire Earth III

The Empire strikes back. And then again

One of Empire Earth III's weapons really sucks. Which would be an uncharacteristically harsh judgement to make of a game that's just making its first faltering steps into the public spotlight, except I mean it in a good way.

I'm talking about the firearm mounted on an ED-209-esque robot that creates a pinhole singularity in the battlefield. Watch tanks tremble, trying to escape the pull before getting flipped off their tracks and tumbling towards the event horizon. It's even more impressive when deployed in a settlement, with roofing ripped off before the whole edifice submits.

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While that's just one of the units, it's a good example of the change in tone. Empire Earth II, while solid enough, was a distinctly unglamourous wander through the choicest parts of humanity's history in an RTS fashion. Its handful of novel features were dressing on a very traditional, even staid, core. Thankfully, Mad Doc have decided a conservative approach is no longer appropriate. EE3 is actually a little radical.

A new freeform campaign structure borrows a few pages from Total War - except rather than being constrained to one period, you play across the entirety of history, starting with clubs and ending with sexy futuretech. Decide where your armies are going to head on the attractive spinning globe - after a suitable pause for cackling "One day all this will be mine, mu-ha-ha" - and then enter a skirmish game to decide who wins and loses.

Anything you discover is unlocked for your entire civilisation, rather than you having to stomp up the tech tree on each level. Survivors of the battle will be available on the strategic map to either garrison the new area or form the core of your onward-marching army. Similarly, any buildings you've constructed in an area will remain if an AI player invades. Many developers have tried to reduce the amount of dead time any RTS game starts with while you're building infrastructure, but few have gone nearly as far as Empire Earth.

Battles are more than straight skirmishes too, sub-missions spawning as you enter an area, depending on the current situation (which area it is, your tech level, what the prophets read in the open belly of a goat). For example, near the start of the game a local tribe might have their princess stolen, and you can rescue her to gain their allegiance. As you progress, you'll increasingly be given missions on the strategic level, such as conquering three of a faction's provinces to precipitate Empire Earth's equivalent of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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The actual real-time strategy is also a considerable departure. While still based on historical fact, a broader, more exaggerated look prevails, much like you'd expect if Blizzard designed an historical RTS. And rather than the many civilisations previous games simulated shallowly, EE3's three generalised ones - western, middle-eastern and far-eastern - each have far more unique unit progressions and specialised hero types. Some comic touches are already evident in the voiceovers.

At this stage, everything seems more alive than in previous games. In the wake of the huge leaps forward made by Company of Heroes and Supreme Commander, this is exactly the kind of revitalisation to keep Empire Earth relevant in the modern age.

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