In recent times we've seen RTS games go down the road of the action oriented title. People have moved away from resource gathering and developers have asked gamers to use what they have rather than build tons of units to rush the enemy. This was a way to combat rushing, a commonly used and very annoying RTS tactic. It did stop the problem, but there are people who liked the micromanagement side of the games. Mad Doc has come back with a sequel to one of the better RTS games, Empire Earth, and not only have they built upon Rick Goodman's work, they have created what could be the RTS of the year if the chips fall right.
The one thing that makes Empire Earth quite unique is its massive scope in terms of historical storyline. The game is based on true historical events so everything you play in the campaigns, scenarios but perhaps not skirmish is all true in historical terms. There is a storyline for the future as well as the game is spread across 15 epochs and if you were to play from the first to the last, and it is possible, it would take you an extremely long time and a lot of patience. If you can think of a historical major war that occurred, it's most likely in the game with the ability to change history in your hands.
That's not to say the game is completely open ended because in terms of its single player component it's not. The developers have decided who had the most interesting time of it in four Epochs and created campaigns to suit. The earlier campaigns involve the Koreans while towards the present day America is who you take control of. The campaigns feature a lengthy period of time with the American one starting in the late 1800s and proceeding through to the second world war. There are also scenarios to play around with as well and a special turning point campaign which is entirely based upon D-Day.
As you may have guessed the game heavily revolves around resource management but does so in a way which offers a great deal of depth but is also easy to learn. If you have played Age of Empires, the early Epochs will be very familiar to you in terms of resource gathering and to be honest, the early Epochs are quite boring. This is due to the lack of technology available and the mentality of rushing troops rather than using a proper war strategy. The later Epochs are where the action is and it is possible to skip to them by only choosing the later campaigns. You will fight on land, sea and air in over five hundred units across the fifteen Epochs.
Mad Doc have come up with a few unique options that make you wonder why it's not been in an RTS before. The first being the ability to continuously produce the same unit and not only that, have the unit automatically join your main battle group when completed. As well as this there is some civilization-like gameplay with diplomacy needing to be employed at times and allies discussing war plans together. It basically boils down to this; when you need to go to war and keep an eye on units. This is aided by picture in picture technology which really again makes you wonder where it has been all this time. They may have kept some traditional RTS traits, but Mad Doc certainly has innovated quite a bit with Empire Earth 2.
The game ships with a map editor which is extremely easy to use and is actually built into the game rather than a separate program. The maps greatly affect how the game plays in many ways. Obviously the terrain is one, but how the map is constructed and weather events also affect the game. You can predict the weather with the right units. Rain and fog affect how far the units can see and how quickly they move as does whether a road has been built. No roads equal slow movement so it is advantageous especially in the earlier Epochs to construct a road system.
There is also a strong multiplayer component to the game with Internet and LAN play supporting a huge number of gameplay options. While the game still remains an RTS game, there are a number of different game modes such as Regicide where the aim is to kill the king or hot spots where certain sections of a map need to be conquered. You can also play these game modes in skirmish and can start in any Epoch.
By far one of the most impressive features is the visuals of the game. Despite having to create 500 units, each unit is individually detailed in graphics and animation and you can zoom in and out of the action with the mouse. Also, despite the high level of action in the later Epochs, it seems to maintain a stable frame rate. One of the coolest things about the game is that the developers have used the engine to create the cutscenes rather than footage and this works extremely well and again gives the game a sort of 'toy soldiers' feel, which really makes the game interesting to look at.
The units all animate well and react how you would expect. Rather than running and shooting, they lay on the ground for cover or reload their weapons etc. It's like watching little toys battling it out to win the war and is very cool. The unit control is also easy and this enhances the ultimate aesthetic pleasure the game gives off because you're not forever telling them what to do. One thing which must be made mention of is the sound effects especially for D-Day. It is quite possibly the most realistic World War II sound effects ever. The starkest indication of this is how different the civilizations buildings look and it gives each one a true sense of identity, especially in Epochs before the 1900s.
Empire Earth II is the game that had to happen in a way. It's been much too long since Age of Empires and Civilization type games were released so a game which puts the two together is no doubt a welcome relief for RTS fans. Mad Doc have done what many may have thought they couldn't, taken another developers baby and produced one of the finest RTS games you will play this year.