Software Review: Dumbed down to the ground

How the mighty have fallen!

earth disk 88 224 (photo credit: )
earth disk 88 224
(photo credit: )
Empire Earth III, a DVD-ROM in English by Mad Doc for Sierra, distributed with a 50-page Hebrew-language user's manual by Hed Artzi Multimedia, requires Windows XP and up and a Pentium IV PC or better, for ages 12 through adult, NIS 219. Rating: *1/2 How the mighty have fallen! Two years ago, the previous version of Empire Earth earned a maximum five-star rating, and I called it a "stupendous and ambitious historic real-time strategy game." The third version doesn't rate even two stars, and as all of the original intelligence has seeped out, this brainless game seems to have undergone a lobotomy. The old real-time strategy game passed through 15 epochs (including the future) and 14 civilizations, spanning 13,000 years of human history and requiring the player's constant input. It even inspired a National Empire Earth II Championship on-line and at game centers in the US. But the new version, produced by the same Mad Doc studio and costing the same as the old one, is a great disappointment and goes many steps backward. Instead of 14 civilizations - Aztec, Incan, Babylonian, Mayan, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Chinese, German, British, American, Korean, Turkish and Japanese - based on history and excellent graphics, the new version offers only generic Eastern, Western and Middle East locations. Sadly, history fans can no longer play the game to live in the past or recall epic battles. Thus, contrary to the claims of publicity material for the game, it doesn't cover "the entire span of human history." The game play for all three is essentially the same, except for the different architectural style of the buildings. The other distinguishing characteristics are that the Western group has more advanced technology, making the price of its units more prohibitive; the Middle East group focuses on surprise attacks; and the Far Eastern troops offer large armies at lower cost. Apparently, despite all the praise version No. 2 received, the developers thought it was too demanding and complicated and sought to "popularize" it. Thus the new one is dumbed down, with a great deal of oversimplification and superficiality. Did I say "simplified"? I meant stripped to the bone, with no meat left. In their efforts to streamline the game, the developers threw the baby out with the bathwater. Except for the opening clip in which an ancient woman morphs into a citizen of other epochs and then into a robot, the animations are a disappointment, as is the graphics quality of the game itself. Game play crashes very frequently. There are only five epochs, from ancient to medieval, colonial, modern and future. Although the background music is OK, the dialogue among faceless combatants is idiotic and repetitive: "'Fess up that you like the way I move," says a male robot from the future era to its female counterpart in a typical forgettable statement. As an Israeli, I naturally went first to the Middle East of the future, hoping that the region would finally achieve an era of peace and quiet. But I found its robots fighting over land covered with a thin coating of snow, and at least some of the mechanical warriors declaimed their inane comments in a Spanish or Puerto Rican accent. Then I launched a new game in the West and found the scenario was very similar. Not only is the tactical combat alike in each civilization, but the AI (artificial intelligence) with which the computer fights you as an enemy is stupid, so opposing forces sometimes lose their way. Even when I had a group of fighters on chariots under attack by men armed with slingshots, mine spun around in place, making it impossible to escape the attack. The intricate diplomatic moves one was required to take in Empire Earth II have shrunk to just fighting and making alliances. You no longer have to amass specific raw materials for wealth to produce war materiel, but only to fill your warehouses with any commodity. This makes these resources turn automatically into cash, thus causing another challenge to bite the dust. The game play is also very short, compared to the hundreds of hours that one would spend on Empire Earth II. While I usually protest that a videogame's content is too small for the amount of money it cost, in this case I could say it is fortunate that the game is so abbreviated, as it shortens the player's suffering and minimizes his frustration.