Empire Earth 2

The original Empire Earth had one definitive concept which sounded great on paper, and that was to have an RTS title where you could command a people through every era of human existence and beyond it into an assumed future. Empire Earth 2 follows that same concept, but with a slew of new elements that attempts to freshen up the old formula.

EE2 boasts an exceptional amount of depth, even though on the surface it looks and plays very much like a clone of Age of Empires, or even Empires: Dawn of the Modern World. Features that were unique to a host of other RTS games seem to have all been integrated too, and strategy buffs will notice EE2's recognisable variety of flavours. While Age of Empires and Empire: Dawn of the Modern World definitely look like the templates, EE2 adds things like morale, loyalty, and fervour attributes to your troops.

It then twists the gameplay significantly by introducing spies, who single-handedly bring back the use of walls and watchtowers into defence arrangements. Spies are invisible unless spotted by your own spies or watchtowers, and if a city isn't equipped to counter their threat, it can find itself with serious headaches. They perform acts like sabotaging buildings and obtaining economic and military information, and can act as spotters for siege equipment or airplanes. Either way, the element they introduce can significantly change the gameplay from the standard age-shifting war game.

Aside from unit considerations, EE2 has included diplomacy, trade, and territorial control elements, and particularly, nature itself. Rain and winter can have serious implications on your troops in the field, and obtaining weather forecasts is handy if you're planning an attack. Under poor weather conditions, your artillery or bombers can be have diminished effect, and your ground troops have reduced line of sight and slowed movement. It's good to see this feature in strategy games, since weather has such an immense impact on real-world warfare, and it's something that has mostly been ignored by the genre.

However, just because EE2 chucks in so many elements from other games doesn't necessarily mean that you get an amazing RTS experience. While it's successful in its attempt to not overwhelm the player with strategic considerations while still including them, there's an integral "X factor" missing from the gameplay. Essentially, it's not particularly enjoyable to play. Too much of the game feels like a rehash, despite the obvious best efforts to the contrary, which is a real shame because EE2 got almost everything else right in terms of ideas.

If you can stomach the sub-standard graphics and an old-style RTS engine, you'll probably love EE2's attempts to automate micromanagement while still allowing absolute control over every unit, and other handy inclusions like the customisable Battle Plan option. But while the gameplay is highly refined in this way, it's a refinement of an RTS model that has since lost every hint of freshness.

Score Card Visuals: An improvement on the original, but not up to the standard set by its contemporaries. Audio: The constant repetition of audio responses quickly becomes jarring. Ambient music matches the level nicely. Gameplay: A great deal of depth with some awesome ideas behind it, but gameplay has a dated feel. Score: 3.5 Publisher: Sierra Developer: Mad Doc URL: www.empireearth2.com Price: $89.95