The game offers three built-in single-player campaigns: Korean early epochs , German middle epochs , and American late epochs. There are also a number of single-player campaigns. Unfortunately, all of this power comes at a price -- complexity. When I played that way, the feel reminded me a lot of playing the original Age of Empires. Take, for example, a big, slow-paced land-based game using primitive weaponry. If you're unprepared for it, it's really easy to feel like Homer Simpson sitting in front of a nuclear plant control panel. The whole situation could have been avoided by simply separating the resource gathering and construction functions into separate units.
The impact of this much customization can't be underestimated. Despite the large learning curve players have will have to overcome, once they know what they're doing, they'll be amazed at just how much fun this game is. It isn't just a matter of limiting with epochs or what units players can use, the very feel of the game is different. Want to put together a coordinated attack of two tank and artillery formations from two fronts while your ally launches nuclear missiles and bombards your enemies from off shore aircraft carrier? I have to monitor my production, make sure my units are going where I want them to, deal with three different alliance offers from other players, keep an eye on the six bookmarks I placed in the picture-in-picture window, and make sure that I pick the correct technology bonuses to support the war plan that I agreed to 20 minutes ago. Free-form and multiplayer gamers can choose their factions from a wide selection -- German, British, Roman, American, Greek, Egyptian, Turkish, Babylonian, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Incan, Aztec, or Mayan -- each designed to portray a distinct cultural identity.
The game can handle it, and once players master the tools, they'll be amazed at the intricacy and depth that their strategies eventually attain. Going to the citizen management screen is equally problematic because shifting through the layers of data on the overview map just takes too damn long in a game where there are always 20 things that need to be taken care of. If you can get over the initial learning curve -- which can be downright mean at times -- you'll find a multiplayer game that could keep you hooked for years to come. Basic ground troops, for example, have a rock-paper-scissors relationship divided up into the different types of units. . That's because selecting an idle citizen for construction duty from the main screen doesn't let a player know exactly where the citizen is. Still, they're worth playing, not for themselves, but because each mission seems tailor-made to teach players something about the intricate on-field strategizing needed to be competitive in multiplayer.
By themselves, they're fun, if uninspired some missions also seem to have a weird bug that doesn't allow them to recognize that you've won the scenario. Both tools are incredible innovations that really should become standard features for real-time strategy games from now on. In practice, the tool isn't as useful as it could have been. Civilizations can now construct walls, bridges, and roads that offer appropriate bonuses to travel, trade, and defense. Mad Doc is led by Ian Lane Davis, an accomplished game designer with a doctorate in artificial intelligence.
This might be enough for most games, but when you layer on top of that unique units for each civilization and special regional and civilization powers, the combinations become almost overwhelming. Put simply, there's almost nothing that the developers haven't thought of when it comes to giving players the power to carry out the most elaborate and outlandish strategies. The game allows players to field over 300 types of military units covering 15 time periods along with 15 different civilizations to play with, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, special powers, and unique units. There's also a whole host of customization options that allow players to choose the types of games they want to play. I can't tell you how many times I selected all my idle citizens to build a badly needed building, only to wait forever while they converged from the far corners of the map -- or milled around on the shore of another island because I had inadvertently selected a unit that couldn't get where I wanted it to go. Even worse, with so many things going on the field at once, something is always bleeping or blinking or vying for the player's attention. It's clearly geared toward hardcore multiplayer gamers who are comfortable with using hotkeys, and even those gamers will have to overcome a hockey-stick shaped learning curve.
Keep resource gatherers as real units which preserve the strategic option of cutting off supply lines, but remove the one layer of management the game really doesn't need. In my multiplayer games, the level of underhanded dealing, glad-handling and out-and-out backstabbing and betrayal made the United Nations look honorable -- and I've never had more fun being devious in my life. The American campaign, for example, really taught me the best ways to use airplanes to soften up ground defenses for an eventual infantry assault. The game's single-player options are adequate but can best be seen as a training ground for multiplayer mayhem. Developer Mad Doc Software previously worked Legends of Aranna, the stand-alone expansion for the original Dungeon Siege, as well as Art of Conquest, the official add-on for the original Empire Earth. Light artillery is good against heavy mounted troops, which in turn are good against light infantry and so on, until you get around to light mounted, which are good against light artillery again.
The user interface for the game is a nightmare of different-shaped controls and tiny buttons, making it tremendously tough to control the game using just the mouse. Mastering all this complexity is a necessity if a gamer hopes to be competitive in multiplayer -- because that's where the heart of this game truly lies. Topping off the game's problems with complexity is managing citizens. The question for potential downloaders, then, is the reward worth the journey? Real-time strategists lead humble, stone-age tribes to conquer the world, through 15 epochs spanning 12,000 years of humankind's past, present, and future, in this Mad Doc Software sequel to Stainless Steel Studios' critically acclaimed Empire Earth. . . .
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