On the ground, the tactical combat offered by Empire Earth 3 does little to compensate for its wider failings. Again, simplicity is a theme here. The game offers the rock - paper - scissors combat system which is the staple of RTS titles since the dawn of pointing and clicking, with so little enhancement that it can at best be described as shockingly generic.
Worse, though, is the one key way in which EE3's tactical combat does differentiate itself - namely the astonishing, mind-numbing stupidity of both your units, and the enemy AI. This is the lowest point in the game - so bad that it's actually laugh out loud funny at times. Armies regularly get stuck en route to their destinations because their pathfinding can't work out how to turn corners. Powerful melee units judder around looking lost and confused while light ranged units only a few yards away decimate them. Enemy forces never attack your base because they can't work out how to get to it - and on one memorable occasion, I'm pretty sure the enemy AI didn't actually even build any military units. The fact that problems as amateurish as this made it through QA is mind-boggling.
Even at that, we can't quite bring ourselves to give Empire Earth 3 the savaging which, on some levels, it richly deserves - simply because there are good ideas here, underlying the godawful mess. Take for example the turn-based World Domination mode, which presents you with a globe full of provinces for you to conquer, control, upgrade and so on. Yes, it's not a new idea - Rise of Nations does exactly the same thing - but it's still a good one, and some elements of Empire Earth's implementation of it are great.
We really like, for instance, the fact that you can upgrade provinces by building road networks through them, which speed up the movement of your armies. We like the fact that you can negotiate with and make peace with the native tribes in some areas, who will then fight on your behalf against your enemies. We like the fact that some (although not all) conflicts can be resolved automatically, without having to go and actually play the skirmish in RTS mode - although admittedly, if the RTS game was a bit better we probably wouldn't be so pushed on this function.
What we don't like is the fact that here, again, Empire Earth 3 is trying too hard to be populist - and throwing out all the stuff that made us fond of the earlier games. As you might have guessed from the removal of historical civilisations in favour of bland regional stereotypes, this isn't a game for history buffs any more. In fact, any trace of historical accuracy has gone out the window entirely. Each of the world regions you conquer is just a set of statistics, without even a nod to its real history, and the somewhat randomly generated nature of the game means that you'll find tribes from far-flung corners of the world located in completely the wrong areas.
The stupid reaches into other corners of the game, too. Particularly annoying are the unfunny, badly voice acted lines which your troops will come out with when you interact with them. They're not remotely amusing or well written, and just come across as another silly attempt to show that this is a game which is now all about fun and accessibility, rather than being concerned with history, strategy or, well, depth.
Moreover, the design mistakes which permeate the game are compounded by some really horrible technical mistakes. Being a PC game, we expect that patches will fix some flaws, but at launch this is a title with shocking framerates and odd crashes, multiplayer so badly bugged as to be largely unplayable, and the aforementioned terrible pathfinding and AI. It's the stinky, faecal icing on top of a deeply unappetising cake.
Empire Earth 3 simply tries too hard to be popular. In doing so, it strips out everything that made it good in the first place and forgets to replace it with something equally worthwhile. The key mental image here is of a whole gaggle of babies sitting with shocked expressions in a steaming drain while Mad Doc's developers carry the bath back indoors. As a continuation of a generally likeable franchise, this could hardly have been more disappointing.
Will you support Eurogamer?
We want to make Eurogamer better, and that means better for our readers - not for algorithms. You can help! Become a supporter of Eurogamer and you can view the site completely ad-free, as well as gaining exclusive access to articles, podcasts and conversations that will bring you closer to the team, the stories, and the games we all love. Subscriptions start at £3.99 / $4.99 per month.