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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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Empire Earth 2: The Art of Supremacy

Less Art of War, more Art of More.

The original Empire Earth's expansion pack presented an unusual experience. Now, at the time of its release, looked like the State of the Art in the Real-time Strategy game, with its 3D battlefields and assorted gubbins. So there was a yelp of surprise upon, less than a year later, booting up the expansion pack to discover that it suddenly looked really, really old.

Despite the change of developer between the two incarnations, some things remain the same. While playing Empire Earth 2: The Art of Supremacy was enjoyable enough, it looks old. While it wasn't ahead of graphical progress on launch like its prequel, in 2005 was acceptable. Now in 2006, it's very much last year's model. With the forthcoming wave of RTS games, it's very much looking down an evolutionary step.

Of course, in terms of play, it was already feeling a little old. This hasn't changed in this add-on pack. While its best features still impress - its indirect control of the humble civilians, allowing you to send people from harvesting one resource to another with a couple of clicks and no looking helplessly around the map - it's RTS by numbers otherwise.

And, really, this is an expansion pack by numbers. Want more Empire Earth 2? Well, here it is. The clue was in the "Empire Earth 2" in the title. Expansion pack standards such as extra campaigns and more races are expected, and satisfied. The new races being the Russians, French, Massai and Zulu, all of which are spotlighted in the new new campaigns (with an added one with our old chums, the Egyptians). All campaigns are based on a similar model to the original game, with only the near-future Massai one raising eyebrows with the cringe-worthy "Fighting Lions as a rite-of-manhood" ritual opening task. As if they'll be enough lions left in the mid-21st century for people to go hunting them with machine-guns to satisfy lazy stereotypes. Oh - there's some historical missions too again.

A real-time strategy game.

Over in the Skirmish mode, there's a handful of interesting additions. Firstly, the idea of custom civilisations, which involves picking the requisite special abilities from a list, choosing specialist units, free techs and so on. Expect a lot of intensive min/maxing in the Empire Earth online community. There's also additional skirmish/multiplayer modes: Territory Hotspots and Tug-of-War. Territory Hotspots involves claiming and defending the eponymous territory hostpots and Tug-of-War is more worthy of discussion.

It's is an interesting attempt to deal with one of the standard comments about Empire Earth's design. In that while there's fifteen epochs to develop through, in the course of a single game it's extremely unlikely you'll do the Civ thing of climbing from cavemen in their birthday suits to near-future soldiers in their exoskeletons. What it does is link a series of skirmish games together into a larger campaign - or rather, a linear line, where you perform a tug-of-war. Actually, the mode's somewhat misnamed - it's about pushing them back, rather than dragging them nearer you. If you win, you push your opponent a step back along the line. Lose, take a step back. If one player ends at their end, they lose. What makes it deal with the problem is the degree of persistence between the maps. So if you research up to the fifth epoch, that's where you'll start the next.

No-one wanted to march besides Freddy-no-mates. He smells funny.

It's a neat solution, and mostly works. The only problem being the intrinsic one with any continuing campaign where there's an element of persistence. If an opponent ends up a couple of epochs ahead at the end of a match, that's one hell of a thing to recover from. Similarly, the experienced troops of the last battle turning up again. Screw up, and that's the whole game screwed for you. Well... that's what a persistent campaign means, sweetie. If your mistakes didn't haunt you, it'd hardly be the same thing.

But, generally speaking, Expansion pack. Same as the main game, but less so. If you're reading this, it's for one of four reasons.

  1. You want the expansion pack, and want to check whether there's anything terribly wrong with it.
  2. You were okay with Empire Earth 2, and would be up for more if it were absolutely spectacular.
  3. You're bored at work.
  4. You're my mum.

The answers to what's on your mind are, in order:

  1. No, nothing really wrong. Go get it.
  2. No, nothing utterly essential. Save your money.
  3. Be sure not to offend someone in the IT department who'll shop you to your boss.
  4. Honestly, I'll call you this week. I've been busy. Yeah, I know, I'm the worst son in the world.

In a final note, which may just be where my head is at the moment, but there's something really disturbing sexual about the battering ram's swinging animation.

I probably shouldn't have written that.

6 / 10