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Blasting the bulwarks off a medieval galleon using modern guided missiles seems strange at first, not to mention hideously one-sided. But if you've ever enjoyed pitting ants against a kettle, then you'll soon come to embrace the amusing inequalities of Empire Earth II.
From sticks and stones, to phalanx and arrows, to tactical lasers and the dreaded nuke, this game will take you on a crushing march through the history of warfare.
Taking the thematic thrust of Civilization, and wrapping it in the skin of a modern RTS, Empire Earth II is necessarily complex.
Alongside the obvious tech-tree stuff (you need to build a stable to access cavalry for example, and a dock to build ships), the game's development model is based on distinct historical epochs.
Within each epoch (there are 15 in all), you need to research military, economic and social upgrades (by hitting the churches and universities) before you can advance your civilisation to the next stage.
Progress arrives with a global bang, instantly upgrading all your forces: spearmen become pikemen, or all your galleons become ironclads, according to the epoch you're entering.
The most striking changes take place in the later epochs, when musketry starts evolving into machineguns, and mortars and cavalry suddenly become tanks.
It's quite artificial, often hilariously so, but that doesn't stop it being fun, especially if you're pulling ahead in the arms race. But it's Empire Earth II's single-player campaigns that make the difference. They offer far more value than the original's.
The AI is impressive: although not always consistent, you'll see your PC make some seriously shrewd decisions, both on the battlefield and around the diplomacy table.
It's hard not to admire the scale of the game, and none of its flaws are fundamentally game breaking, though they can be annoying. And while it may not have the sense of character that a more era-focused RTS brings to the party, it scores big for its naked ambition.
It is big, and it is clever, and if you've got the staying power, it'll reward you with months of sabre-rattling goodness.
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