The spice must flow. That is the law.
Well, just the simple fact that it takes place in the Dune universe is a good start. Also, the music is excellent. From the title screen, to House selection and into actual gameplay, the music is better than in many other games released during the same time. The graphics are pretty good, although they really aren't very exciting. The cinematics, on the other hand, are very well done and fairly well animated. A nice little feature is the mentat. When you begin your game, you receive a mentat (human computer) which will give your orders for each mission, and inform you on the various types of buildings and units you'll encounter in each mission. The game itself it fine, and is similar to other RTS games (you know, mine resources, build stuff, kill bad guys). There are some gripes though...
...namely, the fact that you can't select more than one unit, which is very annoying if your trying to assault an enemy base and you have to micromanage each and every one of your vehicle and infantry units. Also, conversing with your mentat is sort of a dry experience. The AI is also sort generic, resorting to tank/trooper rushes most the time. Another thing is that the Harvester AI doesn't seem to mind going to spice fields that are guarded by 10 or so tanks all the time. It doesn't learn from it's mistake(s), and returns to the same spice field again and again. It almost never tries to find another patch, which makes resource raids relatively easy, as long as you aren't getting shot at too much.
The Bottom Line
Dune II is a spin-off of the Frank Herbert novel and Ray Lynch movie Dune. However, instead of playing out young Paul Atreides' adventures, you must instead command a military force to take over Arrakis, the planet also known as Dune, the only planet known to have a organic substance called Spice. The spice extends life, increases psionic powers, and tastes like cinnamon (no joke, but ;) ). The spice also is the center of the economy.
The Spacing Guild (sort of like the United Airlines of space) needs spice to create and maintain Navigators, mutated humans who have regressed somewhat into a fish-like state. Guild Navigators are powerful psionics, and can see all the dangers in a hyperspace tunnel ahead of time, which is crucial for effective space travel. The Bene Gessrit, a powerful group of female psionics and martial artists, need the spice to make vials of the spectrum awareness narcotic, which in turn enhances their psionic powers to an extent when consumed. The Emperor needs spice because the Guild and the B.G. need it, and because they need it he gets lots of money out of the whole deal.
The Houses Major, chief among them House Atreides, the good guys, House Harkonnen, the bad guys, and, first appearing in this game, House Ordos, the in-between, money-grubbing guys, need the spice because they also get lots of money by harvesting it. House Harkonnen has, or rather had, governorship of Arrakis, but the Emperor has rescinded that recently. Instead, he wishes to have a contest to see who can own Arrakis. Whoever harvests the most spice wins, and gunplay is allowed. Only House Atreides, House Harkonnen and House Ordos can partake in the contest. You enter the game as the commander of military forces on Arrakis for whichever faction you choose.
Overall, this game is fun RTS exercise in the Dune universe, although it lacks in features and personality to an extent. Still, it's an ok game and a strong recommendation for purchasing if you can get a copy.