A fairly decent strategy game, an innovative approach of Frank Herbert's work.
Above everything, what appealed to me in this game was its spirit. It was the first incursion of Westwood Studios in the world of 3D real-time strategy games - and a great one! Even by today's standards, I become stunned by some of the visual effects. Also worthy of note is the excellent work undertaken by the developers in capturing the spirit of David Lynch's film adaptation of the original novel - the neobaroque imponence of the buildings contrast with technology which is many centuries beyond our understanding.
In terms of gameplay, this is a regular strategy game, much in line with other Westwood franchises, most notably the C&C series. Build your base, raise your army and throw it against the enemy. The usual fun directed at C&C and Dune fans alike. Unlike its predecessor, Dune 2000, Emperor: Battle for Dune brings enough differentiation between the traditional Houses (Atreides, Ordos, Harkonnen) which force the player to adapt radically different strategies. Now, add to the mix five new sub-Houses (Sardaukar, Fremen, Ix, Tleilaxu, The Guild) and you have a huge party rocking in the battlefield.
The campaign goes beyond the usual linearity and brings us an interactive map which allows the player not to be restricted to the tactical work - you, too, can oversee the great strategic decisions of the three Houses which struggle for the control of the planet Arrakis. It allows you to choose which territories to attack and, from time to time, you will meet some unexpected missions which mean you are progressing through the campaign.
The FMV cut-scenes and music are worthy of a final remark.
The game's flaws are most noted in the somewhat bad implementation of the interactive campaign map. Even if it is a welcomed innovation for Westwood games, it feels a bit forced sometimes. Besides, there is no clear advantage in doing anything other than racing against the enemy's capital. More territory will generally mean more trouble, as the enemy will be offered a much wider area to attack.
Single player aside, the game can feel extremely repetitive at times, due to the continuous desert/rocky landscapes of Arrakis. This is not, however, a strict developer's fault, as the game setting is, precisely, the battle for the desert planet Arrakis. In fact, and contrasting with its predecessors, the game brings us some more varied (but limited) landscapes through the home planets of each of the Houses' home planets.
Finally, and after you play the game for some hours, you will notice that, in the end, you will restrict yourself to the utilisation of a handful of units per House. Surely, the developers were very creative in the design of many of the units, but only some of them will be effectively useful, particularly in multiplayer gaming.
The Bottom Line
All in all, it is a worthy successor of the legendary Dune II. Although not as innovative, it brought a good deal of changes and deviations from the more classical Westwood style: interactive campaigns, sub-factions and structure upgrades being the most notable.
Not a landmark game, but a definite must-have for strategy and Dune fans.