Written by  :  ET2600 (16)
Written on  :  Aug 09, 2005
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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The Godfather of the RTS Genre

The Good

Anyone whose first foray into the RTS genre was through Command & Conquer, Warcraft, Starcraft or Total Annihilation totally missed out on Dune II. Dune II defined the RTS genre as it is best-known today and was the most complex, innovative and (most importantly) playable RTS upon its initial release.

Conventions in unit control, unit production, base building, resource gathering and campaign structure have all evolved but still remain relatively unchanged in even games as contemporary as Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War.

Dune II's gameplay should be familiar to anyone who's ever played any post-Dune II RTS; the gameplay itself is rather basic but is wholly rewarding. Though the three factions (Atreides, Harkonnen & Ordos) are vastly similar with their basic units, subtle differences manage to distinguish the functions of each others' basic units and buildings enough to keep things interesting and replayable. In addition, the higher-level units which each house can produce differ vastly in their tactical and strategic purposes (which is more than could be said about Warcraft 2). When replaying the game under a different house, the knowledge gained while playing with their previous house can be used in their new unit choices.

Graphically, the game is colorful and units and buildings are all distinctly and effectively rendered. I've read complaints that this game hasn't graphically aged well, but please keep in mind that this game was considered stunning in 1992.

The sprites and animations all work well with the gameplay with animations and indicators that respond respectively with the gameplay. Little details such as billowing smoke from highly damaged units or the primitively yet effectively executed rippling sands to show movement of the Sandworms help immerse the player into the games atmosphere.

Dune II is a perfect example of converting an extensive, complex, and relatively unillustrated (visually, at least) world with a devoted following into an effective, immersive gaming experience. Westwood renders the Dune Universe with pure sci-fi aesthetics by combining smart designs with the visionary grandeur imparted by both Dune's novels and film. The splashscreens and cutscenes best exhibit this; each is rendered to a very high standard (considering the age of its release) and each provides unique character to their respective houses while giving the player a schematic close-up of the Dune tech.

The sound leaves a bit to be desired; it's mostly meepy floop sound effects unless you had a decent soundcard. But it's some of the best meepy floop sound you'll ever hear.

The Bad

Being such an early incarnation of the modern RTS, the game is not without its gameplay flaws. The enemy AI is just not up to snuff for certain tactics. Turtling is one of the tactics that the AI can't seem to overcome; once Turrets and Rocket Turrets a player simply as to wall their base in and crank out units. This aspects removes a large portion of the game's challenge in later levels, but it's mostly assuaged by the fact that it's a rather fun tactic to take on (considering the AI is the only one that suffers).

The AI also has a tendency to send pathetically small attack squads; against the average players' steadily growing attack/defense force, the AI's forces get crushed pretty easily. Again, another product of being an early RTS game; the AI does ramp it up towards the later levels though.

Unit obsolescence also runs rampant in Dune II; a lot of the earlier units effectively become useless once you have access to units even one tier above them. I found Heavy Troopers to never be worth building at any point in the game; I could simply gun them down with trikes en masse. Once I could build Quads, Trikes became useless. Once I could build Medium Tanks, Quads and everything below them became useless. Some units like the Heavy Tanks were totally useless since they were far outgunned by Rocket Tanks.

Missions don't really vary much; they're either "Collect X amount of Melange" or "Destroy Everything that's Not the Same Color as You". This flaw is again reconciled by the fact that the idea of more complex missions had not yet been introduced into the genre.

The Bottom Line

I don't expect many to seek out the original Dune II and to install it onto a dinosaur unless they really, really want to know what people were feelin' back in 1992. However, I do recommend to any RTS player worth his salt that he or she spend $10 for Dune 2000 to get a taste of it. So go out there and build your Dynasty.