#231 Dune II

Posted: 31st December 2010 by Jeroen in Games
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14th game played so far

Genre: Strategy
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1992
Developer: Westwood Studios
Publisher: Virgin Interactive

Three houses fight for control of Arrakis, or Dune, the only planet in the galaxy where the elusive Spice can be found. In the mean time, they also have to avoid sandworms and deal with the emperor.  Take over the planet, and you may as well rule the universe, with the power the spice, which is necessary for space travel, possesses.

Our Playthrough

We each played part of a campaign – the sinister Ordos for Peter (very unsurprising) and the noble Artreides for me (as if you didn’t know).

Our Thoughts

He who controls the spice controls the universe.

Artreides, Harkonnen and Ordos are the three houses fighting for control of the only planet where it exists naturally: Dune. It’s sort of the way it stayed with all subsequent games from Westwood – gather one significant resource (spice here, Tiberium in Command & Conquer, and I think gold found in, say, New York in Red Alert). Strange to think that if taken out of this space age setting Dune II is essentially about wars being fought over drug trafficking. Sort of like GTA without the option to have sex with random prostitutes. It’s just some fantastic in joke for those who know about the Dune mythology that what you are essentially mining is the equivalent of LSD. Which explains the scary eyes of everyone you encounter in the game. Except that the hallucinations are actually true visions of the future. That’s what all addicts say. Yeah, well, read the books before you judge them. I saw the film… and have since judged it heavily, even Sian Phillips couldn’t save it.

For those who don’t know, Dune is a science fiction series by Frank Herbert that’s about the planet named Dune and the politics and adventures to keep it in noble hands, as well as the ways to save humanity afterwards. It’s a bit complicated, but the book is a good read. It makes the film more bearable and interesting, which can be difficult to understand when you don’t know anything else from the story. To continue the history lesson and move on to our game, a video game was released in the early 90s, based in part on the movie and book, which has you travelling around Dune as Paul Artreides, the main character of the book, and drive the Harkonnen away while keeping the emperor happy and keeping up spice production. It’s an interesting game that gradually turns from adventure to a strategy game. For the sequel, Westwood ripped out the adventure elements and refined the strategy elements to what we have today.  And Dune 2, which is on the list and which we’ve played, became the RTS that was one of the major blueprints for the genre, for example being the direct predecessor to the Command & Conquer series mentioned above.

(Well done to those who stuck with the history lesson, it was touch and go on my part)

The main problem with this game is that old father time and his grandson master technology have taken a jackhammer to it. It is incredibly fiddly to control and at many times is just plain annoying.  However, you can see how it formed part of the blueprint for almost every strategy game that followed it. Basically, the game was one of the first, and certainly the first major game to be playable using the mouse (and in fact requiring it) and things like selecting multiple units at once wasn’t thought of yet. This makes the game extremely tedious to play to us.
(Side note: A semi-remake was released by Westwood in 1998 called Dune 2000. While the storyline differs somewhat, a lot of the unique features and the setting stays the same, just using a more modern engine similar to what we saw in the likes of Command & Conquer. While not loved by the critics and not being a great success, it might be just enough of a step up to make a similar game be more playable. I know I liked it) … I concur?

Seriously though (as much as I love pissing off the boyfriend) nowadays it is a game mainly for historians or Dune fans.  For those of us under the age of 25 this is not a game we could really get that excited about. Especially in a world populated with the likes of Total War and Age of Empires/Mythology. Because we’re too used to what are simple interface improvements now (such as multi-select and an interactive cursor, instead of clicking orders), this is hard to play. The graphics and sound being lackluster can be overlooked, but the gameplay makes it too frustrating to play too long and makes me wonder how we managed back in the day when this game was special and exciting.
I think what we are trying to say is that when viewed in relation to its contemporaries it was a revelation, but it’s like comparing the graphics of Jason and the Argonauts with those of Avatar. You can appreciate how groundbreaking the work put into Jason and the Argonauts works but due to us being spoilt with better technology we are less willing to suspend disbelief.  This is doubly so with the original King Kong. (For the record, he means the movie ‘Jason and the Argonauts‘, not the original Greek myth. And Avatar is the recent hit movie going by that name featuring odd blue creatures) (Way to underestimate our readers Jeroen) (I’d say that knowing a Greek myth is more highbrow than some semi-cartoon based on it) (It was live action you little… you know nothing about film. Shove off and let’s conclude this!)

So, not a good game to play because you’re bored, but a very interesting game in terms of history and to see how strategy games have developed. The granddaddy of them all.

Final Thoughts

As you can tell I was not that impressed with the game. The thing about this list that we all need to remember that this list it not about the 1001 best games but it  is meant to consist of a wide variety of games that are both fantastic and have helped shaped the industry into what it is today… to be fair Dune II was one of those games. It may not be great to look at now but you can not deny how influential it was.

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